Despite Gloomy Forecasts, Turnout Rose in Egypt Runoff

Article Summary
Though bloggers had called for sitting out the runoff to protest the poor choice of candidates, and pundits predicted a low voter turnout, Egyptians disagreed, turning out in even greater numbers than they did in the first round of voting, Ahmed Nawar reports. One possible reason: voters found themselves presented with a much clearer choice.

In the same Square in which massive demonstrations toppled former President Hosni Mubarak last year, fireworks, flags and tears came together in equally massive celebrations as Mohamed Morsi was announced the first freely-elected President of Egypt yesterday.

While some rejoiced at the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party candidate, others simply let out loud sighs of relief at Ahmed Shafiq's loss, Mubarak's last prime minister.

Boycotts and Invalidation

A look around Facebook or Twitter in the days leading up to the second round of elections might have left one tempted to believe that no one was going to vote. Campaigns were launched calling for the invalidation of votes and the boycott of the election, since many were frustrated with the choice between two extreme politicians who, in their opinion, were unrepresentative of the revolution. Media sources — both in Egypt and abroad — talked about low enthusiasm, calm streets, the absence of queues and a turnout sharply lower than that in the first round. But what do the numbers tell us?

Surprisingly, the number of voters who participated in the second round exceeded the first by two million. In many countries, run-off rounds tend to mobilize fewer people, so why did this happen?

Many of the calls for boycott and invalidation apparently came from those who falsely described themselves as the intelligentsia and the revolutionary blocs. These bodies still lack interaction with the masses, despite their popular talking heads. They had prominent voices during the revolution and are still able to rally people for protests. However, what circulates on Twitter and Facebook does not necessarily represent reality.

These groups, unfortunately, got stuck into a cycle of "re-tweeting" and "sharing" by a closed group of similar-minded people. Their online voices never made it any further. Moreover, some peoples' use of protests as a reaction to almost any development weakened their efficacy. The constant protests did more than become fruitless — they led to the emergence of an organized group opposed to whatever the revolutionaries call for, drawn for a large segment of Egyptians. Many accuse the protestors of being fame-seekers, pretentious and, more importantly, unrepresentative of the Egyptian people.

So, how did the number of voters increase from about 23 million to 25 million?


The two run-off candidates represented two extremes, and both had very well-defined political alignments. For many, Shafiq represented the statesman, whose long political career earned him a reputation for competence and efficiency. Since Morsi, his opponent, ran under an Islamic banner, Shafiq, a former air force commander, was seen by many as the “candidate of the civil state.”

It seems as if this time, Egyptians fell on either side of this line in quite a clear fashion. This reduced the paradox of choice inherent to the first round. 

The choice between Shafiq and Morsi was easier to make, unlike the choice between first-round candidates such as Aboul Fotouh and Amr Moussa, for instance. It was hard to pin down these parties political affiliations and they tried to appeal to all segments, they tried to play every note on the scale at the same time. This probably explains why both, although strong candidates, came last in the top five in the first round.

Are the Islamists Losing?

Although Morsi's election to the presidency represents another victory for the Islamists, they may still be gradually losing support.

If we rewind to the parliamentary elections, we can see that the FJP formed an alliance with the Al-Nour party. Together they represented the Islamic front and won around 17.5 million votes, while only 10 million votes were split between all other parties. However, in the first round of the presidential election, Morsi, Aboul Fotouh and Selim El Awa (the three Islamist candidates) gained around 10 million votes combined, in contrast to non-Islamic candidates who won around 13 million votes.

Now, back to the run-off. 13 million voted for Morsi while 12 million voted for his opponent Shafiq. There are two aspects of these numbers that are worth investigating.

First, the difference in votes won by the two candidates less than the population of a crowded district in Cairo, which means that there was no overwhelming support for the Islamist front like there was in the parliamentary elections. Second, it is safe to assume that the original Islamic votes — 10 million of the first round — remained intact, while the liberal votes went automatically to Shafiq, giving him a total of 8 million votes. This means that in the run-off, Shafiq's votes increased by 4 million, whereas Morsi's increased by only 3 million, many of whom were simply voting against Morsi's opponent given his identity as a remnant of the overthrown regime.

Possible reasons behind this decline are the poor performance of the Islamist MPs, constant attempts on their to monopolize the constitution committee, and, general distrust of the Brotherhood after they reneged on their promises not to field a presidential candidate or monopolize seats in parliament.

The Christian Vote

The fact that Shafiq made it to the run-off was surprising to many, but some attribute this to the “Christian vote.” There is no doubt that the Christians are a powerful political force, and in the second round it is safe to assume that most Christians voted for Shafiq. However, it is also possible that this support backfired and worked against him.

During both rounds of the elections, Shafiq won the overwhelming support of the Egyptian Delta governorates in which few Christians reside, namely Sharqia (Morsi’s birthplace), Gharbia, Dakahlia and Monoufia. On the other hand, Upper Egypt governorates, heavily populated with Coptic Christians, such as Asyut, Minya, Qena and Sohag, gave Morsi the highest votes.

Upper Egypt is generally known for its zeal, which often translates into violence. Issues like blood feuds are widespread and remain unsettled for years. It was these areas in which the Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya or the Islamic Group (designated as a terrorist organization held responsible for the assassination of former president Anwar al-Sadat and for the Luxor Massacre in 1997) originated and flourished. Also, the most prominent incidents of church burnings or sectarian violence occur mainly in these governorates, where religious fervor is strong. It is likely that those who supported Morsi did not do so out of affinity for him or his party, but more because the Christians were supporting Shafik.

In the end, it was not a vote for ideology. It was a vote for identity.

Ahmed Nawar is a 22-year old Egyptian freelance writer who is also working on his first novel: Losing Faith in the City of a Thousand Minarets. You can follow him on Twitter at @a_nawar.

Found in: twitter, shafiq, mubarak, morsi, facebook, elections, christian, arab

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