Ahmed Shafiq: Courting the 'law-and-order' vote in Egypt

Ekram Ibrahim , Sunday 10 Jun 2012

The Egyptian public's desire for 'law and order' - personified by Mubarak-era PM Ahmed Shafiq - is likely to play a decisive role in Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential contest

Presidential hopeful Ahmed Shafiq (Photo: Reuters)

"Not a single step forward will be taken in Egypt without security, and security requires a firm president like Shafiq," Ramy Rashad, 33, a dentist, told Ahram Online.

Rashad is one of many Egyptians who voted for Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, in the first round of the current presidential elections, and who is also planning to vote for him again in the runoff. This sector of voters believes Shafiq is the right person to lead Egypt during its transitional period.

What are the reasons behind this formidable “law and order” vote among Egyptians? And can Shafiq really deliver on security?

The January 25 Revolution is associated in the minds of many Egyptians with a longstanding security vacuum and economic drawbacks. Since the early days of the revolution, police forces have abandoned the streets, opening space for thugs and thieves. The rate of crime has increased.

Although police gradually returned to the streets, many Egyptians are still reeling under the lack of security. “Any fight turns into a battlefield due to the absence of security,” Ahmed Raafat, 54, from Boulaq Dakrour, told Ahram Online.

The security vacuum, continued demonstrations, and blocked streets have played a major role in worsening Egypt's economic situation. Many citizens have lost their jobs while many others have reduced incomes compared to before the revolution.

The tourism sector and daily-wage workers have been among the most highly affected. Panicking by financial investors and increasing security threats have left many Egyptians seeking law and order, which is what Shafiq promises to provide.

Shafiq is considered the “stability” candidate, who stands for a civil state as opposed to Islamist rule.

Law and order is a recurrent theme in Shafiq’s campaign rhetoric. Shafiq assures voters that the law will be upheld, vowing to put an end to ongoing protests and restore domestic stability within 24 hours.

"There's no such thing as a revolution that continues," Shafiq said on Tuesday during a televised interview. He added that, if protests continue, unemployment would increase and national production would fall.

The majority of Egyptians who don’t support the January 25 Revolution support Shafiq. In particular, he draws support from among those who think the revolution and/or the continuation of protests negatively affects the production cycle, along with those who believe that the old regime was not so bad.

Shafiq is seen as a reformer, with many viewing the overhaul of Cairo International Airport as illustrative of what he can do on the national level. Meanwhile, others choose Shafiq out of fear that the Muslim Brotherhood is taking over the country.

In addition to these tangible reasons behind the law-and-order vote, Egyptian culture supports the notion as well. Historically, ancient Egyptians believed the pharaohs to be Gods. Egyptian culture values the leader, values submission to authority, avoidance of conflict, gives the state the upper hand and believes the rebellious spirit to be unethical, explains Hany Henry, assistant professor of psychology at the American University in Cairo (AUC).

The above-mentioned values mirror the philosophical culture of stoicism. Stoicism in Egypt emanates from the relation of citizens to their parents. Egyptian culture encourages children to be submissive and give parents decisive power over their lives. Meanwhile, being revolutionary is seen as mirroring Western values, such as individuality, freedom and constant change. “For the people, Shafiq represents a traditional leader,” Henry told Ahram Online. 

This stoic attitude also finds fertile ground in the agriculture-based society of Egyptians. In this culture, the peasant plants the seed and waits for nature to send light and water for the plant to grow. It is the story of submission to a higher power.

Many analysts agree that Shafiq will indeed restore security for Egyptians. Thanks to his previous military experience, his prior position as minister of civil aviation, and his connections with various "deep" entities of the state, “Shafiq will know how to deal and coordinate with both intelligence and security offices,” according to Mohamed Kadry Said, military and technology advisor and head of the military studies unit at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

In addition, Shafiq, a military man, won’t investigate the military budget or the military's investiture in Egypt’s economic system. Mutual interest between him and the military will allow for considerable cooperation between the two.

“With Shafiq, there won’t be a drastic change, so things are expected to be calm,” Emad Gad, an independent MP and researcher at the Ahram Centre, told Ahram Online. Shafiq is also likely to work directly with the interior ministry to abort protests and reassert popular respect for the police. 

However, stability is not guaranteed under Shafiq, since Mubarak’s former prime minister is, to many Egyptians, the antithesis of the revolution. Many have threatened to stage protests if he wins.

“Shafiq will be president of Egypt over our dead bodies,” said Tarek Mohamed, 23, while protesting in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday to demand the application of the Political Disenfranchisement Law, which, if put into effect, could lead to Shafiq’s disqualification from the presidential race.

In the first-round presidential poll, 38 per cent of the votes went to two losing pro-revolution contenders: Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi and moderate Islamist candidate  Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh. The results left many Egyptians planning to boycott this week’s runoff.

“Neither candidate represents me, so I’ll vote for neither,” was a sentiment heard by many Tahrir Square protesters during the past week.

Short link: