Simply following the comments of activists and observers on social networking websites during the press conference held by the head of Egypt’s electoral commission, Farouk Sultan, who was forced by law to issue a lengthy legal preamble before the election result was announced, was fun in itself. These activists, in their nervous state, posted various comments claiming that Sultan’s narrative or use of certain words meant that Shafiq would be declared the winner, only to return later to post other comments claiming that the indications now suggested that Mursi would be declared victorious! Some comments accused the head of the electoral commission of being sadistic, because he did not immediately announce the election result but instead left everyone on the edge of their seats as he reviewed the work of the electoral commission and the difficult conditions it operated under.
Despite a flood of conspiracy theories, claims of voter fraud, and talk about secret understandings being reached behind closed doors, no one was sure of the name of the winning candidate until Farouk Sultan announced that Mohammed Mursi had won ahead of Ahmed Shafiq. Hence a new chapter in post-25 January Egypt has begun, and the challenges of this stage are no less difficult than the previous transitional period, which lasted for around 16 months and was full of turmoil.
There was a winner and a loser, each with a large support base who voted for them, and neither can cancel the other out. The end result was decided by a difference of less than 3 percent, or about 900 thousand votes out of a total of roughly 26 million according to the commission’s figures, including more than 800 thousand invalid votes. In the end, everyone must accept the outcome of the ballot box even if the difference is so small.
There are several implications to such a small difference in the votes cast for Mursi and Shafiq, most importantly nobody can say they have an absolute popular mandate. Secondly, there seems to be an almost fifty percent split along societal divisions in the Egyptian electorate’s voting.
It was a good sign that the losing candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, sent a personal note congratulating his rival and wishing him well following the announcement of the election results. Perhaps Obama’s advice to the losing candidate, namely do not withdraw from political work but benefit from the experience, will serve Shafiq well, especially considering that he was able to win so many votes. It was also a good sign that in his first statement, president-elect Mursi confirmed that he would be a president for all Egyptians, referring to all the governorates, even those that did not vote for him, especially in the Nile Delta. If we want to lay the foundations for a continual democratic experience then we must establish a tradition of the loser accepting defeat and the winner reassuring those who did not vote for him, so that no election will lead to blood and violence, as some expected, or fiery and antagonistic statements in the countdown to the electoral commission’s announcement.
The reality that should be in the minds of the political players on the Egyptian scene today is that 13.2 million Egyptians voted for Mursi and won, whilst 12.3 million voted for Shafiq and lost. However, the concerns and views of the “losers” must be part of the new equation if we want to continue to move forwards, especially since there is a widespread belief that several million voted for a certain candidate purely because they hated his rival and had no other options.
The final two candidates who appeared in the Egyptian presidential run-off election, was a surprise in itself, and came contrary to the expectations of most analysts. No one expected Mursi or Shafiq to be victorious in the weeks and days leading up to the first round of elections, as other candidates were viewed as being frontrunners. However, it seemed that the public had a different opinion.
The writer is Asharq Alawsat's Deputy Editor-in-Chief. The article was published in the London-based daily on June 26, 2012