by Ayman Ahmed (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 4, Rajab, 1433)
In a crowded field of 13 candidates, Dr. Muhammad al-Mursi of the Ikhwan-backed Hizb al-Hurriyah wa-al-‘Adalah (the Freedom and Justice Party), won the first spot in presidential elections on May 23 and 24.
The establishment’s candidate, Ahmed Shafiq came in a surprising second. While official results will not be announced until May 29 (after Crescent goes to press), Egyptian media reports quoting election officials confirmed Dr al-Mursi had won 25.3% of the vote to Shafiq’s 24.9%. Hamdeen Sabbahi, co-founder of the Nasserite Karama Party, came in a surprising third place.
Two contenders — Dr. ‘Abd al-Mun‘im Abu al-Futuh and Amr Moussa — touted in Western media reports as likely winners in the first round of polls came fourth and fifth respectively. Moussa in particular, Secretary General of the Arab League (2001–2011) and before that Egypt’s Foreign Minister for 10 years under Mubarak (1991–2001), fared badly coming a distant fifth. He was the West’s favourite candidate and Western media reports frequently claimed he would garner 40% of the vote. He secured a mere 11%. Other candidates included Islamic thinker and scholar Dr. Muhammad al-Awwa; leading judge Hisham al-Bastawisi; socialist MP Abu al-Izz al-Hariri; and left-wing rights activist Khalid Ali.
According to the election commission, nearly half of the 50 million eligible voters (25 million people) cast their ballot. There was a particularly strong turnout by female voters. A commonly heard refrain that “my vote finally counts” reflected people’s perception that this was the first free and fair election in Egypt in 60 years.
All previous elections were a farce in which the ra’is (president) — Hosni Mubarak or his equally detested predecessor, Anwar Sadat — were shoe-ins. There could be no other outcome since both Sadat (1970–1981) and Mubarak (1981–2011), were the sole candidate on the ballot during their rule. In the 2005 presidential polls when Ayman Noor made the mistake of running against Mubarak, he spent much of the presidential campaign in a prison cell. The “sole candidate” tradition dates back to Jamal ‘Abd al-Nasir’s era when he grabbed power in the Free Officers’ coup of 1952. While Nasir was a charismatic figure, his successors — Sadat and Mubarak — were men of guile and intrigue. All three, however, shared the common trait of inflicting indescribable brutality on opponents, of which the Ikhwan were the principal victims. Scores of their leaders were executed on trumped-up charges including Sayyid Qutb, hanged by Nasir in August 1966 for the “crime” of writing the book, Milestones! Thousands of Ikhwan supporters were imprisoned after being tried in kangaroo courts.
Since no clear winner emerged with 50% of the vote, there will be a run-off on June 16 and 17. Dr. al-Mursi and the Ikhwan wasted no time in appealing to other candidates that were eliminated from the race to prevent the former regime’s candidate, Shafiq, coming back into power. On May 26, Dr. al-Mursi held meetings with several losing candidates and the Ikhwan vowed to redouble their efforts to ensure that they mobilize the vote for the final round.
Pre-election commentary was based largely on people’s personal preferences. Opinion polls, clearly aimed at influencing people’s thinking, were claiming Amr Moussa would win by a huge margin over his nearest rival. Dr. al-Mursi was placed a distant fourth or fifth and Dr. Aboul Fotouh and Shafiq were placed above him. Did they get it wrong or was it a deliberate attempt to manipulate voter preferences?
If attendance at rallies had been taken as an accurate barometer of people’s sentiment, Dr. al-Mursi would have been the first choice. It was borne out by the result of the first round. Despite lacking charisma and his late entry into the race after the establishment disqualified the Ikhwan’s leading candidate, Khairat al-Shater, Dr. al-Mursi’s strong showing clearly reflected the Ikhwan’s support base and organizational ability. Had Shater been allowed to contest the election, it is more than likely that he would have won an outright victory in the first round.
He was disqualified because he had been imprisoned by the Mubarak regime. While Mubarak was driven from power on February 11, 2011, the laws he enacted to imprison political opponents on trumped-up charges continue to be applied. Mubarak himself faces multiple charges of corruption and murder but remnants of his regime are still ensconced in important posts. They continue to cast their dark shadow over political events in Egypt.
Egyptian jails are not only extremely crowded but torture is rampant. Setting dogs on detainees and threatening to rape their sisters, daughters, wives or mothers if they did not confess to trumped-up charges are routine. Western countries have used Egypt as a destination of choice to send people accused of “terrorism” to be tortured. These horrible practices continued till the last days of the Mubarak regime. Treatment of detainees has only marginally improved since the mass uprising drove Mubarak from power but torture of detainees is far from over. The culture of oppression will take serious and sustained effort to eliminate.
What the result of the first round of elections showed was that organizational ability is important. Dr. al-Mursi had the backing of the Ikhwan, a well-established political and social group that despite suffering immensely under successive regimes has created a vast support network throughout the country. It was the result of their services to people that enabled them to beat back a challenge from the establishment figures. Both Moussa and Abu al-Futuh lost because of lack of organizational support while Shafiq was the beneficiary of the network of old guards and the military.
All candidates tried to play up what they perceived to be their strengths. Amr Moussa, for instance, claimed that he has experience in international relations (it was on his watch as Secretary General of the Arab League that the no-fly resolution against Libya was approved and the country re-occupied by Western colonial vultures!) and he has good relations with rulers of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Most Egyptians would view these negatively. Shafiq claimed he had experience of both military and civil affairs (having served as air force chief and as minister of civil aviation and prime minister in the dying days of the Mubarak regime). Would Egyptians want to return to the Mubarak era a mere 18 months after dispatching this pharaoh to the dustbin of history?
Abu al-Futuh, a medical doctor, has an interesting background. He was a prominent figure in the Ikhwan before entering the presidential race. He is head of the Arab Medical Union and was also a student leader at university. He gained prominence when as president of the Cairo University Students Union, he challenged Sadat in a public debate in 1977, much to the annoyance of the late pharaoh. He was imprisoned along with hundreds of other Islamic activists after the October 1981 killing of Sadat. He founded a secret cell of
al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyah but later fell out with it because of its extremist views. Mubarak imprisoned him again from 1996–2001 and in 2009. Dr. Abu al-Futuh is critical of the military and opposes US funding for it.
In his memoir, A Witness to the History of Egypt’s Islamic Movement, Dr. Abu al-Futuh admits the intransigence of his own conservative beliefs in the early 1970s. While he repudiated these views, he was still endorsed by the Salafis’ al-Nour Party whose own candidate Salah Hamzah Abu Isma‘il was barred from the race because his mother was an American citizen. The Salafis, financed by Saudi Arabia, are closest in their views to al-Jama‘ah al-Islamiyah.
Dr. al-Mursi had promised that if elected, he would be a president for all Egyptians. Given the military’s dubious intentions, he would need all the help he can get. His party’s strong presence in parliament will be a big help but the state machinery is still dominated by remnants of the old regime, as was evident in Shafiq’s strong showing in the first round of presidential polls. The old guard (read that, America and Israel) will create endless hurdles for the new president if he happens to be Dr. al-Mursi.
He will also face other daunting challenges. In addition to the deeply entrenched culture of corruption that has infested all state institutions, massive unemployment, widespread poverty (40% of the population), lack of security which has further deteriorated in recent weeks, and an overbearing military are all issues that will challenge the most determined individual. As if these were not enough, the president’s powers remain undefined because the constitution has not been drafted.
The 100-member Constitution Assembly tasked with writing the constitution was boycotted by the secularists on the pretext that it was dominated by Islamic elements. As sore losers and used to being handed power through the backdoor without support from the masses, what the secularists cannot reconcile with is that Islamic parties won 75% of parliamentary seats. They won the confidence of the people and have the right to draft the new constitution. But working in tandem with remnants of the old regime, the secularists were able to annul the Constitution Assembly through a court challenge, again dominated by appointees of the old regime.
Despite this, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) insists the constitution must be drafted before the new president takes office on June 30. This is an almost impossible task. There is, however, agreement on some points. The president’s powers should be curtailed (no more Mubarak-like strongmen, please), the term of office would be reduced to four years with a maximum of two-term limit (has term limits ever limited corruption in the political or electoral process in the countries in which they are employed?).
The next round of presidential polls on June 16 and 17 will be hotly contested and keenly watched. It cannot be ruled out that former regime operatives may try to rig the vote or even create even more hurdles now that it has become clear that Dr. al-Mursi would be the likely winner. There are vested interests in Egypt working in tandem with their foreign masters that are hell-bent on preventing the Islamic movement from coming into power, even through the ballot box; so much for the West’s commitment to democracy.
The Ikhwan will have to be extra vigilant in the course of the next few weeks to ensure victory is not snatched from their hands when they have come so close to achieving it. No one, from the Egyptian activists to the Ikhwan, ought to be entertaining any illusions about Ahmed Shafiq’s numbers and the involvement of outside influence. It would be naive to believe that America, Saudi Arabia, and Israel just have one horse in this race. Shafiq is as much a Western candidate as Moussa; America would dearly love to have a post-revolution version of an iron-fisted Mubarak, which is exactly how Shafiq is talking. Those who say that Shafiq is SCAF’s candidate are a little slow on the uptake: it is time to expose the power behind the power, and liberate the society from it. Then the SCAF will come out to be the paper-tiger patsy that it is.
This is where a so-called “free press” will be detrimental to a free electoral process. America sells democracy, free speech, a free press, and the infusion of illegally acquired wealth (Wetern capital) into electioneering as a package deal. Those who get the most air time, ads, and the like have the luxury to plaster their faces in front of a public that is yearning for just representation; and Western war rooms can give even a con-artist like Shafiq a Madison Avenue makeover, while making more modest individuals like Dr. al-Mursi look like the Devil himself. America controls this process all over the world; that’s why it pushes so hard for it, and if it is not accepted by a prescient people (for example, the Palestinians and Iranians), then it proceeds to trash them and their leaders. Regardless of who ultimately wins, all the Islamic candidates would be well advised to be cognizant of the fact that the color of “democracy” will always be red, white, and (light) blue.
If Shafiq wins in the next round — and his American, Saudi, and Israeli sponsors will move heaven and earth to get him “elected” — those who espoused democratic ideals in the run-up to the run-off will be forced to accept the results of a “democratic” process even as it will leave a bad taste in their mouths, and perhaps derail the revolution altogether. Should Dr. al-Mursi prevail in Egypt, only the abandonment of all kinds of Western rhetoric — endemic to which in the region is the institutionalization of Zionist and Wahhabi exclusivism, riba, and a bought and paid-for military — his presidency could have far reaching consequences for the entire region.