On 16 and 17 June the Egyptian people went to the polls in the second round of elections that would see a two day polling period. The first round (23 and 24 May 2012) had seen no clear winners in a 46% turnout but the two candidates with the most support moved on to this head to head ballot. With the turnout being reported at the time as around 30% over the two days of polling and the time that the polling offices were open being extended by two hours, not to deal with queues but to try to attract someone in, the army were nervous that the Egyptian people have already seen through the ‘democratic’ façade that they are putting/keeping in place.
For most Egyptians neither of the two remaining Presidential candidates were perceived as being able or willing to deliver the complete break with the past that is wanted and which was expressed as a common desire during the heady days of occupying Tahrir Square last year. The main problem is that knowing what you don’t want is not the same as knowing what you do want and this was seen in the number of candidates in the first round none of which could enthuse voters or gain anything near popular support. In fact the two rivals in the run-off obtained less than half the votes in the first round between them.
The remaining two candidates were: For the Moslem Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, who is the Chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), a political party that was founded by the Moslem Brotherhood on April 30, 2011. From 2000 to 2005, he was a Member of Parliament under Mubarak (now serving a life sentence for failing to prevent the killing of some 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising that toppled his regime).
Morsi has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Engineering from Cairo University, a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Southern California and was an Assistant Professor at California State University, Northridge until 1985 when he went back to Egypt to teach at Zagazig University. The first choice of candidate for the Moslem Brotherhood had been Kairat El-Shater but he was excluded.
And for the Army , although officially the army said they didn’t support either candidate, Ahmed Shafik, a former Airforce general, who was the last Prime Minister appointed by Hosni Mubarak after the beginning of the revolution in January 2011. He resigned only three weeks after Mubarak was deposed and is on good terms with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). He was originally disqualified from standing as a Presidential candidate in the wake of the ratification of the Corruption of Political Life Law (aka the Disenfranchisement Law), which banned Mubarak era PMs from nomination. He immediately appealed the decision and on 25 April the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) accepted his appeal.
In a breath-taking claim, this ‘former’ Mubarak loyalist and establishment man now says of Mubarak’s departure from the Presidency; ” I’m the one who proposed the idea of stepping down, and I proposed it insistently,” He claims that he had proposed it in a meeting with the top military leader, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and former Vice President Omar Suleiman to plot a response to the uprising, and, he says, it took ” perseverance” to persuade Field Marshal Tantawi to carry it out.
Shafik’s campaign demonised the Moslem Brotherhood as associated with American officials, and, more improbably, portrayed them as disgraced members of the former government which seems a little rich coming from Mubarak’s last Prime Minister.
Also, following the Parliamentary elections, which were won by the Moslem Brotherhood and gave them a significant powerbase in the country, there had been an uneasy ‘sharing’ (on the face of it at least) of power with the military but that ended the day before the elections when the SCAF suspended Parliament and claimed sole power for themselves during the Presidential Election.
The generals shut down the elected and Islamist-led Parliament, acting on a ruling made by a court of judges who were all appointed by Mubarak. They declared they would be the sole lawmakers, even after a new president is elected. And they are drawing up a new interim constitution that would define the power of the new president. the ‘Egypt Independent’ reported that constitutional amendments being lined up by SCAF are expected to grant the SCAF legislative and financial powers including granting the right to the SCAF the power to approve the state budget and that the new president should swear the oath of office in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court instead of the People’s Assembly, which has been dissolved.
Brotherhood leaders held several news conferences before, during and after the elections to accuse Ahmed Shafik and his supporters of various schemes of electoral fraud like those practiced by the former ruling party and Mohamed Morsi, had said that foul play in the voting will be followed by massive revolt.
This was an indication that the Brotherhood would not accept a Shafiq victory, even if, as was not impossible, such a victory were to be genuine. Morsi had also said that he didn’t accept the dissolution of parliament. Whether he was serious about standing up to the military in any meaningful way is something that events will test.
There was another campaign underway in Egypt along with these two. That campaign was being run by veterans of the Tahrir Square occupations but it was a campaign that split in two at a very early stage as agreement couldn’t be reached on whether to boycott the election or spoil ballot papers so both were called for.
The Army in an unexpected twist, perhaps to test the Brotherhood’s strength, delayed the results by days resulting in much suspicion of ballot-rigging going on. Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood managed to pull significant amounts of people out onto the streets and Tahrir Square quickly filled again despite the Army letting it be known that soldiers had been given instructions to ‘shoot to kill’ anyone they thought was attacking them.
In the end, the winner who pulled the most of the votes of the 30% turnout (there is now a claim that the turnout was 51% with 843,252 spoiled votes, 5%) was Morsi with 51% of the vote to Shafiq’s 48%. The power struggle between the Moslem Brotherhood and the Army may continue or a deal may be struck, either way, the short-term future for Egypt looks uneasy to say the least.
In a statement reported by CNN just before the results were declared the former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, El Baradei described the current situation in Egypt as “a total, complete 100% mess.”
This whole situation may seem to liberal observers chaotic and even hopeless but in fact it is very fertile ground for communist agitation and the Egyptian Communist Party, after years of repression and underground work now have a chance to organise among the masses and develop strategies that will hopefully lead the Egyptian masses towards a real revolution, a socialist revolution.