Egypt lived through a rather odd week, not only for my generation, but for everyone as events unfolded. Describing them as “surprising” would be an understatement. The week began on 16 June with hot and humid weather, which does not put Egyptians in a good mood or encourage them to go to polling stations. Thus, the first shock was that no one showed up to the party that the entire nation had been anticipating — apparently it had been 6,000 years since Egyptians elected their Pharaoh, king, prince, wali, sultan, or even president of the republic.
The first statements were timid that voter turnout was no more than 35 per cent, while news reports put turnout in Cairo between 15 and 20 per cent. The people boycotted the election and were entirely uninterested in either campaign. Perhaps they were plain disgusted at making an impossible choice between someone who appeared to belong to the ousted regime that the people had revolted against and who was somehow able to climb to the top of the race, and on the other hand someone who belongs to a group 14 centuries old, or, if you are generous, since the end of the Ottoman Empire.
It was a choice between two types of “remnants” — as is commonly said these days — but 17 months after a revolution that began on Facebook.
Night fell on an astonished nation. The next day, the weather was just as brutal but a trigger prompted Egyptians to flock to voting stations; the second surprise was that more than 50 per cent of Egyptians took part in the balloting (more than 25 million Egyptians). Thus, overnight, talk shows attempted to explain why Egyptians didn’t bother voting at first but then eventually came out in droves.
Meanwhile, election results began to trickle down through the media starting at 11pm. Morsi or Shafiq? Who has a majority, the advocate of a religious state or the leader of a civilian one, in minor polling stations that sometimes only had a few hundred voters?
Throughout the night, Cairo watched with bated breath as votes were counted, added and subtracted. It was obvious in the beginning that Mohamed Morsi — the candidate of the Freedom and Justice Party — was in the lead, and it later became apparent that he had won Upper Egypt and border governorates that have relatively fewer voters, making it quicker to count the ballots. This is unlike governorates in the north with large populations in the Delta, and in Cairo. These early results probably emboldened Morsi to drop a bombshell by calling a news conference at 3am Monday to announce his victory.
Suddenly, the presidential race became a production that at times had elements of drama, tragedy and comedy. The drama happened because of the complexities that emerged. First, the elections took place in the shadow of a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) that the “Disenfranchisement Law” was unconstitutional (its official name is the Law of the Practice of Political Rights). Then the SCC ruled that the election law used for parliamentary elections was also unconstitutional, and thus dissolved the People’s Assembly.
Meanwhile, before vote counting began, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had issued a “supplementary” constitutional declaration that was criticized by many political circles, and SCAF also established the unpopular National Defense Council. These measures gave the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Morsi a battery of political ammunition that he used for political mobilization in Tahrir Square and other squares. Then the Muslim Brotherhood tone began to threaten doom and destruction if parliament were not reinstated irrespective of the SCC’s ruling and if Morsi did not win the presidential elections.
Tragedy accompanied the drama, namely the condition of former President Hosni Mubarak whose health deteriorated sharply; in fact there was an official statement at one point that he was clinically dead. It was like a tragedy: a new king is elected while another goes to the grave, according to various medical reports. Meanwhile, for Morsi nothing would stand in his way to the presidential seat.
This roused Shafiq’s campaign to declare that Morsi's claims were untrue, and that if there was a winner, it was Shafiq. Suddenly, the numbers Morsi was announcing were being scrutinised and believed to be unreliable. As both sides filed complaints about electoral irregularities before the deadline, the people pondered: Why is Morsi filing all these complaints if he already won a few days ago? And this is where comedy prevailed, since the majority of Egyptians suddenly became expert legal analysts.
Morsi and Shafiq’s campaigns alternated declarations of victory and criticism; it appears that invisible ink was used during the elections and that Al-Amiriya Press printed ballot cards that were pre-marked even before polling stations opened.
Drama, tragedy and comedy came together. And as is often the case, mobilization of the people in support of Morsi began on the streets until Shafiz’s supporters eventually realized that now was the time to take to the streets as well. They gathered at the symbolic site of the Unknown Soldier Memorial. On the other hand, crowds mobilized for a group specializing in representing the Egyptian people: they call themselves, “The Third Way" or "trend” and believe that the ruin of Egyptian politics for a long time has been because it is divided between two currents — the trend of the Egyptian state represented by political parties that are always loyal to the state, and the Muslim Brotherhood.
This being the case, the solution for Egypt’s political dilemma, the group argues, can only be reached through the emergence of a third current in the midst of the two existing ones. The only problem is that the third trend — which is known by many names — seemingly is in need of a fourth, fifth and sixth trend because of its multiple sections, groups and leaderships. They all occupy large portions of airtime on TV and radio and in the press, more than actually taking any real action. Meanwhile, real politics was being played out between SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission that reviewed filed complaints and decided who would be Egypt’s next president.
Was this the historic moment we were all waiting for? Perhaps. Probably we don’t really know what is a historic moment.
The writer is a prominent columnist with English Ahram where this article was first published on June 28, 2012.