Egypt analysts examine Moussa's electoral failure, Shafiq's success

Yasmine Wali, Sunday 27 May 2012

Analysts ask why ex-Arab League chief only came in fifth place in last week's presidential poll while Mubarak-era PM made it all the way to the runoffs

Amr Moussa unexpectedly came fifth in the Egyptian presidential elections' first round (Photo: Reuters)

Final results of Egypt's first-round presidential polls flew in the face of all pre-election opinion surveys conducted by the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, which for eight weeks put former Arab League chief Amr Moussa at the head of the race. Instead, the polling was dominated by Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and Mubarak-era premier Ahmed Shafiq, who will face off in a runoff vote on 16 and 17 June.

Results of the last Al-Ahram presidential poll, released only three days before the election, had indicated that Moussa would lead the contest with 31.7 per cent of the vote. But in the election, he only came in at fifth place with a paltry 10.9 per cent of the vote.

"What are these results? Is this our country?" Asked 52-year-old Sherif Mahmoud, general manager at an Abu Dhabi-based real estate company, who voted for Moussa. "These results spell the death of Egypt's revolution. We chose Moussa for his middle ground. Who would have guessed he would only come in fifth?"

Political sociologist Said Sadek provided one possible explanation: Last year's Tahrir Square uprising, Sadek said, demanded "bread, freedom and social justice" – demands that call for a domestic politician rather than a "diplomatic figure like Moussa, who failed to focus on internal issues like corruption, human rights and torture."

Although Moussa and presidential contender Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister and long-time aviation minister, are both closely associated with the ousted regime, Shafiq's focus on the domestic arena may have been Moussa's downfall.

Shafiq, analysts note, succeeded in winning over Egyptian voters by focusing on two major points: the need to curb political Islam and the necessity of restoring domestic security. Shafiq's military background helped him in this respect.

According to Sadek, the rise of political Islam "scared the hell of everyone; people voted out of fear." Shafiq, he pointed out, capitalised on those fears by vowing to curb Egypt's politically ascendant Islamic current.

Egypt's influential Coptic Church, meanwhile, also played an important role in endorsing Shafiq, says Egyptian political analyst Hazem Mounir. For example, the church played a part in distributing Shafiq's campaign literature and pushed Coptic congregants to vote for him.

"My local church officially endorsed Shafiq," said one Coptic-Christian journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Churchmen could be seen passing out Shafiq flyers to congregants."

Shafiq has also deftly played the stability card, promising to end the ongoing security vacuum and political turbulence that has dogged Egypt since last year's revolution.

"An intentional counter-revolution played a key role in discrediting the revolution, portraying the April 6 Youth Movement as subversive," said Sadek. "They deliberately created a security problem and ratcheted up media coverage of crime, prompting the public to cry out for a saviour.

"Shafiq answered this call by promising to provide security and stability from his first day as president," Sadek added, noting that "Egyptians by nature like the status quo; they want stability."

Media impact

Moussa's electoral prospects, meanwhile, were also hurt by Egypt's first-ever televised presidential debate on 10 May, in which the Mubarak-era FM faced moderate-Islamist candidate and former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh. Although Moussa used the debate to distance himself from the former regime, it ended up biting into his popularity because of his tendency to speak in generalisations and failure to present a concrete political plan to resolve Egypt's chronic woes.

Sadek says the debate had a “very negative” impact on Moussa's popularity, not least due to his "disrespectful" tone. "Moussa spoke very disrespectfully to Abul-Fotouh, which ended up turning off broad swathes of the public," he said.

According to Mounir, both candidates adopted "a destructive, negative approach" in the debates, which ultimately hurt both of their electoral prospects.

Moussa's electoral chances were further eroded, said Sadek, by "media overexposure."

"Moussa has been promoting his presidential bid for over a year," he said. "Morsi, by contrast, has been very cautious about appearing on television; he didn't engage in any television debates. The Brotherhood’s media machine was excellent."

Sadek added that Moussa had come off as "arrogant and snobbish" to the lower classes. "In his campaign advertisements, he was always looking up at the sky, which didn’t play well with humble, low-income voters."

Shafiq, meanwhile, ended up benefiting from negative media coverage, which made him appear as a victim. "He appeared as the underdog; a kind of victim – this helped him make it through to the runoff round," said Sadek.

According to sources close to the Moussa campaign, members of the former regime – along with certain wealthy businessmen – helped Shafiq win the first round. "We heard that [former regime stalwart] Ahmed Ezz's wife distributed money to peasants and poor people to purchase votes for Shafiq with the aim of protecting corrupt businessmen," said one Moussa campaign source.

During last year's Tahrir Square uprising, Moussa presciently supported the anti-regime protesters, although not wholeheartedly, falling short of demanding Mubarak's immediate departure. On 27 February, two weeks after the former president's ouster, the ex-Arab League chief announced plans to run for president.

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