Predicting Egypt’s Runoff Elections

Egypt’s first round of elections resulted in a runoff between Ahmad Shafi, a "remnant" of the Mubarak regime, and Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood. Mostafa al-Labbad and Fouad al-Saeed outline three scenarios for the next round scheduled for June. Morsi appears to be the winner, but it all depends on how both candidates negotiate and compromise with other blocs.

al-monitor A man walks under a giant campaign election billboard of Mohamed Mursi, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's political party in Cairo 25/05/2012. Photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh.


shafik, muslim brotherhood, muslim, morsi, egyptian elections, arab spring, arab, al-nour, aboul fotouh

ماي 29, 2012

After the Higher Elections Commission rejected all appeals submitted to it, the polarization of Egyptian politics has entered a new phase. There are many speculations about the potential interaction among the three blocs in the current Egyptian political scene: that is, the ruling authority, political Islam, and the revolutionary masses.

Officially, there is a runoff election between two opposing electoral poles: the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and the ruling authority’s candidate Ahmad Shafiq. Each candidate will enter the runoff election with about a quarter of the total votes in his pocket, which the first round of elections revealed, but each candidate will have to win additional votes for the runoff. Tough and complex negotiations have already begun with other political parties in an attempt to win their votes.

Hamdeen Sabahi’s share (2.6 percent) appears to be the electoral battle’s deciding factor, since Islamist candidates Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh (17.6 percent) and Mohamed Salim Al-Awa’s (1 percent) votes will almost certainly to go to Morsi, and that of Amr Moussa (11 percent) would naturally go to Shafiq.

Morsi and Shafik’s fate will depend on whatever political deals they can make with Sabahi. Morsi will enter the runoff election under the slogan “A Revolution Against the Remnants,” while Shafiq’s slogan will be “The Civil State Against the Religious State.”

There is a “fixed part” and a “moveable part” of the campaigns, and the latter will decide the race. What is the fixed part? And what possible alliances could be made?

The “Fixed Part” of the Electoral Scene

Most of Aboul Fotouh’s voters lean toward the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, despite the differences between the Brotherhood and Aboul Fotouh caused by the latter’s split from the Brotherhood last year after he insisted on running for president. A careful look at Aboul Fotouh’s voters reveals a great deal of homogeneity among them. The vast majority of them have religious tendencies that are hostile to the former regime. The following parties are Aboul Fotouh’s most prominent supporters: the Egyptian Current party (Muslim Brotherhood youth who split from the party); the Center Party, which has Islamist roots; the Salafist Al-Noor Party; and the Salafist Daawa. The common denominator among these parties is their hostility to the former regime, meaning, the “remnants,” and their Islamic political model that is more open to society and to various political movements.

This was reflected in Aboul Fotouh’s political discourse and electoral campaign, where the main issue was the incompatibility between the revolution and what remained of the former regime; disagreements with the Muslim Brotherhood were secondary. This hypothesis is supported by the fact that, after Aboul Fotouh’s defeat in the first round, he closed ranks behind Mohamed Morsi, which means that most of Aboul Fotouh’s voting bloc (17.6 percent) will probably vote for Morsi in the runoff. This would give Morsi approximately 15 percent more votes in total. As for the small 2.6 percent share, which is made up of various revolutionary, liberal, and leftist forces, most of them will probably boycott the runoff. Finally, if we include the 1 percent vote share of Muhammad Salim Al-Awa (the third Islamist candidate), then Morsi’s expected share in the runoff will be about 41percent.

The “Moveable Part” of the Electoral Scene

Naturally, the vast majority of Amr Moussa’s 11 percent share of the vote will go to Ahmad Shafiq, they both represent the former regime, they share the same socio-economic network of domestic and regional interests and they share similar political discourses, which address “stability,” “reforming the system from within,” and other such slogans. Therefore, an additional 9 percent of the total vote, which includes a small number of Copts, will go to Shafiq without any effort from Amr Moussa, who had a televised debate with Shafik before the elections.

The remaining 2 percent of Moussa’s vote share will not necessarily go to Shafik because those voters did not consider Moussa very close to the former regime, relative to Shafik, and they were influenced by Moussa’s political discourse on Israel. An additional 1 percent of the vote share, the young Copts who voted for Sabahi in the first round, is expected to go to Shafiq. The overwhelming majority (75 percent) of Copts (who account for 8-10 percent of voters) voted for Shafiq and 15 percent of them voted for Moussa. Most young Copts (10 percent of the Coptic vote) voted for Sabahi. Therefore, Shafik has 35 percent of the vote secured for the runoff.

The following conclusions can be drawn:

  1. Morsi will enter the runoff with 41 percent of the vote secured, compared to Shafiq’s 35 percent.
  2. Neither candidate enjoys a solid bloc that can secure him a runoff victory, despite expected support from Aboul Fotouh and Al-Awa to Morsi, and Moussa to Shafik.
  3. Sabahi’s vote share is the deciding factor in the race.

The First Scenario: Morsi and Aboul Fotouh and Sabahi.

Over the past few days, Aboul Fotouh acted as a mediator between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamdeen Sabahi by inviting the latter to a meeting at his house to form a “national front,” comprising of Morsi and Sabahi, against the “remnant” candidate, but Sabahi declined. It may be hasty to conclude that Sabahi’s quick refusal was a final refusal to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood. The more likely interpretation is that Sabahi wants to give the matter more time before agreeing to such an alliance in order to give himself more negotiating leverage. This interpretation is based on the relationship between the Dignity Party, led by Sabahi, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Their political coordination dates back to at least the 2005 parliamentary elections and continued through the revolution up to their “Democratic Alliance” for the 2011 parliamentary election.

Morsi hopes to secure Sabahi’s support and his 20.6 percent vote share, or at least half of it. This share, plus Aboul Fotouh’s and Al-Awa’s vote shares, would give Morsi the majority needed to win the presidency, and Egypt will have a Muslim Brotherhood president for the first time in its history.

The Second Scenario: Shafiq and Sabahi

It is logical for Shafiq to try and open up to Sabahi to gain his support considering the theoretical ability of Sabahi’s revolutionary bloc to tip the balance toward Shafiq. According to confirmed information, over the past two days Shafiq made Sabahi an offer whereby the latter would become vice president and would be given four cabinet ministers, with a promise that after two years Shafiq would concede the presidency to Sabahi! The “generosity” of this offer comes from Shafiq’s weaker position (35 percent) relative to Morsi (41 percent) and the weakness of his political discourse in persuading revolutionaries to vote for him. Shafik promised that he would not reconstitute the former regime, but this did not make a significant difference. Neither did his promise to return the revolution to its owners from those who “hijacked” it. There is a basic and glaring contradiction between Shafiq’s candidacy and the revolution. Shafiq is aware that changing his political discourse toward reconciliation with the revolution depends on an alliance with Sabahi, who not only would be required to provide Shafiq with votes but also cleanse Shafiq’s reputation. Therefore, this scenario is not realistic because it is too costly for Sabahi, from a political standpoint, and could undermine Sabahi’s legitimacy as a symbol of the revolution after the first round of elections.

The Third Scenario: Sabahi Boycotts the Elections

In this scenario, Sabahi would concede to the wishes of a large segment of his voting bloc,  especially the youth, who are angry about the Brotherhood’s “collusion” against the revolution,  and boycott the elections. There is a new and upcoming political maneuver for Sabahi which supports this scenario. In that maneuver, Sabahi would maintain his new-found momentum by boycotting the elections. However, it should be noted that if Sabahi boycotts the elections, not all of his voting bloc will commit to that decision, especially because his bloc is a mix of nationalists, leftists, and liberals. Furthermore, there will be a protest vote against the social policies of the regime. Therefore, a significant portion of Sabahi’s voting bloc will likely vote for Morsi in order to prevent the "remnants" from returning to power.

Shafiq’s Options

Ahmad Shafiq, as well as the state apparatus that supports him and the socio-economic cluster he represents, will try to exploit his superior media and financial strength to compensate for his weaker position vis-a-vis Morsi. Shafik’s main objective will be to increase voter participation in the runoff in order to dilute the relative influence of the organized Islamist forces. In the first round, voter participation was only 46.4 percent.

Morsi’s Options

Morsi will try to attract more Salafist votes, especially since some of them already voted for Aboul Fotouh in the first round. Others stayed away from the polls because no Salafist candidate was available. In that case, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who was disqualified from running in the election and enjoys broad support among Salafists, could be very helpful for Morsi in the runoff.

The Muslim Brotherhood is expected to mobilize the Egyptians by using the Mubarak verdict,  which is set to be issued on June 2. There are two possibilities for that day: That the revolutionaries will consider the verdict weak regardless of its content; or that the verdict will be delayed in order to avoid any public consequences. Both cases will trigger popular mobilization against the "remnants" and the Brotherhood will use that mobilization to more strongly connect Shafiq with Mubarak.

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