What many see as the worst-case scenario for the Egyptian elections has come to pass, with the first round ending in the most polarizing result:
The runoff vote for Egypt’s next president will pit the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate against the last prime minister to serve under Hosni Mubarak, according to full official results released Monday by the election commission.
Commission chief Farouq Sultan told a news conference that the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and a longtime friend of the ousted leader, were the top two finishers in the first round of voting held on May 23-24.
He said Morsi won 5.76 million votes, while Shafiq garnered 5.5 million. Finishing a close third was leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi with 4.82 million votes.
Sultan said his commission received a total of seven appeals, and rejected all of them. Four of the appeals were dismissed because they had no legal basis, while the other three were not accepted because they were submitted after the deadline, he said.
The press conference by the election commission, where Sultan gave no explanation for rejecting the appeals other than what’s above, and where he took questions for only five minutes, added to the uneasiness surrounding the electoral result. The election commission is run by a former Mubarak appointee.
Shafiq, the former Prime Minister under Mubarak, may yet get ruled ineligible to participate in the elections. The Supreme Constitutional Court must rule on a Parliamentary law, put in place by the Muslim Brotherhood majority, that would bar any former members of Mubarak’s government from running. Considering that Shafiq’s rival in the runoff is the Brotherhood’s candidate, this ruling would polarize the electorate further. The election commission, run by the former Mubarak appointee, allowed Shafiq to run for President, pending the court ruling. It’s unclear what would happen if the court finds Shafiq ineligible.
How did this result come about, after a revolution that drove Mubarak from office? Clearly the Muslim Brotherhood and the military (Shafiq is a former Air Force commander) were simply the most organized of the groups left after the revolution. But Juan Cole believes that the electorate yearned for a law-and-order candidate, due to post-revolution chaos:
The outcome shows a strong “law and order” desire on the part of the Egyptian electorate. In a poll that I discussed last Monday, respondents put security issues way ahead of economic ones. Shafiq is such a law and order candidate, and the Brotherhood’s Muhammad Mursi is promising more Islamic law, which Egyptians tend to interpret as a way to reign in hooliganism. The disruptions of the 2011 revolution, the subsequent poor morale among the police, the increase in firearms availability, and the release by the Mubarak government in its last days of thousands of criminals from prison, have all contributed to a mild uptick in crime. Egypt is still safer than most Western capitals, but people here had been living under a police state where there was very little crime and few public disturbances, and so it seems to them as though there is a crime wave. I live in the Detroit area, so I laugh at their supposed ‘crime wave,’ but to them it is a problem.
Ironically, the preference for a law and order candidate after a period of social upheaval in Egypt mirrors what happened in the United States in the 1960s and after. The anti-war protests of the counter-culture and the damage done Southern Democrats by the Civil Rights movement contributed to President Lyndon Johnson’s decision to step down (a la Mubarak). But this mainly youthful upheaval was followed by the victories of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan and the rise of the Religious Right thereafter in national politics. Just as American leftist radicals like David Horowitz gradually allied with the right wing of the Republican Party and with the Evangelicals, so novelist Alaa al-Aswany, a supporter of the 2011 revolution, has just come out for the Muslim Brotherhood in the runoff elections. Many on the revolutionary left will just be alienated, but some will decide that anything is better than a Mubarak clone.
See also Marc Lynch’s take. It’s possible that the revolutionaries will simply boycott the second-round vote and instead seek to hold whoever wins accountable with street actions. Interestingly, McClatchy reports that the two candidates have moved toward the center for the runoff, revising much of their platform. This suggests that they recognize the need for consensus – both only garnered around 25% of the vote. That suggests that they recognize the need for popular legitimacy. However, a victory by either the Muslim Brotherhood or, functionally, the military and the old regime, would increase instability in a country still trying to realize the hopes of the revolution. That day has been delayed for now.