Fork in the road for Egypt's political forces: Who will they choose?

Yasmine Wali, Friday 15 Jun 2012

Amid widespread political confusion and significant disillusionment, the choice of who to vote for in the second round run-off of Egypt's presidential elections has not been easy for many, especially for revolutionaries

A woman walks past election campaign posters of presidential candidates, Mohamed Morsi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq (L), in Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

On the eve of the historic Egyptian presidential elections run-off vote — slated for 16 and 17 June — political parties, revolutionary groups, and activists each have different postures towards the poll. While some have decided to boycott the run-off, refusing to vote either for Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, or Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under deposed president Hosni Mubarak, others have announced endorsing one or the other.

While many fear Shafiq, who makes no secret of his admiration of Mubarak, would seek to resurrect the policies of the old regime should he win the presidential elections, others are concerned that Morsi in power would enable the Brotherhood to tighten its grip on the political arena, with the group’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) boasting nearly half the seats in parliament, and consequently implement a strict version of Islamic Sharia law.

For these reasons, some will vote for one or the other candidate simply so his opponent does not win.

Liberal parties like Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the Free Egyptians Party, and the leftist Nasserist Al-Karama Party decided to boycott the elections after requesting the candidates sign ‘The Document of the Pledge’ — a 22-article agreement to ensure the existence of a civic state and the protection of the 2011 uprising — a few days before the run-off. Neither candidate signed it.

On 27 May, Al-Karama Party issued a statement that read: "The party refuses to see the Muslim Brotherhood dominate the country’s legislative bodies, or the remnants of the old regime in power."

Ahmed Fawzi, member of Egyptian Social Democratic Party, told Ahram Online: "All the leftist and liberal parties agreed to boycott in the run-off. We will not support anyone since the document failed to be signed." He added: "My conscience does not allow me to vote for Shafiq and my mind does not allow me to vote for Morsi.”

According to Fawzi, his party left the choice for its members either to boycott the run-offs or to spoil their ballots.

Among other calling for a boycott is eliminated Nasserist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, who came third, close behind Shafiq, in the first round. The Mokateaon (Boycotting) campaign has been pushing in the same direction since before the first round.  

The Mokateaon campaign, embraced by a number of revolutionaries, including actor and activist Amr Waked and some who lost relatives during last year's uprising, was established on the basis that Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration of March 2011 is unfair. The controversial article gives the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC), formed by the ruling military council, unfettered power without possibly of judicial review.

Ahmed Fouad, a spokesperson of the Mokateaon campaign, told Ahram Online, “Since the first round we have believed the elections are illegitimate. Not because of the candidates, but because of Article 28." He added: "This article makes all the final results immune against appeal, although this commission is an administrative body, not a judicial one."

The turnout of voters in the first round was around 46 per cent. It is widely expected to see that percentage decrease in the run-off. Ghada Shahbandar, another spokesperson of the Mokateaon campaign, told Ahram Online: "It is really hard to know how effective the campaign will be; the numbers of votes in the ballot boxes in the run-offs will determine that."

Another campaign, named Mobteloon ('Vote Voiders") was later triggered and gained popularity after the first round vote, when many activists complained of alleged vote-rigging and an "illegitimate" electoral process, said Ghada Shahbandar, one of prominent figures of the campaign. Shabandar highlighted that it is not their role to change the outcome by voiding votes: “Our job is to make people aware about the illegitimacy of the process."

Strikingly, eliminated candidate Amr Moussa, once Mubarak’s foreign minister, did not endorse any candidate though does not believe in boycotting. According to Ahmed Kamel, media spokesman of Moussa's campaign, “We owe our country a choice. We cannot act as if we are not here, so we will not boycott, yet we didn’t decide on who to vote for. We are not for the reproduction of the old regime and we don’t want a religious state.”

Kamel added: “We cannot reach a decision yet because we need guarantees, and that is The Document of the Pledge that was not endorsed by any of the candidates." Even though Kamel does not see a reason why the campaign should call on its supporters to vote for one candidate or the other, he insisted that voting is inevitable.

For Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and his campaign, picking sides was much easier. The eliminated candidate, a former Brotherhood leader and moderate Islamist who was expelled from the Brotherhood last year when nominating himself for the presidency, declared his support and that of his campaign for Morsi, saying it was the only way to defeat Shafiq and the old regime.

Ibrahim El-Hodeiby, Islamic researcher and political activist who was part of the Abul-Fotouh campaign does not see the decision made by that campaign being a result to the close relationship between the Abul-Fotouh himself and the Muslim Brotherhood. "Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are a poltical force that we can oppose and question in the future. Shafiq is representing a regime that we struggled against for years."

Leftist activist Wael Khalil agrees with El-Houdeiby's argument, adding that, "Although the Brotherhood leadership has failed the revolutionaries many times, they are part of the revolution and they want change."

The same argument was behind the decision taken by the revolutionary April 6 Youth Movement, which announced that its members will vote for Morsi if he promises to adopt the clear demands of these groups that would guarantee a national consensus government and fulfilling the demands of the revolution.

However, for others Morsi is a clear choice. This goes for all Islamist parties, including the Salafist Al-Nour Party, the moderate Islamist Al-Wasat Party, and the Islamist Building and Development Party.  

On the other side of the ballot, some will vote for Shafiq not only to stem the rise of the Islamist current, but also because they seek political stability, which for them means only him.

It is widely believed that many Copts voted for Shafiq in the first round and will continue to cast their ballots in his direction in the run-off, scared of Islamic Sharia laws that Morsi announced in May he would implement.

Well-known politician Osama El-Ghazali Harb, co-founder of the Democratic Front Party, echoes the same fear. Harb challenged many of his supporters when he announced his endorsement of Shafiq publicly, because he believes that "Egyptians have the capability to send him to trial and oust him if he gets mistaken." Harb explained that he is against the Brotherhood's use of religion as a political weapon and that using religion is "undemocratic."

Other political parties were more timid, like the liberal Wafd and leftist Tagammu parties, that earlier announced supporting Shafiq only to step back from their positions.

No political groups have come out in support of Shafiq, unlike for Morsi.

A clear example of public retiscence to endorse Shafiq came with writer Fatma Naout. She said on TV talk show on Al-Hayat channel: "I am endorsing Shafiq. We cannot afford to experiment with a new president. We need stability, a president who is familiar with the logistics of the country.” However, after the Mubarak trial verdicts, Naout denied and refuted her stance to Ahram Online, saying she was “upset at the acquittal of the six police officers" and was "worried about what's next, like all Egyptians”. Naaot even voiced fears for Shafiq being part of the ousted regime, saying: “People don’t like the look of Shafiq. I am confused along with all Egyptians, especially after Mubarak verdict. We are in a dilemma. We are not satisfied with either option." Yet she added: "Any boycott will be in favour of the Brotherhood who are playing with religious sentiments to gain votes.”

Other public figures have been less cautious in announcing their support for pro-Shafiq. Rula Kharsa, a TV anchor, announced her support for Shafiq on Facebook, saying “He is a liberal Muslim, he is firm and will stick to his positions, its been a year and a half feeling homesick inside my country, I wanna go back to [feeling like] a citizen inside my country again.”

Until the last moment, no one can clearly predict who will win. But what is certain is that the presidential elections have clarified the Egyptian political landscape, for better or worse.

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