27 May 2012

Presidential Elections in Egypt

After the first round, it looks like the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate and the last PM of the Mubarak regime are in a statistical deadheat.

Muhammed Mursi of the Brotherhood got 25.3 percent and Ahmed Shafiq, a retired general received 24.9 percent of the vote. Number three was Hamdin Sabahi, the candidate most closely associated with Tahrir Square with 21.5 percent, followed by a former Muslim Brother, Aboul Fotouh with 19 percent.

The Brotherhood immediately went on the offensive on two fronts. Domestically, they started warning all factions about the danger of going back to Mubarak regime and calling upon them to support the Brotherhood candidate.
The Brotherhood was reportedly seeking a meeting with rivals on Saturday afternoon, though it was not initially clear who might attend.
"We call on all sincere political and national forces to unite to protect the revolution and to achieve the pledges we took before our great nation," the Brotherhood said.
While it is likely that Aboul Fotouh will throw his support behind Mursi, the official Bortherhood candidate, whether left wing and liberal forces like Sabahi will follow suit is an open question.

The Brotherhood has also reached out to former US president Jimmy Carter to reassure him that they have no plans to cancel the Camp David treaty with Israel.
The U.S. statesman, who brought together Israeli leader Menachem Begin and Egypt's Anwar Sadat in 1978 to agree the Camp David accords which led to a 1979 treaty, said he had held long discussions with senior Brotherhood figures in Egypt this week.
"My opinion is that the treaty will not be modified in any unilateral way," Carter said at a news conference in Cairo to present the preliminary findings of his election monitors.
The move is not just to reassure the Americans, the Brotherhood would like to project a more moderate image inside the country as well.

You see, until two days ago, no one thought that the final two would be Mursi and Shafiq. "Both Mursi and Shafiq had been written off as long shots just weeks before the historic election" reported the Middle East Online.

In fact, a couple of days before the elections, Ian Black of the Guardian singled out that possibility as the nightmare scenario:
Mubarak's last prime minister and former commander of the air force is described pejoratively by opponents as the "fuloul" – regime remnant – candidate. This run-off is the nightmare scenario because many people hate both men. A contest between them would be a highly polarised choice that would take Egyptians back to the bad old days before the revolution. The Brotherhood would mobilise massively behind Morsi, with the army and police supporting Shafiq. Violence would be highly likely to erupt. Abstention rates would soar.
It is an intriguing situation. On the face of it, I can see that for many Egyptians this is an unpleasant choice between reverting back to the Mubarak regime and further Islamization of the country:
Prominent activist and blogger Omar Kamel wrote: "Do we deliver Egypt to a representative of the old regime, as though nothing had happened, no revolution had taken place, or do we satisfy the (Brotherhood)'s greed for power, and give them all but complete control of the country and risk the fate of the revolution to satisfy their ambitions?"
Since the legislative elections were handily won by the Brotherhood and the Salafists came a close second, a Brotherhood President could lead to further religious radicalization.  And the Brotherhood understands that such a prospect could provide the necessary incentive for the army not to handover power to a civilian government at the end of June. It would also alienate the Americans who were the unseen force in the regime change.

I don't have a great track record in predicting electoral results but my guess is that the Brotherhood will continue with its campaign to appear more liberal and democratic. They will probably give concessions to liberal and secular groups, offer cabinet posts and promise to tweak the composition of the Constituent Assembly, the body that will draft the new constitution of Egypt. Currently, it is dominated by Islamists and boycotted by liberals, secular groups and socialists.

In other words, I expect a lot of negotiations and horse trading between these two rounds. And obviously, the Shafiq camp will do the same and they will make many promises to the secular parties. If Amr Moussa, the man widely believed to be in the second round to face off the Islamist candidate and Sabahi threw their support behind Shafiq he could do quite well and even win the presidency. Ominously for the Brotherhood, Moussa, Sabahi and Aboul Fotoun did not accept their invitation to form a joint front.

You can see that it is still too early to have a clear view of the outcome. If I was forced to stick my neck out and make an early prediction, I would say that, at this point, the likely result would be a Brotherhood win with a lot of concessions to liberals and secular groups and of course many reassurances to the US.

The question remains whether liberal and secular forces would find such concessions acceptable and sufficient in a regime completely dominated by Islamists and radical Islamists.

It is a fluid situation and just as nobody could have predicted a Shafiq win (and such a close one) the end game could still contain a lot surprises.

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