BY MBAYE LO
It’s an interesting time to be in Cairo.
As the night falls in this densely populated city, live music and loud TV discussions animate the atmosphere of its open café houses, while small protests erupt, and screaming drivers bust through the crowd demanding a pathway.
The fear and anxiety of Cairenes over their future is palpable. My good friend, Amm Gad at the Nubian Café off Qasr al Auni Street, told me on Monday he was dumbfounded over who to vote for in Egypt’s presidential election runoff set for mid-June.
The two surviving candidates in the presidential poll, certified on Monday, seem to come from two extremes, with no “middle way.”
With a low 49 per cent of Egyptians turning out to vote in the first round, and with no candidate getting even a quarter of the votes, this means most Egyptians were not happy and not engaged with the candidates on the ballot.
Egyptians, like Gad, are asking:
- Will General Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s minister of civil aviation (2002-11) and prime minister during his last month in office (who brought in 23.6% of the vote), bring back the dark years of Mubarak, if elected?
- Is it risky to choose the Muslim Brotherhood candidate and top vote-getter at 24.7%, Muhammed Morsi — an American educated former engineering professor who has no apparent executive experience or expertise in the public sector?
Unhappy that third-place finisher Hamdeen Sabahi didn’t make the cut, Sabahi supporters packed Tahrir Square late into Monday night, calling for a recount and nullification of the election results. A populist, Sabahi was the only candidate to be organically and rhetorically associated with the younger, liberal protesters.
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood executive member and pre-election-survey favorite, finished a disappointing fourth with only 17.4% of the vote. Going into the May 23-24 poll, he had seemed to appeal to disparate groups — the fervently religious, the fervently secular, independents, and dissenters of the Muslim Brotherhood establishment.
As of Tuesday, the local papers were still unable to explain Fotouh’s poor performance in the elections, though most academics believe it was his public debate with candidate Amr Moussa (who came in the fifth place) that lost him supporters. (Debates are not respected or cherished in this culture. Accusing someone of lying in a public setting is not considered virtuous, gentlemanly behavior.)
The Muslim Brotherhood was left deliberating over a strategy to tackle their average performance in the first round presidential poll. The reality is they got less than one quarter of the vote, which demonstrated their diminishing popularity in many major cities and among the revolutionary movements who blame them for serving as a buffer zone between the revolution and the ruling military council.
In a May 28 article in al-Shurooq newspaper, Fahmi Huwadi, a leading intellectual known for his support and affiliation with the Brotherhood, called on his colleagues to re-think ways to regain the people’s trust.
Meanwhile, Sabahi and Foutouh, the third and fourth place candidates, have both rejected a Muslim Brotherhood offer of a possible vice-presidency post in exchange for supporting Morsi against Shafik.
Leading intellectuals believe that if the Muslim Brotherhood is serious about a power-sharing government, then a presidential council will need to be created to offset the state backing that Shafik enjoys.
Shafik also enjoys the support of most of Cairo’s business class. In a press conference last Saturday he promised to bring peace, order and tranquility back to the streets. In an interview with the Hayat network cable channel later that night, he invited his opponents to join his government, including the secularists, the Christian Copts, the tribal leaders in Upper Egypt, and the informal sector vendors who urgently need tourism and tranquility to return to the streets.
Shafik is telling Egyptians that he is no Mubarak and that his government would respect their rights and respect the elected parliament. He even suggested that a prime minister be nominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
No matter how we attempt to decipher the trajectory of Egyptian politics, it must be noted that the level of violence has remained consistently low. Reported incidences of death due to political violence numbers less than 2,000 in a poor country of roughly 90 million people, and 40 per cent of them make less than $2.00 (two dollars) a day. This is amazing when you consider that a 30-year-old regime collapsed, two major national elections were held in less than 12 months, and millions of people have been protesting on a weekly basis throughout this country for the past 16 months.
No one knows what the coming nights will bring, but we must acknowledge that there is a democracy at work.
Mbaye Lo is Assistant Professor of the Practice, Asian & Middle Eastern Studies; Arabic professor; and Duke Islamic Studies Center (DISC) faculty member at Duke University. Lo’s research interests include the sociology of Islam and theories of civil society. Currently in Cairo, he is serving as co-faculty director with Prof. Bruce Lawrence of the Duke in the Arab World Summer Program, and is in his fifth consecutive year as faculty director for the DukeEngage Egypt student civic engagement program.