Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 May - 6 June 2012
Issue No. 1100
Front Page
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A nation polarised

The next two and a half weeks are crucial in determining Egypt's future after the first round of presidential elections left Egyptians deeply divided, reports Khaled Dawoud

Click to view caption
Tahrir Square graffiti reminds voters of those who lost their lives for freedom. The message is not to betray the martyrs in their choice of president

"When [former President Hosni] Mubarak dies, [presidential candidate Ahmed] Shafik will marry his widow, Suzanne, and Gamal Mubarak will become the next president." So goes one of many jokes circulating across social media in an attempt to warn Egyptians not to vote for Shafik.

For his opponents, the election as president of the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak before his forced removal will only ever be a continuation of the ousted regime. Voting for Shafik, it is claimed, is a "betrayal" of the blood of nearly 1,200 mostly young Egyptians who died in the popular revolt that deposed Mubarak.

Warnings against voting for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party candidate Mohamed Mursi, who pipped Shafik to the post in the first round, are no less dire. "Vote for Mursi and we will go back to the Middle Ages," "vote for Mursi and he will force all our women to put on the veil and stay at home," and "no to a state controlled by the supreme guide [of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie]," are a few examples.

The sharp division among Egyptians is not only being translated into jokes and cynical short tweets. Demonstrations broke out in at least dozen Egyptian cities against Shafik. In some cases clashes between supporters of each candidate resulted in injuries.

The worst incident was an attack on Monday evening on the villa in Dokki which Shafik was using as his campaign headquarters. A garage attached to the villa, used to store Shafik's campaign material, was set on fire. Police arrested five suspects, and reportedly summoned activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah for questioning. Abdel-Fattah has been arrested before following false testimony by two alleged eyewitnesses who claimed he was involved in clashes between the army and Christian protesters in front of the television building, Maspero, in October. The two witnesses were later charged with perjury.

As soon as the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) announced the final results, confirming that a run-off would take place between Mursi and Shafik on 16 and 17 June, hundreds rushed to Tahrir Square to protest. Within a few hours their numbers had swollen to thousands. They were led by the youngest presidential candidate, Khaled Ali, who won just over 140,000 votes. A second protest against Shafik has been called in Tahrir for tomorrow.

Demonstrations also took place in Alexandria, Port Said, Suez, Ismailia, Mansoura, Damietta and Tanta, where at least four people were injured after Shafik supporters attacked protesters who were demonstrating against the results. Tanta, the capital of Gharbiya governorate, voted heavily in favour of Shafik, as did the Nile Delta governorates of Sharqiya, Menoufiya and Daqahliya, countering claims by the Brotherhood that Shafik's support came mainly from Coptic Christians who do not have a heavy presence in the rural Delta.

Many of those taking part in protests agreed that they would not vote for either Shafik or Mursi, claiming that elections were rigged to assure the defeat of Nasserist activist Hamdeen Sabahi, who took many by surprise by coming a close third. PEC figures placed Mursi first with 5.76 million votes, followed by Shafik on 5.5 million and Sabahi with 4.8 million. Former Brotherhood leader Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh won four million votes and former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa 2.58 million.

While Abul-Fotouh refused to accept results which he claimed had been rigged, Sabahi said in an interview on Tuesday that he had no "solid evidence that mass rigging took place in a way that would influence the results". That conclusion was confirmed by local and international groups that monitored the vote. Yet both candidates criticised the PEC for refusing to recognise a bill approved by parliament a few weeks ago banning senior officials from Mubarak's last 10 years in office from running for the presidency. PEC referred the bill to the Supreme Constitutional Court, a move that allowed Shafik to run.

While most observers expect that Abul-Fotouh will eventually endorse Mursi, Sabahi was clear on Tuesday that he was backing neither candidate. "We should not be forced to choose between two nightmares," he said in an interview, referring to Shafik and Mursi. Sabahi had a few kind words for the Brotherhood, admitting they were an integral part of the revolution against Mubarak, "but Egyptians do not want one party that controls all powers in Egypt: the parliament, the cabinet and the presidency, and would not accept a religious state".

Shafik's supporters were the only camp that felt entitled to celebrate. Three weeks after Mubarak's removal Shafik was also forced to quit as prime minister following widescale demonstrations in Tahrir Square.

Though their candidate came first, the Brotherhood was in far from jubilant mood. After claiming that Mursi was close to achieving a landslide victory in the first round, the Brotherhood saw its share of the vote slide to almost half of the figures it polled in January's parliamentary elections. On a relatively low turnout, Mursi was languishing on 25 per cent of the ballot.

Observers agree that many Egyptians have changed their mind about the Brotherhood in the wake of their poor parliamentary performance.

The Brotherhood's leadership originally promised the group would not field a presidential candidate. It is just one among several pledges that the group has broken. The Brotherhood also vowed not to seek to control the committee tasked with drafting the country's first constitution after the revolution yet set about using the Islamist majority in parliament to pack the committee with their supporters.

The most bitter charge against the Brotherhood by liberal and leftist groups that took part in the revolt against Mubarak was that they were left alone in the ensuing confrontation with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). In bloody clashes that took place in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and in front of the Cabinet's office in November and December, killing at least 50 people, the Brotherhood's leadership was not only tightlipped but criticised protesters for trying to disrupt an electoral process they hoped would secure them a majority in parliament.

Mursi's appeals for former Brothers in arms to unite under his leadership and vote for him instead of Shafik have fallen on deaf ears. As soon as results were out rumours circulated that Mursi was ready to appoint both Sabahi and Abul-Fotouh as deputy presidents. Brotherhood spokesmen also promised senior positions for women and Coptic Christians in an attempt to portray Mursi as a consensus candidate. It will be a hard sell to a public which seems convinced that Mursi would actually hand over power to the Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie.

Shafik will also struggle convincing his opponents to vote for him. "The battle right now," his campaign team has announced, "is not between the former regime and the 25 January Revolution but between a civilian and a religious state".

During his campaign Shafik sharply criticised opposition figure Mohamed El-Baradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and one-time presidential candidate. Yet after repeatedly ridiculing El-Baradei, Shafik announced on Monday that he was ready to offer him a job as an advisor.

A number of liberal and leftist parties, together with losing candidates Khaled Ali and Amr Moussa, launched their own initiative yesterday. "The United Civilian Trend" is demanding the incoming president to form a presidential council comprising representatives of key groups that took part in the revolt against Mubarak, and that the candidates declare before elections who will occupy the post of prime minister should they be elected and offer guarantees that the cabinet will include Coptic representatives, women and youth leaders.

"My fear is that the army is happily watching all these fights and exchanged threats," says political activist Adel El-Mashad. "If things spin out of control, or threaten to do so, they will do like Nasser did in 1954, dissolving all political parties, declaring martial laws and appointing yet another general as president."

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