Since their uprising against Mubarak, Egyptians feel no longer restrained in voicing their opinion. However, they took this newly found freedom to the extreme on May 28 after the announcement that a second round of voting in Egypt’s first free presidential election would be necessary on 16 and 17 June as no presidential hopeful had obtained sufficient votes to win the first round outright. Clashes followed the announcement of the names of the two candidates for the second round. Posters and banners were ripped up and even a campaign office of one of the candidates was burned down. What caused these heated reactions?
It is certainly not the Egyptians’ love for voting. Only 46.4% of the 50 million strong electorate took the effort to vote in the first round on 23 and 24 May. The two candidates for the second round, Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, had won respectively 5.8 and 5.5 million votes in the first round, which represents little more than 10% of the total electorate. Having voting supporters seems to be more important than having many supporters as other favourite candidates, like the former foreign minister Amr Moussa and the liberal Islamist Abdelmonein Abdelfoutouh, lost regardless their broad support and in spite of the campaign troubles of Morsi and Shafiq. Morsi entered the race as second choice candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), after their preferred candidate, Khaitar al-Shater, was disqualified by the Presidential Election Committee (PEC). Shafiq, on the other hand, could only enter the presidential race after the PEC overturned the Political Isolation Law, which banned him from running.
Not only the candidates’ unexpected success, but also what they represent, gave rise to these heated reactions. The first candidate, Mohammed Morsi (born 1941), is an engineer and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He joined its guidance council in 1990 and was elected (as an “independent”) in 2000 for the People’s Assembly. In 2011 he became the president of the new political party of the Muslim Brotherhood, the FJP.
Morsi runs as a FJP-candidate under the slogan “Nahda (Islamic renaissance) … the will of the people”. Morsi runs his campaign on a religious note, stressing the Islamic nature of Egypt and promising the implementation of the sharia. He courted the more conservative Muslims with partial success in the first round, but he now receives their full support as only remaining Islamist candidate. Morsi’s supporters also include imams, which may use their mosques to campaign for him in spite of the prohibition on using mosques for politics. Several religious edicts have already been issued prohibiting voting against him.
Morsi’s campaign has made Egypt’s Christian minority, the Copts, anxious about their future. Long time suffering from discrimination and since the revolution from increasing violence, they fear that their position will further deteriorate with the implementation of the sharia and the installation of an Islamist president. Morsi tried to take these fears away by stating that the introduction of the sharia would have little effect and that all, Christian or Muslim, man or woman, have equal rights under the sharia and adopted a new campaign slogan “Our power in our unity” to stress this inclusiveness. But these equal rights do not seem to include the right for Copts (or women) to run for president.
Another tactic of Morsi to win the Copts and other Egyptians over is by presenting himself as the only candidate that can save the revolution. This approach seems to have some success, but some secular parties fear that his victory will result in a new regime led by the Muslim Brotherhood. The FJP already dominates both houses of parliament and broke several times their promise not to seek power. His critics fear that Morsi will act in interest of the Muslim Brotherhood and not the country, even if Morsi quits the movement as promised.
The second candidate, Ahmed Morsi (born 1951), comes like former president Mubarak from the air force, where he served as chief of staff and commander between 1991 and 2002. After a career as aviation minister, he was appointed by Mubarak as prime minister in January 2011. He remained loyal to Mubarak and was forced to resign as result of the continuing protests against the old regime.
Shafiq runs his campaign as an independent under the slogan “Egypt with all for all”. His campaign mostly focuses on the restoration of order and security in Egypt with help of the army and equal rights for all: Muslim, Copt, Bedouin or woman. He promises also to appoint a Copt or woman as vice-president. His campaign highlights his heroics in Egypt’s wars against Israel and his successes as minister. Shafiq dismisses the accusations of his opponents of corruption, election fraud or his depiction as a feloul (remnant of the old regime) opposed to the revolution.
The earlier mentioned Political Isolation Law still threatens Shafiq’s candidacy. This law bars individuals, which served as (vice-)president, prime minister or leading figure in the now defunct National Democratic Party under Mubarak, for 10 years from public office. The law seemed to be designed to bar both former spy master and vice president Omar Suleiman and Shafiq from the presidential race after they announced their candidacy in April, while allowing former regime ministers, like Amr Moussa, to run. The law was referred to Egypt’s High Court by the PEC, which allowed Shafiq to run in the meantime. This led to speculation to what extent this legal wrangling was a move of the feloul to restore their power through the election of “their” candidate Shafiq, or a botched attempt of the Islamist parties to settle old scores by legal means. But regardless of the ruling of Egypt’s High Court on the law, the PEC has the final say on its application. Given its previous decision to let Shafiq back in the race and the advanced state of elections, it is not likely that Shafiq will be excluded again. But if he is, Morsi has to obtain 50% of the votes to win as sole remaining candidate the election.
Finally, the outcome of the presidential race will have a major legislative impact on the drafting of the new constitution and with it the definition of the powers of the presidency. The new constitution will be written by the 100 body strong Constituent Assembly, which will be appointed by both houses. Currently, the number of parliamentarians (and with it the number of Islamist representatives from the FJP and Nur Party) in this body is still under discussion. The FJP, which dominates both houses, prefers a large representation, while the secular parties and army prefer a smaller percentage to limit the dominance of the FJP.
If Morsi wins the presidency, he may support the FJP’s proposition securing FJP’s influence in the writing of the new constitution. Moreover, as president he has the right to appoint a cabinet and the remaining 84 members of the Shura Council (upper house). This way, the dominance of the FJP in the People’s Assembly (216 of its 498 seats), Shura Council (currently 105 of the 180 elected seats) and cabinet could be secured, while he might offer a few seats and ministerial posts to his allies or opponents to (marginally) honour his current promises of a coalition cabinet. The FJP may use its legislative dominance to bring also the judiciary and armed forces under its control or to fight corruption and install a civil state not led by the army and security services. The difference between these actions may only be the interpretation of the same facts.
If Shafiq wins the presidency on the other hand, he may try to counterbalance the influence of the FJP through his appointments in the Shura Council and the cabinet of ministers. This way no party will have absolute dominance in parliament or government. The FJP may stoke fears for the restoration of the old regime to win support for legislative measures to counter the decisions and power of the president or to promote its own agenda. The question remains whether such measures will strengthen the democratic and civil nature of the government or settle old scores.
It will be hard to say who will win the presidential election by considering the voters’ choices. Egyptians could consider the election as a choice between two evils, the restoration of the old regime (Shafiq) or the installation of new Islamist regime (Morsi). Or, more positively, a choice between security and equality (Shafiq) and the continuation of the revolution and fight against corruption (Morsi). Members of the old-regime and Copts may vote for Shafiq, while conservative Muslims and revolutionaries may choose Morsi. The number of supporters for each candidate can only be guessed at, especially if Egyptians decide to stay home during the election and leave their countries decisions to a small minority as they always have done.
Main internet sources and further reading
- Qatar news organisation al-Jazeera – aljazeera.com
- Egyptian daily Egypt Independent – egyptindependent.com
- Presidential Election Committee – elections.eg
- Campaign website Ahmed Shafiq – ahmedshafikeg.com
- Campaign website Mohammed Morsi – drmorsy2012.com
- Muslim Brotherhood – ikhwanonline.com and ikhwanweb.com
- US think tank Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - egyptelections.carnegieendowment.org