Regional Reflections on Egypt’s Elections

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Middle East In Focus

The results of the first round of Egypt’s presidential elections have taken many by surprise. While it was expected that the Muslim Brotherhood-backed candidate would have a strong showing, it was far from certain that the other contender would be a candidate who is emblematic of the old regime. It is perhaps indicative of how divisive and unpredictable the post-Mubarak era has been that Ahmed Shafiq managed to get a quarter of the votes cast in the election. More ominously, his strong showing is a testament of the power the army still wields in the country.

Calling the outcome in the first round a “standoff,” the Khaleej Times editorial argues “The presidential vote in Egypt has split the society. The top two candidates reflect the extremes and go on to point out that the uprising hasn’t come a full circle….The duel, however, brought to fore an interesting observation. The very fact that a remnant of yester regime, Ahmed Shafiq, leads with 25.3 per cent of votes is startling. This negates the assumption that the entire political mosaic of Egypt has written off Mubarak or his allies, including the powerful military junta that reigns supreme to this day…. But for some the rise of Shafiq, a somber man of little words, could come to bless Egypt with moderation and political pluralism, especially as the Islamists sit petty decisively in parliament. It seems Egyptians have a Hobson’s choice to make while preserving the ideals of Arab Spring, as they get back to poll on June 16.”

Likewise, Egypt Independent’s Noha El-Hennawy notes, “In Egypt’s unpredictable presidential poll, the two most controversial contenders emerged triumphant to qualify for next month’s run-off amid fears that either candidate’s victory may deal a blow to the 25 January revolution….Both candidates have complex relationships with revolutionary forces. For several months, the Brotherhood has antagonized young revolutionary groups by accusing them of instilling chaos and seeking to destroy the state….Shafiq is a notorious figure for Islamist and non-Islamist forces alike given his strong ties with Mubarak’s regime and suspicions that he might be the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ candidate….Many say that the Brotherhood will end up accepting a tacit power-sharing agreement with the generals. Condoning Shafiq’s presidency might be part of this arrangement.”

For some, the rational for Shafiq’s support lies in the perception that he might be able to withstand the Muslim Brotherhood’s pressure. Moreover, it seems that the outcome could benefit the liberal bloc. For example, in one of its editorials last week, The National suggested “Many of the youthful secularists who sparked and fuelled the Tahrir Square revolution have expressed dismay at the result; the new president will be from the Brotherhood or else a remnant of the bad old days. Observers inside and outside Egypt are muttering about polarisation….But in fact, the weeks until the run-off vote on June 16 and 17 promise to be a period of intense political horse-trading, in which the loose alliance of secular liberal democratic elements has a precious pivotal position. If they use it wisely, they can greatly influence the way Egypt is governed, through the new president’s six-year term and beyond.”

Writing for the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman, Omar Ashour believes that the outcome actually underlines the strength of the pro-revolutionary movement: “Egypt’s voters overwhelmingly chose the revolution over the old regime, shattering the myth that the push for change is an urban, middle-class, Cairo-based phenomenon: The eight revolutionary candidates received more than 16.4 million votes. But the failure of these candidates to unite on a single platform directly benefited Shafiq, who unexpectedly won 5.9 million votes (assuming no election-rigging took place)….What remains certain is that no democratic transition can be complete without elected representatives exercising meaningful control over the security services and the armed forces.”

There are also those who see the outcome as the result of democracy at work. The Egyptian Gazette’s Idris Tawfiq sees many positives from the voting so far: “We have certainly seen an end to the notion that Arab and Muslim nations are somehow incapable of running their own affairs in a civilised and orderly way. Israel has told us for years that it is the only democracy in the region and the only country with anything in common with the nations of the West. Tunisia and Egypt are putting an end to that lie….The real victor will be the people of Egypt. Having thrown off the mantle of tyranny and walking once more with heads held high, the people of Egypt are on the march. This time, unlike the many times before, nothing can stop them.”

For Moustafa Khalil of the Egypt Independent daily, “The biggest winners in January’s parliamentary elections have become the biggest losers in the presidential elections. The Muslim Brotherhood may seem to be on course to win the president’s seat, but a run-off against a feloul (old regime candidate), Ahmed Shafiq, has actually brought about their only chance to do so in light of a significant decline in their popularity….However, the biggest winners were by all means, us, Egyptians, who lived for the first time ever a unique experience of free, fair and competitive presidential elections…. This enjoyable experience is a guarantee that what we have witnessed over the past few weeks and will continue to live until the inauguration of the new president will not be a once in a lifetime experience. “

Following the results of the first round of voting, both candidates have now begun to appeal for the votes of the constituents of the other parties.  According to a declaration reported on the Muslim Brotherhood backed Ikhan Web, “Egyptian presidential election frontrunner Dr. Morsi and his fellow leaders of the Brotherhood urge all patriotic parties and political players to join hands and face up to the heinous coup of reactionary Mubarak-era leftovers. Dr. Mohamed Beltagy, MP and member of the Executive Office of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), affirmed that the rise of an old guard hangover is impossible. ‘The Egyptian people erupted in the January 25 revolution to eliminate the corrupt, repressive system of governance and its followers. There is no way former regime holdovers can win.’”

But as Asharq Alaswat’s Emad El Din Adeeb usefully points out “Muslim Brotherhood opponents are asking why they are only now bringing up the revolution, after they ignored this following the fall of the previous regime, establishing a political deal with the Egyptian army that — in their eyes — came at the expense of the Egyptian revolution. Whilst General Shafiq is playing the game calmly, for he is aware that he is now the champion of the civil state project that opposes the Muslim Brotherhood’s state project, and therefore enjoys the support of the Copts, the military, and supporters of the civil state, as well as those who believe that the revolution has ultimately harmed — rather than benefited — Egypt’s economy and stability.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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