After months of strenuous campaigning by a myriad of candidates in Egypt’s historic presidential election, it seems that it will all just boil down to a run-off between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military. Early vote counts indicate that the two front-runners are the conservative Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, the Mubarak government’s last prime minister who has run on a platform of stability, unabashedly brandishing his Mubarak-era credentials and cozy relationship with the military. With the majority of the country’s 13,000 polling stations already declaring results, it appears that Morsi has won approximately 26 percent of the vote, followed by Shafiq with 24 percent. The fiery nationalist Hamdin Sabbahi seems to have placed third, but only the first two candidates will compete in a run-off election next month.
A Morsi-Shafiq contest will be deeply disappointing to the many Egyptians who feel trapped between the highly organized Islamist machine of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood on the one hand and the counter-revolutionary, secular regime of the old guard as represented by Ahmed Shafiq on the other. Indeed, Morsi and Shafiq are perhaps the two most polarizing presidential contenders. Ahmad Sarhan, a spokesman for Mr. Shafiq, announced that “The revolution has ended,” a statement sure to galvanize the revolutionary stalwarts of Tahrir Square.
Shafiq, who at one point was disqualified from the election and then reinstated, seems to have gained support in recent weeks with his tough law-and-order message. Christian Egyptians threw their weight behind him, believing that only such a firm hand could protect their rights; Shafiq also appealed to other Egyptians concerned about the potential for Islamists to consolidate their power and also those worried about rising crime and deteriorating economic conditions. Already, many Egyptians are disillusioned with the antics of the new Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament, and with its inability to deliver any progress on the most pressing issues like forming a constituent assembly to draft a permanent constitution. After the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party rammed a list of members for the constituent assembly through parliament, the judiciary dissolved the nascent assembly because, essentially, it lacked broad legitimacy. (This is besides many more colorful anecdotes about some of the MPs’ less-than-professional behavior, specifically from the Salafist Al Nour party). Meanwhile, the economy continues to stumble.
If indeed the run-off is between Morsi and Shafiq, this will pit two very different visions of the country against each other. The next month of campaigning is sure to be more partisan and divisive than what we have already seen.