Islamist vs. Secularist for Egyptian Presidency
The votes have been counted and the results, though not yet official, are in: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi came from behind to win Egypt’s presidential election and he will face former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq on June 16-17.
According to Ahram Online, the latest unofficial tally shows Morsi in first place with 25%, thanks to a tremendous last-minute surge. Two polls before the election showed 33% to 38% of voters were undecided, giving him room to grow. His growth came at the expense of his closest Islamist rival, former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, who presented himself as the consensus candidate that is acceptable to all.
The Brotherhood wisely moved to the right when Aboul-Fotouh campaigned as a centrist, bringing his numbers down. The most conservative Islamist elements of Egyptian society, specifically the Salafists, had endorsed Aboul-Fotouh and it appears that the Brotherhood won them over. In the final weeks of the campaign, the Brotherhood doubled-down on implementing Sharia Law.
Morsi forcefully declared, “We will not accept any alternative to Sharia, the Quran is our constitution and it will always be.” The Brotherhood had hardline clerics campaign for Morsi. One, Safwat Higazy, said at a rally that “We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate come true at the hands of Mohammed Morsi.”
It worked. The last polls showed Morsi in fourth or fifth place. He ended up taking the prize.
Now, the Brotherhood is moving to the center and is framing the contest with Shafiq as one between the old regime and the revolution. Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the top Brotherhood cleric, instructed Egyptians to pick Morsi. He said that the upcoming run-off is not about Islamism versus secularism but between “the revolution and the enemies of the revolution.”
A Brotherhood official confirmed that it is seriously considering offering Aboul-Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabahi, the secularist who came in third place, posts as vice presidents in exchange for their endorsements. If that happens, then the Brotherhood is virtually guaranteed to win the presidency.
The Brotherhood is also trying to appeal to Christians. A top official said, “Who killed them [Christians] in protests? Who prevented them from building churches? The old regime, not us.”
Elliot Abrams makes the point that a Morsi victory could be good for the West and the secularists in the long-term because the Islamists will have to accept blame for everything that goes wrong. Over time, the Islamist support will fall as Egyptians seek new alternatives. This is what happened to Hamas’ popularity in the Gaza Strip.
Ahmed Shafiq came in a very close second place at about 24%. He was supported by those who miss the Mubarak regime, Christians and some secular democrats. He was a long-shot candidate until the very end and his rise came at the expense of Amr Moussa, his closest secular rival. Moussa’s support began falling after his debate with Aboul-Fotouh where he mistakenly called Iran an “Arab country.”
Shafiq and the secularists as a whole also benefited from a backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists as a whole. In February, 43% of Egyptians supported the Brotherhood and 40% supported the Salafist Nour Party. Within a few months, only 26% supported the Brotherhood and 30% supported the Salafists. It seems that many Egyptians were uncomfortable with the possibility of one party or one ideology controlling both the parliament (which the Islamists won with 75% of the vote) and the presidency.
Shafiq made a point of reaching out to the Christian minority, which is about 10% of the population. He floated the idea that he might make a female Christian his deputy. Coptic Christian groups in the U.S. endorsed his candidacy.
Now, Shafiq is on the defensive because of the Brotherhood’s political strategy. He is working to change the image that he is an opponent of the revolution. He says the Islamists have “hijacked” the revolution and that he does not want to move backwards. The most liberal elements of Egyptian society refuse to embrace him. The Free Egyptians Party, for example, described the upcoming race is the “worst case scenario” pitting an “Islamic fascist” against a “military fascist.” The secular democratic party says it may boycott the election and will endorse neither candidate.
Hamdeen Sabahi came in a surprising third place with about 21.5%. He is a secular Nasserist, but that is not necessarily good for the U.S. In 2005, hesaid, “One must salute this organization [Al-Qaeda] when it kills any American soldier—a soldier, not a civilian. The presence of Al-Qaeda in Iraq as part of the resistance is a positive phenomenon that should be supported. I support Al-Qaeda when it kills Americans.”
His surge happened because many secular voters wanted someone who had no ties to the Mubarak regime. He was able to position himself as the only secularist candidate that is a friend of the revolution. He was consistently in fifth place in the polls, though one had him rising above Morsi for fourth place. He ended up coming in a close third.
The results were incredibly embarrassing for Aboul-Fotouh and Amr Moussa who were, for almost the entire duration of the campaign, considered the frontrunners. They even had a one-on-one debate because it had appeared to have become a two-man race. Fotouh ended up in fourth with 18% and Moussa came in fifth with 11%.
Sabahi and Aboul-Fotouh have filed complaints, claiming to have proof of voter fraud designed to help Shafiq. Aboul-Fotouh says campaign observers were not allowed to view the ballot counting at some stations and some votes were casted by dead people. Other voters were bribed. Sabahi wants a partial recount. He says that hundreds of thousands of military and security personnel voted for Shafiq, even though they were not allowed to vote. The Brotherhood reportedly chose not to complain about the fraud because it doesn’t want to risk having another vote. Moussa is not filing any complaints.
If the election results become official and these challenges are dismissed, all attention will be focused on the upcoming battle between Morsi and Shafiq. The race will be decided by how the race is seen by the public.
If the Brotherhood succeeds in creating a grand “pro-revolution” alliance against Shafiq that includes pro-revolution secularists, it probably wins in a landslide. If Shafiq succeeds in making it about secularism against Islamism, then he can win the presidency comfortably. If you total up the percentages of the major secular candidates (Shafiq, Sabahi and Moussa), you get about 56.31%. If you total the percentages of the major Islamist candidates (Morsi and Aboul-Fotouh), you get only 43.23%.
The Islamists may or may not win the presidency, but they already have a huge majority in the parliament and that is, in and of itself, a huge victory. The big question is how much power the ruling Supreme Armed Council of the Armed Forces is actually willing to give up.
Ryan Mauro is a fellow with RadicalIslam.org, the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent national security analyst for Fox News Channel. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.