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Egypt: And Then There Were Two - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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In the recent French presidential election, the difference in terms of votes between the new president Francois Hollande and his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy was as little as 3 percent, and nevertheless, the French accepted the outcome. Sometime earlier, in the American presidential election prior to George W. Bush’s first term, the difference in the number of votes between him and his Democrat rival Al Gore was so small that the American people had to resort to the Supreme Court to settle the result a few weeks later. The Americans accepted their new president, who then remained in power for two presidential terms (8 years). This is considered customary in many Western presidential democracies, where a president may win with a miniscule majority.

Egypt may have a similar experience following the runoff vote in the current presidential election, where Mohammed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq will compete against each other. In the first round of voting, the difference between the first candidate, Mursi, and the second one, Shafiq, was as little as 200,000 votes. People seem to be broadly divided and the winner will most likely have a slim majority, unless a surprise happens and the public are suddenly drawn strongly towards one candidate at the expense of the other. If we take the most likely outcome of one candidate winning with a small majority, the question is how will losing side respond, particularly considering that Egypt is not the US or France, and it has no similar precedents in this regard. In light of such political congestion, will the losing side accept the result and wait for another four years, or will it reject the result and drag the country into a new cycle of conflict?

As the second round begins, with Egyptian expatriates starting to cast their votes, the state of polarization is quite clear. The return of protests and demonstrations following Mubarak’s trial is largely a political phenomenon, and has direct links to the results of the first round of elections. Amidst such occurrences, new ideas and demands have been raised by the powers or candidates who lost out in the first round. These demands are centered mainly on the formation of a presidential council prior to the runoff election, which would then serve as an alternative to the results of the ballots at this critical time in the country’s political process.

Yet it does not seem likely that this proposal will be successful, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s criticisms about its lack of realism are correct. Similarly, Amr Musa – one of the presidential candidates who lost in the first round – said this idea was an abortion of the democratic experience, and he was also correct. The proposed council would not be an elected one, and would leave everyone questioning which is the real source of legitimacy: the squares or the ballots. Furthermore, the political elite must consider the 25 or 26 million people who went to the polls, the majority for the first time in their lives; and would it be possible to convince them to vote again in the future if they saw their will being usurped, or their votes being rendered useless?

The results that brought the two candidates Mursi and Shafiq into a runoff vote may not be welcomed by many who were eagerly anticipating the presidential election following a prolonged and hindered process, and who expected it to reflect a real change in light of the 25th January revolution. Yet, moving the goalposts after everyone has run onto the pitch and accepted the rules of the game is not the solution, because the result will cause enthusiastic voters to become disillusioned once again. This is to say that once the train has already rushed towards the election station, it should be allowed to proceed, of course after providing the conditions and guarantees necessary for a transitional period. Perhaps the most important of these conditions is to maintain the state’s civil nature and to ensure that all citizens enjoy equal rights and duties without discrimination, regardless of the identity of the winning candidate.

If the winner gains only a slight majority in his competition with the second-placed candidate, then efforts must be exerted towards reconciliation and cooperation between the two rival sides. This is because neither side will be able to ignore the other as a power that exits in society. We must also not pay attention to thoughts of revenge, because these will do little to build the Egyptian state. A political disagreement does not mean that society should be split in half, whereby each side seeks to expel the other. Regardless of the identity of the upcoming president, by strengthening and reforming institutions and separating powers, the state will be preserved and able to move forward.

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim

Ali Ibrahim is Asharq Al-Awsat's deputy editor-in-chief. He is based in London.

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