Egypt’s landmark presidential race looks to be headed to a decisive run-off round between Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, and Ahmed Shafiq, a veteran loyalist to the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and with strong ties to the military. While it was highly expected that Morsi would make it to the second round, or even win the first round, because of the firm support of millions of Muslim Brotherhood members and other Islamist elements, the same was not true for Shafiq. Expectations were that Amr Moussa, Egypt’s most prominent foreign minister in the last three decades and a symbol of liberalism, was the one who would be able to beat Morsi. It was dismal to liberals that Moussa came fifth, after Morsi, Shafiq, the leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi and the liberal Islamist Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh.
Shafiq’s strong performance was not, however, a surprise to all. In fact, according to Gamal Abdel-Gawad, a political analyst with Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS) and a one time member of Gamal Mubarak's Policies Secretariat, in the last few weeks preceding the presidential election it was clear that Shafiq’s popularity was on the rise.
“Shafiq introduced himself as a man capable of restoring stability and security to Egypt after one and half years of turbulent events and this struck a strong chord with many ordinary citizens,” said Abdel-Gawad. He indicated that a recent poll conducted by ACPSS found that many ordinary citizens are tired of “the irresponsible behaviour of the revolutionary youth movements that toppled Mubarak, and the dismal performance of Islamist forces in parliament in the last few months.”
“Many citizens believe that instead of joining political life and competing for seats in parliament in a peaceful way, the young revolutionary movements opted for violent trouble on the street, first in the form of staging million-man protests at Tahrir Square or in the form of attempts to storm the buildings of the interior ministry, parliament and ministry of defence, or by raising the slogan “Down with military rule,” said Abdel-Gawad.
Agreeing with Abdel-Gawad, prominent lawyer Ragaie Attia said: “The irresponsibility of these revolutionary youth movements led the vast majority of citizens to seek shelter in a man with a strong personality and who can stand up to these anarchistic elements and contain Islamists. and for them former prime minister Shafiq was this man.”
“Shafiq is half military and half civilian and by no means can be considered a feloul (a Mubarak regime remnant),” argued Attia. According to him, the feloul are the remnants of Mubarak’s defunct ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) and Shafiq was not a member of the NDP. “Shafiq is a statesman who can impose discipline and this is what many Egyptians liked about him.”
At the same time, said Attia, the dismal performance of Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist forces in parliament led many Egyptians to strongly believe that Shafiq could be a counterweight to them. “Egyptians saw how Islamists used their majority in parliament to tailor laws to serve their personal interests and political ends in the form of promoting for Morsi and launching hostile campaigns against Shafiq,” said Attia, adding “but these attacks played into Shafiq’s election campaign instead of harming it.”
Preliminary results of the first round of the presidential race show that Morsi lost to Shafiq in the most densely populated governorates in the Nile Delta region, which has been a Brotherhood stronghold for years. Shafiq won in the governorates of Sharqiya (Morsi’s birthplace), Gharbiya, Daqahliyya and Menoufiya, and he came second after leftist candidate Sagbahi and before Amr Moussa in several other governorates. Attia believes that “This was a kind of collective punishment for the Muslim Brotherhood.” “The message was that the Brotherhood has become very arrogant and only cares about its own interests and for these two reasons citizens voted for Shafiq to direct a strong blow to the group,” said Attia.
Others believe that the strong performance of Shafiq comes from the support of NDP remnants in several governorates, especially in the Nile Delta. In Gharbiya governorate, where Shafiq came first and Morsi came a dismal fifth, it is no secret that several former NDP figures who lost seats in the last parliamentary elections to Brotherhood candidates decided to retaliate using strong familial and tribal connections to beat Morsi. The same is true in other governorates. Sources also believe that several elements of the former state security apparatus joined hands with NDP stalwarts to turn people against Morsi and in support of Shafiq.
Attia, however, does not believe that the support of the remnants of the NDP was a major factor in the end. “I think citizens voted for Shafiq more because of hate of the Muslim Brotherhood than because of the influence of the NDP,” argued Attia, adding “Do not forget that hundreds of families of police officers and military people who faced campaigns of hate and recrimination from the Islamist-dominated parliament in the last four months have pushed them to vote for Shafiq as their best choice.” Many have strong fears that the Muslim Brotherhood aims to infiltrate the army and police and turn them into militias for the group.
In addition to ordinary citizens, the diehards of the NDP, the families of police and military men, Copts also are presumed to have had a big hand in pushing Shafiq to second place. Several semi-official figures put the number of Copts in Egypt at a range between 10 and 15 million. To Abdel-Gawwad, this is a big bloc that can radically change the results of any election. “I think the results of any election would change completely if just five million — or even three million — Copts decided to turn out and cast their votes for a certain candidate,” argued Abdel-Gawwad.
Rami, a Coptic bookseller at Ramses Street in Cairo, said “Christians in general and Copts in particular were highly divided among Shafiq and Moussa." He indicated that “the instructions of the Orthodox Church’s priests and bishops were clear: you have to vote either for Shafiq or Moussa.” Rami added: “I can surely say that at least 80 per cent of Copts voted for Shafiq although Moussa was another very good choice.”
According to him, “most Copts came to the conclusion that Moussa as a president of Egypt would be a weak man who could never be able to stand up to a cunning group like the Muslim Brotherhood.” “By contrast," argued Rami, ”Shafiq is a man with a strong personality, half-military and has always been an open critic of the Muslim Brotherhood and this is what most Copts liked about him.”
Now with the battle lines clear, Rami and many Copts assure that they will turn out by the millions to vote for Shafiq in the second round.