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A Nation Polarized: What's Next for Egypt?

Now that Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi and Mubarak’s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, are officially going to the next round of Egypt's presidential elections, analysts are looking at possible outcomes and their effects. Al-Monitor's Sophie Claudet talks to Egyptian observers about what the new Egypt will look like. 
A woman gets her picture taken with a mural depicting former presidential candidate Amr Moussa (C), presidential candidate, former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq (L), and Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, at Tahrir Square in Cairo May 29, 2012. An attack on the offices of one of the two finalists in Egypt's presidential race has sounded a warning that the last round of voting might spark more violence in a nation polarised by the choice between Mohamed Mursi and Shafiq.  REUTERS/Ammar Awad (EGYPT - Tags:

“I am pleasantly surprised that (leftist opposition candidate) Hamdeen Sabbahi fared so well,” said Egyptian activist and novelist May Telmissany, who supports Hamdeen Sabbahi. She continued, "I still cannot believe that the Muslim Brotherhood fielded a candidate when it had vowed it wouldn’t. As for Shafiq’s victory, I believe the military rooted for him and rigged the vote. He couldn’t have possibly won 5.5 million of the votes. In fact we know now that active-duty military conscripts who are ineligible to vote did actually cast ballots for Shafiq." The leftist Nasserite candidate, who came in third place in last week’s poll, has filed complaints that some 900,000 military conscripts voted for Shafiq, when the law forbids them to participate in an election. 

“We will pressure the electoral commission to re-examine the results but I don’t believe there will be massive protests or renewed violence, at least for now. We have to act in a civil and democratic way,” she said, seconding recent statements by Sabbahi after Shafiq’s headquarters were set on fire by an angry crowd Monday night.

“The good news is that the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party has lost 5 million of [the] votes in six months between this election and the parliamentary election back in November 2011. And this, even when they are by far the most organized movement at the grassroots level,” Telmissany said. But she preferred to see the glass half-full: “The Brotherhood garnered 25% of the vote in the presidential election, which means 75% of the Egyptians don’t want them. And 76% of Egyptians don’t want Shafiq either.”

“This is what we must keep in mind when we go vote in the second round,” she continued. "If Shafiq wins, protesters will hit the streets soon after, as he is everything we fought against during the revolution. If Morsi wins, people will wait and see but soon enough protests will erupt again as the Brotherhood is not equipped to manage the country, neither politically nor economically. The revolution is not over,” she concluded.

Middle East history professor Tewfick Aclimandos said he too was pleasantly surprised by the election results. “Of course it’s not an ideal scenario but it could have been worse. One can establish that people that do not recognize themselves in either the Islamists or the old regime are more than 40% of the population, even if their candidates won’t be in the second round … The revolutionary camp is progressing. My only regret is that Sabahhi didn’t run on the same ticket with [moderate, independent Islamist] Abel-Moneim Abul Fotouh; a progressive candidate could have been in the second round that way,” he added.

As far as former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Moussa was concerned, “I never believed he had a chance even if his very low score with 11% of the vote is surprising. It is simple: during a revolutionary transition, the country is polarized, and Moussa didn’t have a clear enough message to make it, and so was the case with Abul-Fotouh, although he was a more serious candidate and he did inspire trust to many.”

When asked whether the Coptic vote helped Ahmed Shafiq to make it to the second round, as several Egyptian commentators have said over the past few days, Aclimandos, himself a Copt, brushed off the possibility. “Copts represent at most 8% of voters and probably much less, around 5.5 to 6%. I am pretty sure that at least half, or two-thirds of them, voted for Shafiq, but I know many Copts who also voted for Moussa or Sabbahi. That the Copts mostly voted for old-regime candidates is true but saying that Shafiq owes his victory to the Copts is not only wrong but sickening. This is typically the Islamist discourse … Shafiq was supported by Egyptians who want order and security: shopkeepers, civil servants and people in the tourism industry who believe that Islamists won’t return the country to stability,” he said.

As to who was likely to clinch a victory in the second round, Aclimandos said Morsi was in a better position. “If the Brotherhood rank-and-file follows the movement’s directions, then Morsi will be elected for sure. But recent events and the revolution in particular have shown that things were no longer unfolding like that in Egypt.”

The Brotherhood’s first-round winner has invited leftist and liberal opposition parties to discuss possible alliances and future government coalitions but so far all have refused. “It is complicated for those candidates who supported the revolution. On the one hand, they want to save what was achieved and fight for a secular state. On the other hand, they know that the country is still managed by forces of the old regime, including the military. If Shafiq were to win, all that has been achieved would be lost,” said Aclimandos. He said he understood why the pro-revolution camp also has issues with helping Morsi win the presidency. “If they help the Brotherhood win, considering the leftist score in the election they would have a margin to negotiate, but on the other hand they know that the Brotherhood is very organized, has very structured networks of support including at the grassroots level and most importantly tends to not honor agreements … It would be a historic error for the revolutionary camp to support the Islamist candidate,” he added. Aclimandos said that whoever wins, Egypt will still be in transition for many months to come and “even more so if Shafiq wins. One can predict that stability will take a long time to come back.”

Hossam Bahgat, a leading rights defender recently honored by Human Rights Watch, said it was too soon to tell whethr Shafiq or Morsi would clinch a victory next month. “Shafiq is still facing a constitutional court decision on whether he is eligible to run,” he noted. Shortly before the first round, Egypt’s parliament passed a law barring from political life anyone who held a senior position in Mubarak’s now dissolved National Democratic Party in the last 10 years. Shafiq was disqualified in April but appealed to the electoral commission before the election and won. The law is now before the Supreme Constitutional Court. Shafiq could be disqualified again either before the second round or after, in which case there could be a new poll. “

“I worry over both candidates’ win. Shafiq represents the old regime and he is a criminal. Morsi is not necessarily pro-revolution. The Brotherhood has no meaningful plan for rebuilding the institutions and for exerting democratic control over the military, and it certainly has no plan to start a proper and adequate truth-seeking process to investigate crimes of the past.”

Bahgat said that rights defenders like him were hoping that the street and civil society would continue to peacefully exert pressure on the state, whoever wins. But he said he nevertheless worried about renewed violence: “not necessarily as a result of the election, but sooner or later there will an incident, or protests and demonstrations and there will a crackdown by the police and maybe by the military. The president will be put to the test of whether he will rein in his security forces or encourage such violence. Our expectations of both Shafiq and Morsi are not very high about their ability or even their willingness to control the security forces.”

“The country is going broke, socio-economically. The political liberties we won with the revolution and which we are enjoying now are threatened. There is an expected rise of socio-economic problems and with this in mind it will be tough for any of the two candidates to rebuild the old regime or maintain the status quo,” he also said

Asked whether Egypt, like Tunisia, Libya or even Turkey could follow suit and welcome an Islamist movement at the helm, Bahgat said: “Maybe the Arab world has to go through an Islamist phase. This is the Islamists’ time and it is well deserved. They worked so hard, they have been around for so long and suffered a great deal. They deserve the right to be in power. But with power will come responsibility and accountability. This will be helpful in the long run for the democratic process to mature. Islamists will no longer enjoy the comfort of being the victims of persecution and will actually deal with the responsibility of being politicians, having to make decisions and explain them to the people and own them.”

But he added in the same breath: “Egypt deserves a democratic president and a president that represents the ideals of the revolution and Morsi and Shafiq don’t. I’m afraid the transition will last for another four to eight years maybe.”

Sophie Claudet, Europe and Middle East correspondent for Al-Monitor, is covering the Egyptian election on location in Cairo. Follow her on Twitter: @sophieinparis

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