Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Electing the new Egyptian President | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Last week was full of strange occurrences, and not only for my generation. It was a week full of astonishment; something which the word “surprise” cannot even describe. The week began on the 16th June; a very hot and humid day, or to put it bluntly, a day when the climate was unpleasant for the Egyptian mood, and no one was encouraged to go to ballot stations. Hence, there was an initial shock when it seemed that no one had come to celebrate an event which has been eagerly anticipated for 6,000 years, during which the Egyptian people failed to elect a pharaoh, a king, a prince, a ruler, a Sultan or even a President of the Republic. Early statements shied away from announcing that the voting rate had not exceeded 35 percent, but press reports revealed that only 15 – 20 percent of eligible voters in Cairo had cast their votes. This suggested that people had refrained from participating in the election and that they were completely indifferent to the election campaign. The most likely explanation was that the people were bitterly disillusioned by having to choose between a candidate who seemed to be an affiliate of the former regime and era that the people rose against, and another candidate who seemed to belong to a reign that ended 14 centuries ago – or let me say a time that dates back to the fall of the Uthman caliphate. Hence it was a choice between two “remnants” – to use an expression that has circulated widely over the 17 months since the outbreak of the revolution.

The night passed, the climate of wonder continued to prevail, and the next day was just as hot as the previous one. However, the Egyptian people were suddenly drawn towards the ballot boxes, and hence we encountered a second surprise when it turned out that over 50 percent of Egypt’s eligible voters had participated in the presidential elections, with the total figure exceeding 25 million people. Thus, over two consecutive days, several talk shows had fluctuated between attempting to understand why the Egyptian people had declined to go to the polls, and then why there was such a surge the following day. Meanwhile, various media outlets began to leak the election results as they came in, prompting the question as to who was victorious: Was it Mursi or Shafik? Who had gained the majority of votes – even in minor polling stations where the electorate only amounted to several hundred? Was it the advocate of a religious state, or the would-be leader of a civil state?

That night Cairo was extremely busy and full of observations, vote counting, additions and deductions. It was clear that at the beginning Mohammed Mursi (the Freedom and Justice Party’s chosen candidate) was making progress. Then it became apparent that his victories were concentrated in Upper Egypt and the border regions, where the towns were small and the vote counting was fast, unlike the situation in the north, the Delta and in Cairo, where the populations are far larger. It is likely that this prompted Mohammed Mursi to surprise everyone by holding a press conference at 3am on Monday, in order to declare his electoral victory.

All of a sudden, the election battle was at times a soap opera, a tragic play at other times, and a comedy at others still. There were widespread complexities; the beginning of the elections coincided with the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling that the political isolation law was unconstitutional. At the same time, the Court also pronounced a ruling denouncing the parliamentary election law – according to which MPs were elected earlier this year, and the parliament was dissolved as a result. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) not only had to contend with this or the demonstrations that broke out in Tahrir Square as a result. Just before votes were due to be counted, SCAF issued a supplementary constitutional declaration, which was strongly criticized by more than one political entity, and nevertheless, SCAF added an article stipulating the establishment of the National Defense Council. This package of measures gave the Muslim Brotherhood’s chosen candidate Mohammed Mursi a political boost, which he proceeded to use to mobilize the protestors in Tahrir Square and elsewhere. The Muslim Brotherhood began to adopt a sharper tone and vowed vengeance upon everyone if the election result was not as they expected; meaning that Mursi must be declared victorious and SCAF must allow the parliament to re-convene, regardless of the opinion of the Supreme Constitutional Court.

There was also a great sense of tragedy inherent in this drama, with the deplorable health of former President Hosni Mubarak. There was even an official announcement at one point that he was “clinically” dead. The situation seemed tragic; whilst one president was being elected, another was being taken to the grave amidst various medical reports. Simultaneously, public rallies were organized by Mursi to celebrate his victory in order to give the impression that nothing could stand in the way of his rise to power. In turn, Shafik’s campaign awoke and sought to discredit Mursi’s claims to victory, suggesting that they were all baseless and incorrect and that if there was already a winner, it must be Shafik. All of a sudden, the figures declared by Mursi became the subject of scrutiny and seemed dubious. As both parties contested the election results, people began to wonder: Why should Mursi put forth all these contestations if he believes he had already won the race several days ago? Thus, the situation became part comedy when the majority of Egyptians became experts in legal analysis, and Mursi and Shafik’s respective campaigns declared themselves victorious and launched criticism against the other. It was also later revealed that pens with “erasable ink” were used in some ballot stations, and that certain state-run print houses produced ballots with the president’s name already filled in before the election process started.

Drama was mixed with both tragedy and comedy at the same time. As is customary in such situations, public mobilization for Mursi began in the squares, and so Shafik’s adherers discovered that it was time for them to take to streets, hence choosing a symbolic location in front of the unknown solider memorial as a place to assemble. However, the masses were also mobilized by another party; an Egyptian group claiming to represent the Egyptian people named “the third current” or “the third way.” This group believes that the longstanding shortcomings of Egyptian politics can be blamed on its two central currents: the Egyptian state, regardless of the various names it adopts, and the Muslim Brotherhood. If this is correct, then the only way to remedy the dilemma of Egyptian politics is for a third current to emerge in order to strike a balance. The problem is that this “third current” has a variety of identities and could probably encompass a fourth, fifth and a sixth current after it is divided into its various groups and leaderships. We see them on our television screens, on the radio and in the press for long periods of time, yet they fail to accomplish any truly worthwhile political work. Meanwhile, the real political achievements are being accomplished by SCAF, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian election commission, which recently scrutinized appeals and declared the name of the new Egyptian President. Was this the historic moment we have long been waiting for? Perhaps so, but we do not know what such historic moments look like. Maybe I will be able to tell you more next week.