Runoff dilemma in Egypt?
The Egyptian presidential race has come down to Mohamed Morsi, left, and Ahmed Shafik.
May 28th, 2012
02:56 PM ET

Runoff dilemma in Egypt?

By Kyle Almond, CNN

Egypt’s presidential race is headed for a runoff, but the two remaining candidates present voters with a serious dilemma, according to some analysts.

Sonya Farid, writing for Al Arabiya, said the two candidates who reached the runoff — Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik — are the most non-revolutionary of all the candidates and represent “two typically tyrannical institutions: the first (Morsi) being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the second (Shafik) a senior official of the former regime.”

Shafik was the last prime minister of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was forced out by protests in February 2011. Shafik received 5.5 million of the country’s 23 million votes, about 200,000 votes behind first-place finisher Morsi, who leads the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Voters must now choose between “a return to the old corrupt tyrannical regime or a complete transformation into a seemingly unfavorable scenario that would give the (Muslim) Brotherhood a trifecta of both parliamentary houses and the presidency,” wrote Adel Iskandar, a columnist for the Egypt Independent.

What happened to the more moderate candidates in the race? A poll published earlier this month by the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies showed secular candidate Amre Moussa leading moderate Islamist Abdelmonen Abol Fotoh, and the two were the only ones to take part in a televised debate. Yet Abol Fotoh finished fourth and Moussa fifth.

“Everything about Egypt’s revolution has been unexpected, and the first-round results in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election are no different,” said Omar Ashour, director of Middle East Studies at the University of Exeter and a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution in Doha, Qatar.

Ashour, writing for Project Syndicate, says Egypt’s voters “overwhelmingly chose the revolution over the old regime … but their failure to unite on a single platform directly benefited Shafiq.”

Meanwhile, he said, Shafiq received strong support from Coptic Christians “because he was widely perceived as a bulwark against Islamism.”

Rania Al Malky, a Cairo-based columnist and the former chief editor of the Daily News Egypt, was shocked by how well Shafik fared.

“Egyptians have proven that they are still trapped in the anti-Islamist rhetoric of the Mubarak era,” she said in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, a quarterly journal at American University in Cairo. “These results have taken us back to square one when many may find themselves forced to plug their ears and noses to give their protest vote to the (Freedom and Justice Party), just like the old days.

“The fear of Islamists is so deeply entrenched in the Egyptian psyche that it has obliterated the memory of the martyrs who gave their lives during the 18-day uprising. In a way, the shocking support for Shafik betrays a level of ethical and moral bankruptcy that surpasses mere political illiteracy.”

Morsi’s support, on the other hand, was not as surprising considering the strength and organization of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“It is not merely that the Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s 'best organized' group, as many commentators frequently note. It is the only organized group, with a nationwide hierarchy that can quickly transmit commands from its Cairo-based Guidance Office to its 600,000 members scattered throughout Egypt,” wrote Eric Trager in The New Republic.

Trager, a Next Generation Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, says Morsi’s runoff hopes appear favorable:

“While Shafik can count on support from Egyptian Christians and many of the rural clans that previously backed Mubarak’s ruling party, Morsi is already drawing support from many non-Islamists who fear a return to the old regime more than a Brotherhood-dominated Egypt.  Moreover, early reports indicate that, faced with the choice between the autocratic Shafik and theocratic Morsi, many voters will stay home — a decision that will bolster Morsi, since low turnouts benefit well-organized parties.”

The runoff will take place June 16-17.

Since Mubarak’s ouster, the country has been led by its military.

Many Egyptians have protested the military leadership, saying it has delayed the transition to civilian rule. But the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has promised to hand over power.

Topics: Egypt • Elections

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