Morsi, Shafiq or boycott: A voters guide to Egypt's presidential runoff

Bassem Sabry, Thursday 14 Jun 2012

All the arguments for and against presidential candidates Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, as well as the pros and cons of boycotting Egypt's presidential election runoff

Shafiq vs Morsi
Vote Shafiq (left) or Morsi (right) or boycott? This is the question. (Photo: AP)

Egyptians return to the polls on Saturday for the runoff round of voting in the country's first post-revolution presidential election. Ahram Online has collated all the arguments for and against both candidates – the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi and Mubarak's last premier Ahmed Shafiq – as well as the arguments for and against boycotting the election.

Mohamed Morsi

Engineering professor, former MP until 2005 and head of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc at the time, member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau and current head of its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and “backup” candidate to now-disqualified runner Khairat El-Shater. He came in first in the first round of the presidential elections, scoring 5,764,952 votes, representing 24.78 per cent of the vote.

Why people say you should vote for him

General arguments

- Long history of political struggle against the Mubarak regime.

- Was selected (allegedly by the UN, though still insufficiently verified) as the “world’s best parliamentarian between 2000 and 2005” according to the FJP.

- Excelled academically and throughout his professional and political life.

- Most dedicated candidate to increasing the role of Islam, Islamic principles and Sharia law in politics. Some argue that voting for Morsi will empower the religion, and is perhaps even a duty for Muslims.

- Has the weight of the entire Muslim Brotherhood and FJP behind him, with their technical, resource-based, on-the-ground, and international networks. He will bring an entire institution to the presidency.

- Has an extensive presidential programme, one of the most developed and detailed.

- Will implement the hyped and soon-to-be-disclosed “Renaissance Project,” a collection of reforms as well as infrastructural and economic projects prepared over many years, which would supposedly transform Egypt into a developed nation.

- He never intentionally sought the presidency, and would thus become a better president than any candidate who is driven by a desire for power or a feeling of self-entitlement.

- The Muslim Brotherhood, and thus Morsi, have conducted themselves pragmatically, between confrontation and cooperation with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and will continue to manage the question of the SCAF’s transition from direct power delicately.

- He and the Muslim Brotherhood will encourage a modern free economy and strong relations with the local and international business communities, and will focus on economic growth.

- The Muslim Brotherhood has extensive international connections and growing experience with foreign policy.

Runoff arguments for Morsi against Shafiq

- Despite any concerns about him or the Brotherhood, he still was part of the revolution, and you cannot compare Morsi and Shafiq. We should vote for him as an effort to bring down the former regime once and for all. A victory for Shafiq would be a setback for the revolution.

- All claims about the radicalism of Morsi and the Brotherhood are highly exaggerated, and they are much more pragmatic and moderate than some portray them.

- The country is more likely to be stable under a detente between the SCAF and the Brotherhood, which would potentially come with latter coming to power, rather than a continuous confrontation by all forces, parliament and protesters against the SCAF and the president.

- Compared to Shafiq, Morsi and the Brotherhood would weaken the military establishment’s stranglehold on Egyptian politics and pave the way for a greater civilian role in political affairs.

- Morsi and the Brotherhood are against a purely presidential system, unlike Shafiq, and they would instead work on creating either a semi-presidential or a parliamentary system so as to prevent the recreation of an autocratic presidency and a new dictatorial head of state.

- Has a better and more thorough presidential programme than Shafiq.

Why people say you should not vote for Morsi

General arguments

- Will not be an independent president, but will be under the control of the Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide and Guidance Bureau, who will be the real presidents. In fact, this was exemplified in him being pushed to become a candidate rather than seeking it out on his own.

- Will further the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood over all branches of the state, with such a monopoly becoming especially dangerous in a post-revolutionary Egypt in which political diversity should be encouraged.

- He is the most conservative of all the 13 original candidates, even speaking quasi-ambiguously about decriminalising female circumcision and leaving it as a “choice” for the girl’s family; has a less firm stance on freedoms compared to other candidates, and will cater more as a president to conservative groups rather than the mainstream to maintain a solid electoral base.

- Has used the most religious-based campaigning and rhetoric of all the candidates, which would further societal divisions and partisan enmity.

- Does not have a strong “presidential appeal,” it is said, and is incapable of sufficiently rising to the position, lacking sufficient charisma.

- The Muslim Brotherhood has overall been too pragmatic in dealing with the SCAF and in approaching revolutionary issues, while this phase needs less pragmatism and greater willingness to unequivocally confront the SCAF when necessary in support of revolutionary ideals.

- The Brotherhood’s political performance in parliament has been disappointing, some say, and Morsi’s performance is thus likely to disappoint as well. Some go further and argue that a message of disapproval has to be sent to the Muslim Brotherhood by not voting for him in the presidential runoff.

Runoff arguments against Morsi compared to Shafiq

- The Brotherhood is becoming increasingly “greedy” in its political conduct. Even at this time when Morsi and the Brotherhood needed to extend their hands to everyone else to unite against Shafiq for the revolution, they remained unwilling to give sufficient guarantees to calm everyone’s fears and build a true revolutionary coalition, and they once more created a conservative-dominated constitutional assembly.

- There was never supposed to be a Brotherhood presidential candidate in the first place, and the group should be popularly punished for, it is said, continuously failing to keep its word.

- What the group is doing is, allegedly, a repeat of the Iranian experience: an Islamist hijack of a revolution against dictatorship. It would become nearly impossible to remove them from power if they establish control over all state institutions, and they will use any means necessary to stay in power, including branding opposition “as enemies of religion” if they had to. They are only “pretending” to care about democracy now, but they never truly evolved, and remain anti-democratic in their core.

- The group seemingly indicated it could rise up and take to the streets if it did not win in the runoff, arguing that votes were necessarily rigged. This demonstrates a group that does not accept democracy.

- You cannot describe the Brotherhood or Morsi as revolutionary forces anymore given their accelerating attempts to dominate power and impose their own conservative political project on a country that just had a revolution demanding progressive and non-divisive reconciliatory reforms and political conduct.

- Shafiq has recently said the Brotherhood was involved in the violence against protesters during the Battle of the Camel – claims that seem to have influenced some voters.

- The proposed economic and national reforms by the group have been technically underwhelming compared to the hype surrounding their supposed technical sophistication, and even the recent draft banking reform bill will harm and/or slow the traditional banking sector, especially in this difficult economic phase, indicating the much-hyped “Renaissance Project” is likely to underwhelm as well.

Ahmed Shafiq

Former army officer reaching the rank of lieutenant-general, former minister of civil aviation, Mubarak’s last prime minister, resigned from his post shortly after Mubarak stepped down following political and popular pressure. He finished second in the presidential election first round, scoring 5,505,327 votes, representing 23.66 per cent of the vote.

Why people say you should vote for him

General arguments

- He is an experienced leader, government official and executive, as exemplified in his perceived achievements in the Ministry of Civil Aviation and particularly the development of Cairo International Airport. Such experience is, allegedly, needed in this phase ahead.

- A successful military man who can, reputably, bring order and security in the current environment of “chaos.”

- With his connections to the SCAF, he will be capable of handling the question of the military and its relation to political power in a delicate, non-confrontational manner.

- A stylish gentleman, he has an elegant and amiable aura: a positive image for Egypt locally and internationally.

- He has a more pragmatic approach to dealing with the economic situation and stimulating the business community, with many in that community backing him.

- With his background, he can politically stand up to the Islamists and even be “tough” with them when needed; possibly even by dissolving this Islamist-dominated parliament if necessary and if he had the requisite powers.

- In rhetoric and official stances, he appears to be the most progressive frontline candidate amongst the original thirteen in the first round, it is said, and has espoused progressive campaign promises.

- Would bring back only what was good about the Mubarak days, most commonly said to be growth, societal openness, security and stability, while the negative aspects of the Mubarak days would not be repeated due to his different personality and the realities of the post-revolution environment.

- Is relatively familiar with the workings of Egyptian foreign policy, some allege, because of his background.

- No claims surrounding his alleged corruption have ever been decisively proven in a court of law.

- He is a respectable and “no-nonsense” man who says what is on his mind, and dealt gracefully for a long time with continuous ad hominem attacks by his opponents against him.

Runoff arguments for Shafiq compared to Morsi

- He is adamantly more in favour of an inclusive and progressive civil state, and is against the politicisation of religion, especially compared to Morsi.

- The sudden and dangerous ultra-aggressive ascent of the Brotherhood and their political project must be decelerated or stopped, even if only temporarily, and even if it means voting for Shafiq.

- It would be easier to rise up against, and politically oppose, Shafiq than it would be against Morsi and a strong religious regime.

- Shafiq’s victory would force revolutionary and opposition forces to unite for a longer period, compared to their current rifts. It would also force the Brotherhood and the Salafists to become more moderate forces, at least for a more extended period in time.

- During the first few years after the revolution, it might be best to have a political environment where not a single group has absolute power, and thus it would be better to have Shafiq as president as a balancing act against a parliament dominated by Islamists.

- Compared to Morsi’s victory, a Shafiq victory might give secular parties more time to strengthen their foundations instead of facing a disproportionately powerful Islamist camp, both as a politically liberal-leaning presidency and as a proponent of Egypt not adhering to a full parliamentary system at least until the nascent political party environment has grown and matured sufficiently.

- Many proponents of the presidential system also prefer Shafiq.

Why people say you should not vote for him

General arguments

- He was one of Mubarak’s most trusted men, exemplified in being his choice for prime minister when the regime was falling apart, and it was claimed that he was Mubarak’s preferred heir. It would be like voting for Mubarak himself.

- Voting for Shafiq would be a betrayal of the revolution, its ideals and the desire to move forward and away from the previous autocratic regime.

- He is surrounded by allegations of corruption, and some say they are “certain” of his corruption and have pursued legal means against Shafiq.

- He was a very strong member of the former regime and significantly involved in dealing with the revolution, and thus — it is argued — shares responsibility for much of the violence and bloodshed by the state against protesters, especially during the “Battle of the Camel.”

- He is an unskilled public speaker, and very gaffe-prone.

- Does not show real presidential or leadership qualities (perhaps even displaying the opposite), and all claims of his “experience and capabilities” are highly exaggerated if not flat out false.

- Seems to appeal more to the upper and upper-middle classes, at least in the earlier parts of his campaign, and is out of touch with the poor and common man.

- Would possibly use the powers in the current Constitutional Declaration to dissolve parliament which, despite any claimed shortfalls, remains democratically elected.

- If he gets elected then the country will sink into deep turmoil as protests and sit-ins (possibly even violent ones) will erupt. And such turmoil would further be exacerbated if Shafiq used force to deal with them, something he seems willing to do. The country may not be capable of handling the turmoil resulting from his election.

- Those in the business community and the remnants of the National Democratic Party who are apparently backing him must be doing so because they want to return to the economic and political corruption of the Mubarak days.

- He is SCAF’s preferred candidate, some say, and the elections would be rigged in his favour.

Runoff arguments against Shafiq compared to Morsi

- He hails from the former regime and on a moral basis should not be allowed to win. If Shafiq wins, then the former regime could also experience rebirth and re-empowerment, and it would be a potentially fatal blow to the revolution.

- His victory could mean the return of the police and state security forces to their former oppressive ways, and a crackdown on pro-democracy groups and activists. It would also weaken hopes of any true reform of these institutions.

- Such a victory would represent a continuation of the military establishment’s hold on executive power in Egypt since the 1950s.

- Shafiq’s accusations that the Brotherhood participated in the violence against protesters in the “Battle of the Camel” are seen as a dishonourable act, and contradictory to most other eyewitness accounts, even including an earlier statement to the contrary by Shafiq himself. By doing so, he has demonstrated his willingness to use the same manipulation techniques of the former regime, and should be punished by voters as a result.

- He does not have the wide technical network and institutions that could support his presidency as Morsi does in the form of the Brotherhood.

Boycotting the elections or spoiling your vote

Why people say you should boycott or spoil your vote

General arguments

- Voting would give further credibility to the SCAF at a time when one should continue to confront it, or at least deny it this increase in legitimacy.

- Under current conditions, some worry that elections could be rigged, with some arguing the results of the first round of the elections were manipulated to help Shafiq.

- These elections shouldn’t have been taking place now, and one should not take part in this farce (argued by proponents of the Civil Presidential Council, who feel the first round was rigged and that these alleged violations should be investigated further and the runoffs should not take place with Shafiq.)

Runoff arguments for boycott/spoiling

- Both candidates do not represent the revolution and are not good for the country. One represents the former regime and its police state, and the other represents a domineering and theocratic political group and an Iran-like future state, with a boycott the only ethical option to make.

- If enough people boycotted, it would strip either winner of a clear mandate, strong legitimacy and a sense of true victory, which could weaken their power to undertake radical policies.

- If a large amount of people spoil their votes and have them counted, it would signify a form of rejection of both candidates and the election, and would be a political blow to either winner and to the SCAF, and a victory to the revolution. Some even hope the spoiled votes will be more than those received by the candidates.

- Some feel they are uncertain which of the two candidates is the “lesser evil” and thus are unable to take that decision in a manner that relieves their conscience.

Why people say you should not boycott or spoil your vote

General arguments

- Voting is the only pragmatic way of finalising the SCAF’s transition from power, as well as to further weaken their political hold by having a popularly elected president who has the legitimacy to challenge them.

- A significant number will vote anyway, rendering the boycotting percentage negligible (as was the case during parliamentary elections). Not voting will mean losing a chance to impact the direction of the country.

- For many, one particular candidate or another (depending on the voter group) truly deserves to become president, and thus people have to vote to bring him to office.

- The country needs a civilian-based and stable government so as to get out of its current economic, security and political crises.

Runoff arguments against boycott/spoiling

- Either action would benefit only one particular candidate, and you cannot allow that candidate to win even if you do not like the alternative (applies interchangeably to both Morsi and Shafiq, depending who s/he deems the greater evil).

- The fact is that one of them will win. Thus, arguably, one has to be realistic and choose the more acceptable alternative. Otherwise, the voter would be choosing idealism without any actual impact or choosing to be an escapist.

- Even if one insists on not voting, then at least one should spoil one’s own vote rather than boycott. This way the objection would be registered and it would make it harder for anyone to rig one’s vote.


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