Egypt's electoral psy-war: Why was Shafiq touted as incoming president?

Hesham Younes, Thursday 28 Jun 2012

Right up to the moment Egypt's presidential runoff results were announced, rumour had it that Shafiq had won. Ahram Online asks why

Ahmed Shafiq
Several defaced campaign posters of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq are seen on an apartment building (Photo: AP)

Amid unprecedented confusion and – possibly – subterfuge, Egypt acquired a new president. Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi has officially won the presidential runoff, but up to the last moment before final results were announced, rumour had persisted that Morsi's rival, Mubarak-era premier Ahmed Shafiq, was in the lead.

Hours before final results were released, the army was deployed in force at the capital's entrances. All over the country, employees left their offices early, banks closed prematurely, and everyone feared a Brotherhood-led backlash when Shafiq was declared winner.

Meanwhile, official and diplomatic sources confidently – but in hushed tones – spoke of Mubarak's last PM as the next president of Egypt.

With baited breath, Egyptians waited for the announcement. Tensions rose when the chief of Egypt's elections committee began refuting fraud allegations and defending the committee's competence. He then announced Morsi the winner.

What happened exactly? Was there really a plan by a "deep state" of NDP loyalists to claw their way back to power? Let's first review the events of the days and hours preceding the announcement of the final vote count.

While a preliminary tally had put Morsi ahead – an outcome confirmed by a group of volunteer judges – much of the media launched a campaign against the Brotherhood candidate, portraying him as a proponent of theocracy.

Notably, both the April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists – which include many leftists and even far-left Trotskyites – stood firmly behind Morsi.

Media organisations with known NDP links spoke constantly of the need for "stability" while offering the reader tales of mass vote rigging in Morsi's favour. One story had it that 37 constituencies had failed to acquire official stamps, which had led to the nullification of three million votes. Another story had it that ballots had been pre-marked for Morsi.

As it turned out, the pre-marked ballots – 2,000 in all – had been seized by the authorities. Only one had been used, leading to the nullification of a single ballot box.

The conflicting reports kept coming in. As Shafiq reassured supporters that he was in the lead, a "government source" told an Algerian journalist that Shafiq had won. A "foreign diplomat" gave a similar statement to another journalist. Citing unnamed government and diplomatic sources, Ahram Online reported the same.

"Shafiq is winning. He's ahead by some 500,000 votes." This was the rumour that circulated among senior army and police officers.

Minutes before the press conference in which results were announced, one journalist known for his close ties with the security apparatus said the Republican Guard was preparing to secure Shafiq's residence, implying that he was the next president.

The conflicting reports may have reflected a real power struggle within the former regime's "deep state." It is possible, for example, that the NDP lobby in the media, along with the current military regime, was simply exploring ways to turn the rumour into reality.

There is also the possibility that a powerful group of people who knew that Morsi was the winner used the reigning state of confusion to keep the Muslim Brotherhood on its toes – and, perhaps, extract some concessions from the group.

As part of the psychological war, Shafiq supporters rallied in Nasr City to provide a counterweight to the tens of thousands of pro-Morsi protesters arrayed in Tahrir Square. At one point, Shafiq loyalists began talking about the inevitable wave of instability that would be triggered – caused by the Brotherhood and Salafists – if Shafiq was declared winner despite preliminary results indicating otherwise.

The elections commission came under fire from all sides. But could this have changed the outcome? This is hard to know, but it was perhaps out of a sense of self-preservation that sources within the elections commission leaked news that, even if all the Shafiq campaign's allegations of electoral fraud were true, Morsi would still be the winner.

If there was a power struggle, the Shafiq loyalists appear to have lost it. A website recently released footage showing some Shafiq supporters chanting, "Down with military rule." If their disappointment is anything to go by, then a real change must have taken place somewhere down the line.

Despite all the rumour mongering and political jockeying, Egypt has nevertheless stepped into a new era of democracy.

Short link: