Countdown to the unknown
The showdown between Egypt's run-off candidates is a reflection of a more profound struggle, writes Dina Ezzat
The exchange of attacks between the two run-off presidential candidates in Egypt is intensifying.
It is not just a political fight between Mohamed Mursi, the candidate of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, and the favourite candidate of high political and security bodies. It is rather a war between two political blocs.
On the one hand there is the bloc of Shafik, openly trying to reintroduce Mubarak rule in a new version under the banner of "no going back to" and "no hostility with the past". On the other hand, there is the bloc that wants to turn the page and introduce a new political and social system, which is feared by some to be as unfavourable as that of the past, even if different in style.
The Shafik camp falls squarely out of the space of the 25 January Revolution, for he was prime minister upon the bloody attack on demonstrators in Tahrir Square and elsewhere during the early days of the revolution. For its part, the Mursi camp might not be exactly at the heart of what remains of the revolution, due to post-revolution political squabbles between the Muslim Brotherhood and other political forces, but it remains associated with the revolution by virtue of the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood youth ranks joined the protests and defended demonstrators upon attempts to forcefully empty Tahrir Square.
This week, Shafik opted to drag Mursi, and the Muslim Brotherhood in its entirety, completely out of the revolution camp when he openly accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being responsible for the bloody attack on Tahrir Square on 2 February 2011 -- "The Battle of the Camel" -- whereby armed thugs on camels and horses attacked unarmed demonstrators with swords and cudgels.
The accusation, shocking as it was for wide circles, even those that are not necessarily sympathetic with the outcome of the revolution, prompted Mursi to hit back and to call for Shafik to be tried for exactly the same charges that prompted a court of law on 2 June -- a year and a half after Mubarak was forced to step down -- to indict the ousted president with turning a blind eye to the killings of demonstrators and to sentence him and his minister of interior to life imprisonment.
Meanwhile, the war of rhetoric is hyping up, with Shafik openly accusing Mursi, and the Muslim Brotherhood, of wanting to drag Egypt into outmoded norms and with Mursi openly accusing Shafik of working with the support of state security bodies and a corrupt business community to re-instate the Mubarak regime in what would amount to a total elimination of the revolution.
Each candidate has been meanwhile trying to solicit the bloc of support of losing presidential runners. Shafik has widened his base of support within the quarters of the Coptic Church and within the traditional base of the upper middle class. For his part, Mursi has garnered the support of Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh -- the former Muslim Brotherhood member who was expelled over a year ago from the Islamist organisation over his unilateral decision to run for the presidency when the group said it would not field a candidate.
Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi have both declined to offer support for either candidate, with the latter suggesting that he is inclined to say no to both candidates on the day of elections.
"It is a very sad moment for me; this is not at all what I was hoping for," said Nadine, a 27-year old woman who was in demonstrations in Tahrir Square from day one until Mubarak was forced to step down 11 February last year.
Nadine was hoping to have Mohamed El-Baradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency whose return to Egypt in 2010 started the uphill mobilisation towards the 25 January demonstrations, as president.
For Nadine, a civil servant from the upper middle class, the choice of El-Baradei was not about the man himself, despite the respect that she shows towards him, but more about what El-Baradei had to offer -- as she said: "a modern and liberal mentality".
El-Baradei, Nadine added, is exactly the end to the equation that Egypt is faced with today: either the Mubarak regime or the Muslim Brotherhood. "This juxtaposition, we thought was eliminated when Egyptians of all sorts took to Tahrir Square, but here we are again back with either Mubarak and his men or the Muslim Brotherhood," she said.
Nadine voted for Abul-Fotouh in the first round. "I thought he offered a decent even if not perfect combination of the Islamist factor, which whether I like it or not is a key factor in the composition of the Egyptian people today, and the modern way of thinking that was clear in his programme."
When she voted for Abul-Fotouh, Nadine was doubtful that he would make it. "I thought that Amr Moussa was definitely going to make it to the second round with maybe Mursi, given that Moussa is very popular and Mursi has the Muslim Brotherhood machine behind him".
For Nadine, Mursi was no choice at all. And Moussa was, "Ok even if not ideal for the transition," given that he has experience and that he was not serving with the ousted president for over 10 years.
Today, Nadine is "really hoping for this second round to be stopped". The only chance for Nadine is for the Supreme Constitutional Court today (Thursday) to decide that the law adopted by parliament a few weeks ago to exclude all who served in high-ranking posts in the Mubarak government during the last 10 years is constitutional.
The chances, by the account of sources in the Shafik campaign, for this to happen are very slim. "I could say that we are 99 per cent confident that this would not happen simply because this law is unconstitutional," said one source in the campaign.
The fact that the Presidential Elections Committee referred the law to the Supreme Constitutional Court for a ruling on its constitutionality has been assessed last week to be illegal by an advisory judicial board.
If Shafik is pulled out of the race Thursday, the chances are that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), in its capacity as the current head of the executive, would call for a referendum on Mursi and if the Muslim Brotherhood candidate fails to pass through then a new round of elections would have to take place with the losing 11 candidates from the first round, unless some chose not to run.
For Nadine, a referendum on Mursi would be a much easier "moral and political challenge". "I cannot vote for Shafik; that is out of the question. I cannot believe that he is running and that he is making it to round two. It is an insult to everything we have done," she said.
Nadine is also perplexed about voting for Mursi because he stands for everything that she disagrees with "intellectually and politically". "But today the choice for me is between voting for Mursi or to boycott and this is a very hard decision," she said.
Nadine said that she is more inclined to vote for Mursi than to boycott or to annul her voting card. "I am thinking that by voting for Mursi, I am actually voting for the revolution because nobody can deny that it was the Muslim Brotherhood who protected us during the attacks of the thugs sent by Mubarak and his men, but I am really scared of Mursi because the Muslim Brotherhood have been and are still acting in a dominating way since they secured a majority in parliament," she added.
Since the announcement of the first round of elections calls have been made on the Muslim Brotherhood to offer signs of accommodations and assurances to revolutionary political forces in order to secure their support for Mursi. Some of these calls were made from within the heart of the intellectual Islamist mainstream, with commentators and observers of different generations, like Fahmy Howeidy and Heba Raouf Ezzat, offering outlines for the Muslim Brotherhood to adhere to.
The Muslim Brotherhood, along with its political party and presidential candidate, has made a call for political participation. Meetings have been held between representatives of the Islamist group and other political forces. Mursi made assuring statements in a series of TV interviews.
"Yes, but in reality they say one thing and do another. They still want to dominate; this is very obvious from their position on the assembly for drafting the constitution where they want to have a very large share of seats, no matter how unpopular this is," said Lamiaa, a 30-year-old lawyer who participated in the revolution and who decided to boycott the second round on the basis that it offers her no acceptable choice.
In the first round, Lamiaa voted for Sabahi, "on the basis that he is part of the revolution and that he is not Islamist. He is not perfect but he is good." For the second round, Lamiaa was willing to vote for Moussa or Abul-Fotouh: "whoever was going to run against Mursi because everybody knew that Mursi was making it to the second round anyway".
Lamiaa never, "not for a moment," took Shafik seriously. "I thought it was a joke for someone who was sacked from his job as prime minister to decide to run for president," she said.
Today, Lamiaa declines to settle for what she qualifies as "a superimposed choice that was forced upon us by SCAF to choose between the man they want and the man we don't want. No, I am staying at home; they can do whatever they want but I am not going to be party to this."
Lamiaa said that during the years of Mubarak she never took part in the parliamentary elections because she categorically refused to be trapped in a choice between the representatives of the Mubarak regime, which she held responsible for widespread poverty, illiteracy and corruption, and the Muslim Brotherhood, which she perceives as representatives of archaic social and political views.
"I have always declined to be forced into a choice between the military fascism that Shafik is offering and the religious fascism of Mursi," Lamiaa stated.
For some, the choice between Mursi and Shafik is not exactly the way that Lamiaa puts it but rather a choice between a semi-religious state and a civil state, even with some elements of a dictatorship or as others put it, the choice between a new beginning that parts ways with the gross violations of the Mubarak regime and its military-police state.
Meanwhile, there are some who are planning to vote for Shafik on the assumption that it would be much easier to remove him if he acts in contradiction with the aspirations of the revolution on the basis that Shafik will not be ruling in the name of God as the representative of the Muslim Brotherhood would.
The same "easier to remove" argument is very present in the camp that would vote for Mursi, including some hard-core anti-political Islam activists who argue that ultimately Shafik will be ruling with the power of the army that has brought him to the political scene and endorsed him. Shafik will also be backed by tough state security bodies which would be very difficult to defeat. Mursi, meanwhile, cannot fool the entire country "in the name of God" and that the power of the machinery of the Muslim Brotherhood is ultimately much weaker than that of the army and security combined -- not to mention the tycoons of the business community that has been lobbying for and supporting Shafik.
For political analyst Ibrahim Al-Houdaibi, the prospect of Mursi is not necessarily the perfect one for the first president of Egypt since the 25 January Revolution, but it is a choice that people could live with and work to improve.
"The success of Shafik means the full reinstatement of the Mubarak regime," Al-Houdaibi argues. He added that: "The day Shafik takes office he would get down to re-build the establishments of police coercion and to reactivate the state machinery of oppression," which have been put on hold but never fully dismantled.
On the other hand, Al-Houdaibi suggested, the election of Mursi as president against the backdrop of firm political demands of the Muslim Brotherhood to integrate the views of all other political forces offers a chance for a presidency that would be guided somehow by the will of the people and their aspirations rather than by the narrow interests of a regime that was heavily shaken and that is trying very hard to re-establish itself in a way it could never be shaken again.
Al-Houdaibi proposed a four-item agenda for the political forces and the constituencies of Sabahi, Abul-Fotouh and Moussa, who came third to fifth after Mursi and Shafik, to work on with Mursi: the composition and platform of the government; the composition of the drafting assembly of the constitution and the guidelines for the constitution itself; the structure of the presidential office and the criteria of nominations for top political and executive posts.
It is on this basis that the campaign of Abul-Fotouh, according to Mohamed Osman, head of the campaign's political committee, that the decision was made to support Mursi.
According to Osman, voting for Mursi at this point and within the current political context is not necessarily a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood but a vote for a total break with Mubarak regime, although it would take more than just the election of Mursi for this break to be completely achieved.
The vote for Mursi under the current circumstances, Osman added, would entail a deal that might or might not help the Muslim Brotherhood reconsider some of its political basics, "and this should ultimately lead to the construction of an inclusive political stream that brings together many political forces, including Islamists."
However, for Gamal Abdel-Gawwad, a senior political researcher, Shafik does not necessarily represent the Mubarak regime but rather "the state, as it has been known for the last 200 years, and the heart of the middle class that is closely associated with the state, and quarters concerned by the dominance of the Islamist trend."
In this context, Abdel-Gawwad added, Shafik stands opposite Mursi who represents "political Islamic groups; those quarters concerned over the return of the old regime and those political adversaries who wish to see the old regime eliminated once and for all."
"Yes, it is again the state -- and not necessarily the Mubarak regime as some would like to argue -- and the Muslim Brotherhood. These are the real political forces on the ground," Abdel-Gawwad stated.
Abdel-Gawwad argues that voting for Shafik, even by some who do not see him as the ideal choice, amounts to establishing the "safe equation whereby the state runs the people's affairs in reconciliation with religion. But by voting for Mursi it would be religion and not the state that has the upper hand -- and this is what the Muslim Brotherhood are opting for."
It is this argument that was used by political scientist Osama El-Ghazali Harb, who defected from the heart of Mubarak's political party to the opposition, and sociologist Saadeddin Ibrahim, who was persecuted for years by the Mubarak regime after a fall out, to both announce their support for Shafik in the face of Mursi.
"Choosing between two equally bitter choices," or "choosing between a bitter and a more bitter choice," is the qualification of the current situation by those who stand between the state/Mubarak regime option and the change/Brotherhood option.
"The political movement in Egypt is in a fix -- we are all so deeply trapped," said MP Amin Iskandar of the leftist Karama Party.
In the reading of Iskandar, neither of the available two options offers a choice, "because each is disastrous in its own way". However, he adds, this point is a wake-up call for political forces and constituencies that voted for Sabahi, Abul-Fotouh and Moussa to take a stance that would make the election of either Shafik or Mursi void of legitimacy.
"Had the re-run been between Sabahi and Mursi, people would have accepted, or had it even been between Moussa and Abul-Fotouh people would have also accepted, but the fact of the matter is that SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood decided and effectively acted to eliminate the chances of any candidate on the basis of popular support," said Iskandar. "The next president of Egypt remains dependent on the support of either the military or its long and well organised religious opposition, and strangely enough this is something that both SCAF and the Brotherhood had consented to explicitly or implicitly," he added.
"This is why we are going to say none of the above," argued Inas Mekkawi, a political activist and party to the mobteloun -- annulling our votes -- campaign. Some went further and have decided to fully boycott the entire elections on the basis that going to the elections gives it recognition, and hence was moqateoun, or boycotters.
It is a sad choice that Egyptians have come down to 18 months after their revolution, concluded a report issued earlier in the week by the Cairo Human Rights Centre. The choice between Mursi and Shafik, the report suggested, reveals that the dreams of a post-revolution Egypt have been eliminated in favour of the political equation that was in place during the Mubarak regime: the ruling regime or the Muslim Brotherhood. This, the report added, indicates the possible abortion of an important episode of the much-celebrated Arab Spring -- the Egyptian revolution.