Youths on the television screens are expressing the bitterness they feel as a result of the outcome of the first round of the Egyptian presidential election. They are speaking on the same screens that had once carried their dreams, slogans and fist gestures from Tahrir Square. The results of the election have put them in front of a painful or difficult choice: Either the General or the Ikhwan, i.e. either Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, or Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The first round could have been an opportunity to move away from this polarization. Many votes went to Hamdeen Sabahi, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and others went to Amr Moussa. But in the end, the ballot boxes issued their verdict: Egypt will have to choose in the run-off between the General and the Sheikh – naturally while bearing in mind that the path to the run-off remains rife with the potential for surprises.
The youths who ignited the first spark became trapped in the dream, and this is no strange matter in the history of revolutions. They thought that toppling the Mubarak regime would mean the creation of a new Egypt, a democratic, transparent and pluralistic Egypt.
They also thought that Egypt will immediately catch up with the age and that it would soon resemble what they concocted on Facebook and on the web and blogs. They were under the illusion that they shot one last time at tyranny, autocracy, corruption, isolation and the rejection of others, and that the time for radical and comprehensive change had come. They conceived that this Egypt, as it was preparing to be reborn, would resemble any other normal state in the civilized world, and that it would be in the custody of new powers.
The confusion of the youths when faced with the results was clear and evident in what they said or wrote. What happened to the revolution? Who hijacked it? Will Egypt soon need a second revolution? Where did Shafik get millions of votes, coming ahead of the Arab nationalist and Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi? What caused the existing polarization? Is it true that the elites bear some responsibility for misunderstanding what is happening in the Egyptian hinterland, and the factors that cause millions of voters to vote one way or the other? Some said that the religious factor gave Morsi five million votes, while nostalgia to security and stability, as well as fears of a theocratic state, gave Shafik a similar number of votes, more or less.
They spoke of the remnants of the banned National Party electoral machine, and the deep presence of that of the military. Others stopped at the turnout, which came less than it was expected given the importance of the battle and the stakes involved. They were struck by the fact that Morsi’s votes do not give him a mandate to implement the Muslim Brotherhood’s program, if he wins.
They pointed to the threat of the presidency, the parliament and the government all falling into hands of a single party, even if the said party were to be compelled temporarily to introduce other elements initially. Analyzing the results of the first round requires factoring in many elements: The religious factor and issues of security; fear of a return to past practices; fear of the erosion of the prestige of the state; fear of the risk posed by a theocratic state; as well as the distribution of the Salafist, liberal and Coptic votes, respectively.
Shafik needs to give out reassurances that he is not the candidate of the return to the previous era, and he has indeed begun to move in that direction. Morsi, meanwhile, needs to give out reassurances and posts, and he has indeed begun to make offers.
The coming days will be rife with maneuvering, promises and pledges. But we will have to wait before we know what kind of president Egypt will have. It is truly a new experience, but one that is difficult as well. Egypt needs security and stability, and tough economic decisions.
Egypt needs to reassure both tourists and investors, and it needs to redefine its position in the regional and international interactions in light of its interests and commitments. Shafik’s Egypt and Morsi’s Egypt are two very different things. Even after we known who will be the president of Egypt, the test in Egypt will remain open-ended.
Most likely, the youths who set off the revolution will not find for themselves a position in the Egypt that will be born out of this test.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in Dar Al Hayat on May. 28, 2012