Egypt: A Polarising Presidential Run-Off Ahead
Egypt’s forthcoming presidential election run-off on June 16-17 promises to be a highly polarising event, for it will pit Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)’s Freedom and Justice Party against Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander who briefly served as prime minister in the final weeks of the administration of President Hosni Mubarak in early 2011. The identities of the two run-off candidates are a surprise, because opinion polls ahead of the first round of voting on May 23-24 showed former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa and a former member of the MB, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, as the frontrunners.
The fact that such a prominent figure of the ancien regime as Shafiq is now a serious contender shows the extent to which the hopes raised by the Arab Spring have waned in Egypt. In fact, turnout was only around 45%, and if Shafiq wins the presidency, then many Egyptians will feel betrayed. What accounts for Shafiq’s success? The most probable answer is that many Egyptians are alarmed by the breakdown in law and order since Mubarak’s ouster in February 2011, and crave a return to the stability before the popular uprising. Shafiq’s campaign focused on restoring stability, and was highlighted by his pledge to clear protestors from Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
If Morsi wins the presidency, then Egyptians of a secularist nature may well fear that too much power is accumulating in the hands of the MB, which won the biggest block of seats in parliamentary elections held in late 2011 and early 2012. On the other hand, an MB president working with an MB-heavy parliament would probably create the best conditions for passing legislation, and this should encourage investors. A Shafiq presidency would be more likely to result in antagonism between the executive and legislative branches.
Not that either Morsi or Shafiq will automatically be accepted as the new president. It is possible that supporters of the loser will take to the streets in droves in protest of the outcome. As an ominous sign, Shafiq’s headquarters was stormed and set alight when results indicated that he would be competing in the run-off.
Beyond the election, we would expect the divide between Islamists and secularists to remain the principal fault-line in Egyptian politics. Meanwhile, although the military is preparing to formally hand power to a civilian administration, we would expect the armed forces to remain politically influential behind the scenes, as was the case to varying degrees after democratic transitions in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Turkey. At the very least, we would expect Egypt to require a further five to ten years before democracy becomes entrenched.