Those congratulating the Muslim Brotherhood for Mohammed Mursi’s victory in the Egyptian presidential elections have failed to take note: the organization has sustained substantial losses, and a comparison of voting trends in the parliamentary and presidential elections reveals a sharp decline in the Brotherhood’s popularity in the five months between.While the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party received 10.5 million votes (33 percent of the total) in the legislative elections, Mursi received almost half of that in the first round of the presidential election: 5.7 million votes (or roughly 25 percent of the votes), beating the runner-up Ahmed Shafiq by a mere 259,000 votes.
As for the runoff round, Mursi squeaked by in a narrow victory – with only 882,000 votes over his rival, despite the fact that many of the Brotherhood’s competitors during the parliamentary elections and the first round of the presidential election endorsed him in the runoff out of fear that a Shafiq victory would spell the end of the revolution. Also, there were almost 843,000 nullified votes – nearly equal to the difference between the two presidential contenders.
This overview at the national level raises a number of questions about the “disappearance” of almost half of the Brotherhood’s voting bloc. More significantly, however, examination of the voting figures in each province reveals a significant drop even in traditional Brotherhood strongholds.
Mursi came in second or third place in a number of provinces in the Delta known as Islamist-friendly – areas which the organization had swept in the parliamentary elections: Sharqiya, Gharbiya, Dakahliya, Qaliobiya, Menoufiya, Alexandria, and Ismailiya. In Alexandria, Mursi came in third place in the first round – barely getting half as many votes as the leftist Hamdeen Sabahi (571,700 versus 299,400), even though the FJP won 10 of the province’s 24 seats in parliament amid fierce competition from the Salafists.
Mursi also came in second place in his own home province of Sharqiya, garnering only 32 percent of the vote, while the Brotherhood previously won 18 of the 30 available seats in parliament. In Beheira, the home of the Brotherhood’s founder Hasan al-Banna, the Brotherhood won a respectable 12 out of 30 seats; Mursi won only 29 percent of the vote. In Gharbiya, where the organization landed 13 out of 30 seats, the new president’s support plunged to 17 percent in the first round.
Shafiq continued to make headway on the Brotherhood’s home turf in the runoffs. In Gharbiya, for example, he took 63 percent of the vote for Mursi’s 37 percent. In the eastern Delta province of Sharqiya, Mursi was also upset by 54 percent to 46 percent, and in Qaliobiya, Mursi took only 42 percent versus a 58 percent for Shafiq – and again, after the FJP dominated parliamentary election performance in the area, taking 10 of 17 seats.
In Dakahliya, where the FJP won 47 percent of the available seats, Shafiq defeated Mursi by a margin of 56 percent to his opponent’s 44 percent. And in former President Hosni Mubarak’s home province of Menoufiya, Shafiq won a blowout victory with 71.5 percent of the vote. Port Said was also a major Shafiq victory at 54.2 percent.
These figures show that the Brotherhood has started to lose some of its sway in its traditional strongholds among the voter-rich provinces of the Delta and Lower Egypt. Even in the densely populated province of Cairo, Mursi has also struggled, with a losing 44 percent to Shafiq’s 56 – after finishing only third in the first round with a mere 17 percent of the vote.
In Upper Egypt, however, where changes take longer, the Brotherhood has retained its influence by a narrow margin, and has been helped by the tribal-dominated political culture. The Muslim Brotherhood carried the provinces of Fayoum, Asyut, Minya, Sohag, Beni Sweif, Qena, and Aswan in both rounds of the presidential election.
This contrast in the results is undoubtedly linked to the performance of the FJP in parliament – the first and only testing ground for the Brotherhood’s political performance. The organization is running up against high expectations, and its attempts to grab all executive and legislative power within reach, including the presidency (after it had said it wouldn’t run a candidate) has led to backlash.
Its biggest blunder lay in its persistent efforts to control the makeup of the constitutional assembly tasked with writing the constitution, which pushed excluded political actors to mobilize against it. Such maneuverings likely brought to mind the practices of the now-defunct National Democratic Party and resurrected fears of a one-party system of the majority that was no less a dictatorship than Mubarak’s.
While Mursi certainly has more limited popularity than the disqualified Khairat al-Shater, explaining the decline with such factors is flawed.
After all, Mursi was not an independent candidate, but a nominee representing a party with broad support and a reliable bloc of voters that historically endorse the Brotherhood and its principles, regardless of the nominee. In the first round, a vote for Mursi was a vote for the Brotherhood. Even the organization’s former supreme guide, Mohammad Mehdi Akef acknowledged that the drop from the 10.5 million votes in the People’s Assembly elections to 5.7 million in the first round of the presidential elections indicated that the party lost a significant number of rank-and-file supporters. In a May 27 interview, Akef even attributed this in part to the Brotherhood’s missteps in parliament.
The results of the presidential election also indicate that Egyptians long for civil leadership. Despite Shafiq’s participation in the Mubarak regime, many Egyptians saw him as a protector of a civil state – and voted in kind. This preference was also reflected in the surprisingly strong first-round showing of Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third place, and not far behind the two front-runners. Despite his campaign’s limited financial resources, Sabahi managed to take almost 21 percent of the vote from urban centers like Cairo and Giza.
Also, voter turnout in the presidential elections was under 50 percent; meaning that the 5.7 million votes for Mursi in the first round represented a mere 11 percent of the total electorate.
As Mursi assumes the challenges of the presidency and attempts to redress the everyday issues of Egyptians, the Brotherhood’s popularity is likely to decline further. The FJP may have won the day, but its rise to the presidency will only lead to that much more public scrutiny in its hard-won – and all too easily lost – limelight.
The writer is managing editor of The Democracy Review Quarterly, a publication of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. The article was published in the Daily Star on July 17, 2012