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Notes From Twitter: Euphoria Subsiding in Egypt Elections

Egyptians headed to the polls again this weekend for the final round of presidential elections between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and former Mubarak player Ahmed Shafiq. Catherine Cheney compiles analysis and sentiment from the Twitterverse.

"It started 16 months ago with a bang — one hell of a wonderful euphoric bang that left me giddy for months," wrote Ashraf Khalil, an author and correspondent based in Cairo who covered the Egypt elections for Al-Monitor. “Now it feels like it’s ending with a whimper,” he wrote, capturing the sentiment across the Twittersphere on #EgyElex.

Over the weekend, Egyptians cast their votes in the runoff election for president between Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak's last prime minister. The turnout was lower than expected, due to a combination of, among other factors, low enthusiasm and high temperatures. 

Despite the differences between the two potential presidents, one a stalwart of the old regime, and the other a part of the principal opposition, disappointed observers said on Twitter and Facebook that neither represents a break with the past. Instead, they often wrote, the revolution has come to an anticlimactic end.  

A female taxi driver who took Marc Lynch, a Middle East expert at George Washington University, from point A to point B, put it well when she wondered whether the Arab Spring in Egypt was to become an Arab Winter.

When asked for a version of the election narrative in 140 characters or less, Issandr el-Amrani, a Moroccan-American journalist and analyst who writes from the Egyptian capital, simply wrote "restoration vs. change."

But only a minute later, he modified his thought with, "or more accurately restoration vs. rupture."

It seems like change is a word used few and far between on Twitter and Facebook to describe what is happening right now in Egypt.

The idea, when people poured into the streets and overthrew their long-time leader, Hosni Mubarak, on January 25, 2011 was that this election would help the country on its path toward democracy.

Instead, the results of the first free election in Egypt, which was first held last month after two months of campaigns by more than a dozen candidates, left the country with two polarizing candidates.

Some Middle East observers and activists said the outcome of this election could in fact leave Egypt in a worse place than it was before the revolution.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who was once in the running for president, forcefully tweeted, "Electing president in the absence of constitution and parliament is electing an 'emperor' with more powers than deposed dictator. A travesty."

Elbaradei, once the hope of many secularists, wasn't alone in his disenchantment. Ashraf Swelam, former Director General of the Egypt Economic International Forum and now a senior economic and policy adviser to former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, expressed a similar sentiment. "Isn't it a pity that when when my vote is finally worth something, no one is worth it?" he asked on Twitter.

Compare the Twittersphere reactions to the weekend elections with the optimism of the first round of elections held last month, as captured here by Storify. There were exclamation marks, smiley face emoticons, and countless uploaded images of fingers stained with purple ink.

Despite the disappointment with the options on the ballot in the runoff election, demands for a "none of the above option," and even a voter who etched two Batman logos on his ballot, Twitter and Facebook featured an abundance of pictures and posts revealing who got which votes.

Sarah Carr described the Muslim Brotherhood as "useless, deal-making, interest-seeking idiots who have sold out everyone and everything for power," on Facebook.

She said the party does not represent anything she stands for. And still, she voted for Morsi.

Why? Well, she said, Because Morsi is not Shafiq, who was part of a regime that Carr said "presented repression as stability."

"I don't think people were dreaming about Mohamed Morsi on January 25, 2011, but they were rebelling against everything Shafiq stands for,” she wrote, referring to the revolt in Tahrir Square.

Ashraf Khalil explained in one of his Sunday posts on Al-Monitor that when it came time to vote in the converted schoolroom in Giza, he hated the two choices he was faced with.

He felt "constrained and restricted," he said, as the two faces on the ballot "seemed to mock him." But Khalil voted for someone. Well, sort of.

"I voted today for a post-revolutionary Egyptian president," he wrote. "But I didn’t actually vote FOR anyone."

Catherine Cheney is a web producer and reporter for Al-Monitor. Her print and multimedia reporting has appeared in publications including the Washington Post, The Atlantic and POLITICO, where she also worked as a web producer. A graduate of Yale University, Catherine is also the Trend Lines reporter for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter at @catherinecheney

Photo credit: Jonathan Rashad

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