A crowded field of candidates and inconclusive opinion polls leading up to Egypt’s presidential election make it all but impossible to accurately forecast the winner, writes Tarek Masoud.
When the results of Egypt’s first post-revolution presidential election are released, pundits and analysts will rush to explain why they had to be so. If Muhammad Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood wins, we will be told that it is because Egyptians are desirous of more Islam in their political life. If Ahmed Shafiq (Mubarak’s friend and last prime minister) or Amre Moussa (his former foreign minister) wins, it will be because the people are tired and want a return of Egypt’s sleepy, pre-revolutionary normalcy. If victory goes to Hamdin Sabahi (the leader of a small, well-regarded Arab nationalist party) or Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh (a kindly physician and Muslim Brotherhood member turned liberal) it will be because people want an exit from the grim Islamism-or-Mubarak dichotomy of the past.
Readers should take all of these explanations with a grain of salt. Not because any one of them is not true, but because all of them are true, often within the mind of the same Egyptian voter. Whatever the special alchemy that causes a voter to tip one way or the other, it appears only to kick in on the way to the polling station, or once the curtain is drawn. Those of us who have tried to know the mind of the Egyptian electorate have been roundly thwarted, as polls and surveys conducted over the last few weeks have shown crazy swings in public opinion. Sometimes the Muslim Brotherhood is up, other times the old Mubarak cronies are. Many Egyptians have come to the conclusion that poll results are cooked up by partisan media outlets and think tanks to plump for their favorite candidates. This is almost certainly true in some cases. For example, Tawfik Okasha, Egypt’s less coherent version of Glenn Beck, yesterday tweeted an exit poll that gave Shafiq 56 percent of the vote, Moussa 43 percent, and Mursi 34 percent, for a total of 133 percent. But, such farces aside, the volatility of Egyptian polling is for the most part a reflection of volatility in the Egyptian electorate. The people appear not to have made up their minds.
At one level, this uncertainty is to be expected—the candidates have only had a month to campaign, and most voters’ understanding of them is hazy at best. There has been only one presidential debate—a grueling three-hour affair in which only two candidates participated and which was aired on a private satellite TV station whose penetration in Egyptian households is unknown. Voters have simply not had the opportunity to see the candidates and their views pitted against each other.
At the same time, the smart money has long been on the Muslim Brotherhood. After all, the country handed Islamists 70 percent of the seats in its Parliament not six months ago. One can be forgiven for thinking that it would be unlikely then to turn around and elect a non-Islamist to the presidency. For this reason, many expect a runoff between Mursi (the Muslim Brother) and Aboul Fotouh (the former Muslim Brother).
But this is by no means assured. The Brotherhood has lost some of its luster in recent months. Its parliamentarians (admittedly, unfairly) have come under attack for not magically solving Egypt’s problems in their five months in office. The defection of Aboul Fotouh has generated a split within the movement, with many younger brothers torn between loyalty to party and their affection for the genial physician and activist, whose campaign for change has managed to attract an almost impossibly broad tent of liberals and religious conservatives. And finally, the Brotherhood’s decision to field Mursi for president (after having earlier declared that it would not seek a share of executive power) has caused many to doubt the movement’s storied reputation for honesty.
Protesters threw shoes on Wednesday at candidate.
Egyptians returned to the polls on Thursday for the second day of voting in the country’s first free election since ousting former President Hosni Mubarak last year. Lines at the polls were not as long as Wednesday, although Egyptian authorities proclaimed Thursday a holiday to allow public-sector employees access to vote. Most of the voting went peacefully on Wednesday, although some scuffles were reported and including the throwing of stones and shoes at Ahmed Shafiq, the former commander of the Army who is one of the frontrunners. Fifty million people are registered to vote, and preliminary results are expected over the weekend. There are 13 people running for president, although it is unclear what the president’s powers will be until the new constitution is approved.
Millions wait patiently in long lines to cast ballots.
Fifteen months after street protests began, Egyptian voters took to the polls in the country’s first-ever free presidential election. Millions reportedly waited in lines to cast their voters for one of the five leading candidates for the office once held by the iron-fisted Hosni Mubarak, who was knocked from power following the Arab Spring uprising. The country’s largest privately owned newspaper, Al Masry Al Youm, cried out, “Rise up, Egyptians!” on Wednesday morning, the first of two voting days. The race, said to have no reliable polls and a potential runoff next week, has been nearly impossible to predict. There were few reports of trouble, though lines were said to be longer at rural precincts than those in cities.
Amr Moussa and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh were the presumed favorites in Egypt’s first democratic elections, but these self-proclaimed centrists may falter, Mahmoud Salem writes, in a country that lacks centrist politics.
When I was in Washington, D.C., last week, the talk among the pundits from the think tanks and newspapers was all about whether the next president of Egypt will be either Amr Moussa or Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. In the absence of any real data or a clear frontrunner, everyone assumed that the two with the highest media profiles would be the ones entering the runoff. One week later, this no longer rings true. The betting now is that neither of them will make it. Why? Because they are both gray, and Egyptians are no longer interested in gray when it comes to their president, only black or white. So Fotouh and Moussa are now stagnating, and Mohamed Morsi, Ahmed Shafiq, and Hamdeen Sabahi are all rising in the polls. Why? Because they are not gray.
An Egyptian man walks past campaign posters of presidential candidates Mohamed Morsi (top) and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in Cairo. (Mahmud Hams / AFP-Getty Images)
Fotouh and Moussa tried to position themselves as the two major centrist candidates from the start, one as the centrist Islamist candidate and the other as the centrist “civil” (secular is such a naughty word, we are told) candidate. Both hoped to rally different factions to get the biggest number of votes possible. Smart strategy, but not after a revolution, and especially not after the tumultuous year and a half that Egyptians have spent trying to figure out what exactly is going on in this country and where it is headed. The Egyptian voter would like some clarity, and neither one of those candidates offered them that, which was incredibly evident in the debate that took place between them last week.
Maybe someone should’ve explained to both men that you are not supposed to debate your opponent in presidential debates, but rather use the time and media attention to talk to the undecided and give them the messages you were prepped to deliver by your handlers, instead of coming off looking like bickering old hags.
When they weren’t attacking each other in the most undignified ways possible, both candidates gave the most centrist answers they could come up with. And both came out looking wishy-washy to undecided voters. That was one presidential debate that no one won, and it left the average Egyptian voter thinking that neither candidate should be elected president.
There are arguably six Egyptian voting blocs: Muslim Brotherhood, non–Muslim Brotherhood Islamists (mostly Salafis), liberals, revolutionaries (many leaning left and the majority are supporters of Mohamed ElBaradei), old-regime backers, and independents. Moussa was counting on liberals, old regime backers, independents, and some revolutionary voters who will see him as the only alternative to the Islamists. Fotouh was counting on getting the ElBaradei supporters, the independents, some liberals, and some of the Muslim Brotherhood votes. Both candidates hoped to amass enough votes to get into the runoff elections, and both are now facing the possibility that their calculations might be wrong.
Long lines reported.
Egyptians turned out in droves on Wednesday to vote in the nation’s first election since ousting former President Hosni Mubarak last year. Fifty million people are eligible to vote. The electorate is divided between Islamists and secularists and leaders of last year’s revolution against Mubarak’s former ministers. The four major frontrunners include Ahmed Shafiq, the former commander of the Air Force and briefly prime minister during the February 2011 protests; Amr Moussa, the former head of the Arab League; Mohamed Morsi, who heads the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party; and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, an independent Islamist candidate. The new constitution has not yet been approved, and it is unclear what powers the president will have—but the election is still considered a landmark for Egypt.
As voters take to the polls for the country’s historic presidential election, Egyptians are taking stands on divisive issues. Dan Ephron talks to relatives of Hosni Mubarak about their preferred candidate—and their thoughts on their cousin’s legacy.
Across Egypt, the first free presidential election getting underway today is forcing people to take a stand on some of their society’s most divisive issues—sometimes defying their own spouses or other family members.
Samira Ibrahim, 25, flashes the victory sign during a rally supporting women's rights in Cairo, Dec. 27, 2011. (Ahmed Ali / AP)
For Basheer Mubarak, it can feel like he’s standing against nearly his entire town. The 37-year-old technician lives in Kafr El-Maselha, the birth place of Hosni Mubarak, where cousins of the ousted dictator—Basheer included—fill several buildings along a city block.
Many of them pine for Mubarak’s return and back the candidate whose résumé most resembles his.
But not Basheer.
“What did he do for this country? It’s one big dump,” he says in the garage of his three-story building on Sadat Street, named for the autocrat, Anwar Sadat, who preceded Mubarak.
Presidential election pits Islamists against secularists.
Egyptians will be heading to the polls on Wednesday to vote for a new president, marking the final phase that began when Tahrir Square protesters helped oust Hosni Mubarak at the beginning of the Arab Spring. Since then, the nation, with a foundering economy, has had bumps with a military ruling council, which took over in the wake of the upheaval. The election pits Islamist against secularists and—for the first time in decades—is not predetermined. The candidates are competing to take over a country with difficult security issues, a great deal of divisiveness following the protests, and continuous claims of bribery. Voting will occur in more than 13,000 locations and last for two days.
In the upcoming Egyptian elections the country is choosing between Islamists and old Mubarak supporters. Francis Fukuyama on how the Facebook revolution of the Arab Spring has failed to deliver lasting political change. Join Fukuyama for a live chat on this Tuesday, May 22 at 11:30 AM EDT.
It is hard to know whom to root for in Wednesday’s presidential election in Egypt. Two of the leading candidates, Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq, were officials in the former Mubarak regime and are suspected of having ties to the military. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is a self-proclaimed liberal Islamist who was expelled from the Muslim Brotherhood, but who is for some reason being endorsed by the ultra-conservative Salafis. Lagging behind these three is Mohamed Morsi, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that came out of the starting blocks showing a moderate face but which has recently given out disturbing signals of a more conservative religious agenda. What is missing from this lineup of potentially electable candidates is a genuine liberal, that is, a candidate with no taint from the authoritarian past, and who does not advocate an Islamist agenda in some form. The candidate closest to this profile was Mohamed ElBaradei, the Noble Peace Prize-winning former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, whose sputtering campaign ended last January.
Campaign posters of Egyptian presidential candidates Mohammed Morsi (top) and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotuh in Cairo on Friday. (Mahmud Hams, AFP / Getty Images)
How did we come to this pass, where the two most powerful forces in the new Egypt either represent its authoritarian past, or else are Islamists of suspect liberal credentials? The Tahrir Square revolution of early last year was powered by angry young, middle-class Egyptians who used social media like Facebook and Twitter to organize their protests, spread word of regime atrocities, and build support for a democratic Egypt. At the time, there was much talk about how technology was empowering democracy and forcing open a closed society that could not prevent the flow of information.
And yet, this group of young activists, which can still be mobilized for street protests like the recent demonstrations in front of the Defense Ministry, has failed to turn itself into a meaningful player in post-Mubarak electoral politics. Granted, this group did not represent the vast bulk of Egyptians, who remain less educated, socially conservative, and rural. But surely a liberal, modernizing leader could have appealed to the hopes of many Egyptians for economic growth and political freedom, and placed at least within the top four presidential candidates?
We will have to await more information and analysis about the election, including the degree to which it was manipulated, before we can fully answer this question. It seems clear in retrospect that Mubarak’s ouster constituted much less of a revolution than met the eye; the military still remains a powerful institution unwilling to give up substantial power.
But part of the blame lies with Egypt’s liberals themselves. They could organize protests and demonstrations, and act with often reckless courage to challenge the old regime. But they could not go on to rally around a single candidate, and then engage in the slow, dull, grinding work of organizing a political party that could contest an election, district by district. Political parties exist in order to institutionalize political participation; those who were best at organizing, like the Muslim Brotherhood, have walked off with most of the marbles. Facebook, it seems, produces a sharp, blinding flash in the pan, but it does not generate enough heat over an extended period to warm the house.
Sparked by a deep distrust of interim military rulers, the nation’s first free elections have been marred by deadly clashes in Cairo. Is another revolt on the way?
For three straight days, a spasm of violence has gripped Cairo, leaving 13 people dead and scores wounded. Egyptian authorities declared a curfew in parts of the city over the weekend and put large numbers of armored vehicles on the streets of several neighborhoods.
Protesters walk away from a cloud of tear gas during clashes with Army troops outside the defense ministry in Cairo on May 4. (Khaled Desouki / AFP-Getty Images)
On the surface, the protests are about the disqualification of a presidential candidate on technical grounds.
But even as the demonstrators held up posters of their banned candidate, the Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, others described a broader reason for the protests: a rising fear that the military council which has ruled Egypt since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago will refuse to cede power to civilian leaders next month.
The council, known by its acronym SCAF (Supreme Council of Armed Forces), is assuring Egyptians that its rule will end on June 30, after the second round of presidential elections. Since SCAF assumed power 14 months ago, Egyptians have already elected two chambers of Parliament.
The presidential vote, which starts later this month, will largely determine the outcome of the Egyptian revolution.
Two Islamist candidates for president suspended their campaigns on Wednesday after armed ‘thugs’ attacked protesters in Cairo, leaving at least 11 dead and hundreds injured. Ursula Lindsey reports from Alexandria on turmoil—and full-on campaigning—surrounding Egypt’s first post-Mubarak campaign.
On a square facing the Mediterranean in Egypt’s northern city of Alexandria, thousands of 20-somethings await the arrival of presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh.
Official campaigning in Egypt’s first truly competitive presidential election, to be held on May 23, has just started. The mood at the gathering, which features mural painting and recitations of rap and poetry, is festive.
Under President Hosni Mubarak, there were no politics for students to practice, says Naima, a law student and campaign volunteer who is selling bright orange Abul Fotouh T-shirts, pins, and knapsacks. That’s why young Egyptians need to elect someone who supports the ideals of last year’s uprising, she says: “We need someone who gives us the freedom to speak.”
Abul Fotouh was long a vocal critic of the Mubarak regime and a moderate, senior member of the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. He left the organization last year when the group disagreed with his decision to run for president.
The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has since decided to field an official candidate, Mohammed Mursi. Other contenders in the elections include former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League head Amr Moussa and Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmad Shafiq. Moussa, a liberal and a secularist, is the current frontrunner, but he is struggling to shed his ties to the former regime.
And no one here is willing to make predictions in a race that has already seen several twists and turns.
From Muslim extremists to Mubarak holdovers, candidates in the presidential election contend with a bitterness that makes the hope of the Arab Spring a distant memory, Alastair Beach reports.
As Mohammed’s taxi darted in and out of Cairo’s grinding riverside traffic, scores of fundamentalist Salafi Muslims weaved through the honking cars and chanted like triumphant soccer fans.
One group, crammed into the back of a pickup truck, waved placards featuring the face of Abu Ismail, the embattled presidential contender facing disqualification from next month’s poll.
The ultraconservative Salafi preacher, who has seared his campaign with lashings of anti-American rhetoric, has been poleaxed by recent claims that his late mother was a U.S. citizen.
The allegation is decidedly inconvenient, given that according to Egypt’s election law, candidates cannot register if they have foreign parents.
But after a week spent staving off a flurry of negative headlines, the radical preacher was thrown a lifeline earlier this week when a court ruled that Egypt’s authorities must provide proof of his mother’s nationality—effectively tossing the ball back into the election commission’s hands.
His supporters immediately took the streets of downtown Cairo in celebration, letting off fireworks and chanting their support for the preacher.
As protests continue and the military remains powerful, Egypt’s new Parliament opens for business—and Islamist parties dominate.
As Egypt’s newly elected Parliament convened for the first time on Monday, graphic designer Abeer Saad stood on a nearby street, part of a chain of protesters holding a long banner made of Egyptian flags sewn together. “We went to the street and asked people to write their demands on the flags,” explained Saad. “Now we’re here to bring those demands to the new Parliament.” The flags’ hand-written messages read: “A strong economy,” “To be respected as a citizen,” “Concern for the poor,” “Clean Egypt from corruption,” “A better life for my son.”
The Egyptian Parliament, which under Hosni Mubarak did little more than rubber-stamp laws proposed by the president, is now the country’s only democratically legitimate institution. It faces sky-high expectations, from eradicating corruption and police abuse and fixing Egypt’s stalled economy to selecting the committee that will write a new Constitution and overseeing the country’s transition from military to civilian rule.
The assembly is dominated by the political party of the once-banned Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. Its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has 47 percent of seats. A new party representing ultra-orthodox Islamists holds another 28 percent.
The remaining quarter of Parliament is divided among liberal, secular leftists and independent members. A handful of women make up about 1 percent of the assembly. Very few parties—religious or secular—promoted them as candidates. “Women have been marginalized for a long time,” said Saad. But, said fellow protester Nagwa El Ashwal: “We will work with society and try to change the culture, to change how people look at women, to show women can do anything, that they can be in Parliament or run ministries.”
Aside from the low profile of women, the parliamentary elections were marred by many irregularities and by the widespread use of religion during campaigning. But local and international election observers have described them as a step forward and as generally valid.
Mohammed Beltagi, center, a Muslim Brotherhood member of Egypt's Parliament, arrives on Monday for the body's first session since the revolution (Khaled Desouki, AFP / Getty Images)
Egyptians went to the polls May 23–24 to pick a democratically elected president—not only the first election since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, but the first of its kind in the country's 5,000-year history.
Egypt’s high court ruled the Islamist Parliament must dissolve immediately. By Vivian Salama.
A Country in Turmoil
Dan Ephron on Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who may be Egypt’s next president.