The first-round presidential election results in Egypt have turned the tables on many political equations and calculations, whilst also shining a light on many of the ironies present on the scene; therefore it is not surprising that many people’s reactions are oscillating between astonishment, shock, confusion and anxiety. The analysis that preceded the elections went in all directions, except actually predicting the election results, which have put the Egyptian people in front of two choices each as bad as each other. One candidate represents a trend that wants to dominate the political scene and absorb all of the achievements made by the revolution, whilst the second candidate does not represent the spirit of the revolution whatsoever, even if he claims that he is keen to implement its goals and that he will not be a return to the old regime, which he was a prominent member of. The problem is that these elections results, which surprised many, means that the election of a president will not calm the situation, but this will mean further escalation, polarization and controversy regarding the achievements of the revolution, particularly for the revolutionary youth, who have seen their dreams evaporate, their hopes disappear and their revolution being commandeered from them, even before the Tahrir Square celebrations were over.
A victory for Mohamed Mursi, the candidate of the Freedom and Justice party, would mean that the Muslim Brotherhood – not to mention the Islamist parties allied or sympathetic to it – will completely dominate the political scene, from the parliament to the government to the presidency, which will lead to severe congestion, as well as probable confrontations with many different political parties who are fear their true intentions, particularly regarding their commitment to democracy. As for an Ahmed Shafiq victory, this would not necessarily mean a reproduction of the old regime, but it will certainly represent a painful blow to the revolutionary youth who took to the streets to protest against this regime and who believe they had removed it and all of its figures, as they would find themselves facing the return of the last prime minister of the Mubarak era. It is true that Shafiq is trying hard to win over the revolutionary youth, but he will still find himself confronting other parties, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, who – along with their allies – control the legislative branch and are seeking to take control of the government. They will, no doubt, work to hinder any Shafiq presidency, particularly as one of his election pledges was to curtail the Muslim Brotherhood’s presence. In addition to this, Shafiq – in the eyes of the Brotherhood – represents a holdover from the former regime, which imposed a strong security blockade around them.
The biggest irony in all of this is that the Brotherhood, who quickly jumped on the back of the revolution and outmaneuvered other parties to reap all of its fruits for themselves, are now calling for the revolution to be saved after they previously ignored such pleas as soon as they tasted victory [at the parliamentary elections] and sought to gain control over all branches of power. For as soon as the results of the first round of the presidential elections began to appear, the Muslim Brotherhood came out to issue statements and comments warning against the revolution being hijacked and appealing to various political forces to rally around their candidate to save the revolution, which was “in danger” today because voting for the other candidate would mean a victory for the remnants of the Mubarak regime and a defeat of the revolution. From this point of view, perhaps Shafiq is the “ideal” candidate for the Brotherhood, because he may win them the most votes as long as the confrontation is viewed as being between one of the faces of the old regime and a candidate that does not want – whatever the cost – the return of this regime, which pursued the Muslim Brotherhood and imposed a tight security grip on its operations.
The reality is that the Muslim Brotherhood bears some responsibility for this election dilemma, because if they had kept their promise not to put forward a presidential, committing to their previous refusal to put forward any Islamist for these elections, as they said that this would not be in the interests of Egypt at the present time, then the situation would not have reached this juncture. Therefore the situation following the first round of the presidential elections would not be frustrating and worrying for all those who hoped that the presidential elections would be the beginning of Egypt moving away from this period of crises and problems following the revolution, which almost completely suffocated the country. If the Muslim Brotherhood had not put forward their candidate, there would have been an opportunity for the parties – or at least a majority of them – to reach a consensus over a presidential candidate, who would then have had a very strong opportunity at the elections, rather than votes being cast in every direction.
The Brotherhood also frustrated the chances of drafting a constitution prior to the presidential elections, so now the next president will come to power in the midst of an uncertain constitutional situation, which leaves the door open for all manners of confrontation regarding the powers of the presidency. Therefore Egypt could still see a possible confrontation between different powers over the drafting of the most important document regarding the regulations of rights and powers, not to mention the protection of democracy and citizen rights. It would have been better for the constitution to have been drafted before any elections, as this must serve as the reference for state institutes and political powers, as well as a roadmap for democracy and the guarantor of the rights of every citizen. However the Muslim Brotherhood, who sensed they had the opportunity to achieve a quick victory in early elections insisted on carrying out legislative elections, and then after they won, sought to dominate the committee tasked with drafting the constitution, sparking anger and criticism, leading to the dissolution of this committee and the postponement of the battle over the constitution, which will – no doubt – be fiercer than the electoral battles. Due to this postponement, the Egyptians are facing the possibility of the drafting of this constitution being in the hands of the Islamists, if they are secure in their hegemony over the presidency, government and parliament. In fact, the formation of the constitution committee will be the subject of struggle and confrontation whether next president is Shafiq or any other candidate who could represent a last-minute surprise in this electoral process that has already been full of surprises!
The coming days will undoubtedly witness widespread political movement and a barrage of initiatives to get us out of this electoral dilemma, and there are some people calling for opening the scene to a third presidential election candidate, which seems unlikely, whilst others are calling for the Brotherhood to withdraw Mursi’s candidacy and allow Hamdeen Sabahi to compete with Shafiq in the run-off, particularly as he is the candidate who is most backed by the forces of the revolution, however this also remains an unlikely proposition, because the Brotherhood – until now – do not seem interested in making concessions, particularly as they believe it is possible to win over the voters who refuse to vote for Shafiq, if they succeed in portraying the battle as a battle to prevent the return of the remnants of the former regime. Once more, the Muslim Brotherhood’s accounts and their political maneuvering with regards to the Egyptian revolution will face a difficult test, whose results are unknown, but which does not point to a quick return to the stability needed by Egypt.
Osman Mirghani is Asharq al-Awsat's Senior Editor-at-Large. This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 31, 2012