A veteran from ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s rule, who had shoes and rocks thrown at him more than once, has shocked many by coming in second place in the first round of the country’s presidential elections race.
The rise (once again) of former prime minister and air force commander, Ahmed Shafiq, has irked many, especially the revolutionaries who worked hard to rid Egypt of its old regime. They are not alone in holding Mubarak-era officials responsible for worsening the condition of their country’s destitute.
However, the turn in Shafiq’s fortune wheel has compelled some to ridicule Egyptians altogether, saying the people will never undergo change and that the martyrdom of those of the January 25 revolution was in vain.
The race was expected to be between the Islamists, most importantly the Muslim Brotherhood (which had near eight decades in political organizing) and non-Islamists, because Egyptians were growing increasingly frustrated with rising crime rates and feared a parliament packed ultra-God-fearing men and women.
Very few placed their bets on a non-Islamist such as Shafiq because they didn’t expect voters would choose a Mubarak associate.
There are many reasons why Shafiq has managed to come in second place.
Shafiq’s re-emergence indicates that people want some kind of iron-fist rule against a backdrop of rising crime rates.
While Egyptians have indeed suffered from decades of state control, they have also found state-sponsored terrorism agonizing to endure. But they no longer want to venture into the unknown or take more risks, and this is especially true of the elderly voters who want to see Egypt’s security restored.
Although Egyptian walls were filled with graffiti calling for an end to military rule, violence in the capital’s Abbasiya area in May ─ which left nine people dead ─ seemed to prompt some shift in some peoples’ minds.
People felt that they had enough; they wanted to continue with their lives and see their businesses grow.
During the Abbasiya crisis, Shafiq was unafraid to express his true sentiments and praised the military. And during his presidential campaigns, unlike other candidates, he used his military background to assure people that he would bring stability to Egypt.
The Christians, who famously said they were disfranchised under Mubarak’s rule, too voted for Shafiq in the hope that he would restore some stability and keep the Islamists away.
A vote for Shafiq also showed the absence of desirable strong liberal contenders, not just in Egypt but across the Arab world where liberals are ill equipped to compete with well-organized Islamists.
The American political scientist and author, Francis Fukuyama, writing in The Daily Beast on Monday, blamed Shafiq’s ascent on Egyptian liberals themselves.
“They could organize protests and demonstrations, and act with often reckless courage to challenge the old regime. But they could not go on to rally around a single candidate, and then engage in the slow, dull, grinding work of organizing a political party that could contest an election, district by district.”
Perhaps it was wishful thinking to expect a radical change post Arab Spring; a new government free of remnants from a previous autocratic regime. It’s not very democratic to exclude people just for belonging to an old regime.
Shafiq is also learning and trying to remodel himself as a revolutionary.
At a press conference on Saturday, the old military man addressed the revolutionary youth and promised to “restore” the revolution after it was hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Only time will tell whether this too will appeal to the Egyptians.
(Dina al-Shibeeb, a journalist at Al Arabyia, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)