A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, May 25, 2012

Assessing the Results While Avoiding Any "Dewey Defeats Truman" Headlines

Before I comment on the apparent results of the Egyptian elections, a couple of comments:
  1. First, Ahmad Shafiq's eligibility is still under court challenge, and he's also being investigated for corruption. If Shafiq were to be disqualified again (unlikely at this point, of course), the second round could look very different.
  2. All the published numbers are unofficial; they are leaks from various precincts or, in most cases,from the candidates' own poll-watchers. They're probably accurate, but they're unofficial.
Now having said that, the results have certainly proven that reliance on polls was unwise; as of now the two "front-runners" ran fourth and fifth. The runoff, if everything stands as it seems to now, will indeed be between an Islamist and a stalwart of the old regime, but not Abu'l-Futuh and Moussa; rather Morsi and Shafiq. And the third place, but running strongly and perhaps able to eke out second, is Hamdeen Sabahi. If these do prove to be the final results, this will be analyzed for a long time. With absolutely no firsthand evidence and sitting in Washington, I'm going to venture what can only be called guesses:
  1. Though Morsi was the Muslim Brotherhood's second choice, he ran first, well ahead of the supposed liberal-Islamist Abu'l-Futuh. Clearly the MB General Guide was able to maintain members' discipline and bring out the vote; just as clearly, despite endorsement of Abu'l-Futuh by the Salafi parties and groups, a lot of Salafis must have voted for Morsi. The Brotherhood proved that it is the real claimant to the Islamist title in Egypt, even running a second-string candidate.
  2. Shafiq was perhaps too easy to dismiss. Yes, he was even more the candidate of the old regime than Amr Moussa. He could have run on the motto "after 30 years under a corrupt ex-Air Force general, what Egypt needs is a corrupt ex-Air Force general." In a sense, perhaps he did: he was the law and order candidate, the end the disorder created by the revolution candidate. (The Bonapartist?) He definitely ran strong in the countryside, and in Mubarak's home governorate of Menufiyya, he lapped all the opposition put together.  But in addition to the stalwarts of the old regime, who are still around in plenty, he also was the (unofficial) candidate of the Copts, and of a lot of the non-Brotherhood countryside. 
  3. Hamdeen Sabahi, the Nasserist, apparently ran a very strong third and might still eke out second. Yet Sabahi had far less high-profile a campaign than the other contenders. In the end, a lot of liberals backed him (though a Nasserist is not a liberal). Sabshi's surprising performance needs more study, 
  4. Did Abu'l-Futuh and Moussa cancel each other out in their televised debate? Moussa tried to paint Abu'l-Futuh as a conventional Islamist. There was already some evidence that that hurt Abu'l-Futuh with his liberal supporters. Perhaps it also convinced Islamists to vote for the Islamist who wasn't pretending to be something else, Morsi. And Abu'l-Futuh painted Moussa as a stalwart of the old regime. Did many voters decide to vote for the regime stalwart who wasn;t pretending to be something else, Shafiq?
Assuming the runoff is between Morsi and Shafiq (assuming Shafiq is not belatedly disqualified, putting Sabahi in second place), a lot of the young revolutionaries are going to be disappointed: a choice between the Muslim Brotherhood and a younger version of Mubarak. But the Brotherhood itself is said to be worried that all the secularists and even some of the anti-Brotherhood Salafis could converge on the number two candidate in an "Anybody but Morsi" movement. That would have been certain if Abu'l-Futuh had run second, but can liberal revolutionaries and Salafis vote for Shafiq?

One final observation for now, though we'll be talking a lot more about this, I'm sure: it really turned out to be a five-man race. Though Morsi led strongly, he didn't lead everywhere, and each of the other four real contenders (the other eight candidates finishing far behind) competed for the number two slot at some point during the count. This was a real horse race, though the two front-runners will dismay many. But, of course, since there's no real constitution yet, we still don't know what powers the President will actually exercise.

And, with the runoff in mid-June, the race isn't over yet.

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