When Ashraf Fouad voted in Egypt’s first presidential election since Hosni Mubarak was removed from power, the 46-year-old mechanic took a pragmatic approach.
With what he described as the fate of a fledgling democracy at stake, Fouad threw his support behind former Arab League chief Amre Moussa, a veteran diplomat who also served as foreign minister under Mubarak, mainly as a way to block the possibility of a win by the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Mursi.
“I don’t really like him,” Fouad said. “But I like Mursi even less.”
In the two-day round of voting that ended yesterday, Egyptians chose between a field of 13 candidates, with the race divided between Islamists and secularists, including former members of Mubarak’s government. The choice, after 60 years of rigged ballots for presidents drawn from the ranks of the military, was seen by many as a chance to chart a new course while also ending 15 months of political uncertainty.
The once-banned Brotherhood, which with other Islamist groups now dominates the Egyptian parliament and benefits from a countrywide network of supporters, is challenged most directly by candidates with former regime links, such as Moussa and Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last premier.
“It’s looking increasingly likely that Mursi will get to the second round,” Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said in a telephone interview from Cairo. “This is an existential battle for the Brotherhood, and especially the Brotherhood’s current conservative leadership.”
“It’s not just about the president, it’s about the future of political Islam and the future of the organization,” Hamid said.
For many like Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6 youth movement that helped organize last year’s anti-Mubarak protests, a win by Shafik would be a blow to the hopes of those involved in the popular uprising.
“Even if the president is affiliated with the revolution, pressure will continue so that he doesn’t turn into a new pharaoh,” Maher said in a phone interview. “But having someone like Shafik is provocative, and means that he’s mocking the revolution.”
Opinion polls conducted ahead of the race have variously placed Moussa, Shafik, Mursi or moderate Islamist and former Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh in the lead. That makes it likely that a run-off between the two leading candidates will be held on June 16 and 17. Final results are expected on June 21, and the military council that took power after Mubarak’s fall has vowed to hand over power by the end of next month.
Egyptian officials said they were determined to show the election would not be marred by irregularities. More than 150,000 troops were deployed across the country to prevent trouble. The elections commission, which is overseeing the vote, vowed it would investigate all complaints.
Hatem Bagato, the election commission’s secretary-general, said it had recorded about 54 violations across the country over the course of the election, a level he described as “very excellent” and better than his expectations.
Law and Order
As well as restoring security, the election is also considered key to restoring some equilibrium in politics, where the deadlock between the Islamist-led parliament and the military-appointed government has stalled efforts to revive the economy.
The aftermath of the January 2011 uprising drained almost 60 percent of Egypt’s net international reserves, and forced the government to seek a $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan the fund is unwilling to approve until it sees political consensus. The funds, while not enough to plug the hole in the country’s finances, are viewed by officials as key to opening the door for other donor aid.
“We’re in uncharted territory. We don’t know who’s likely to win, what they may actually do once elected and how the population and military would react to the election results,” Slim Feriani, who oversees about $800 million as the chief investment officer at Advance Emerging Capital in London, said by e-mail on May 18. “The outcome of these elections will be crucial to Egypt’s future, at least in the short and medium-term.”
Investors aren’t the only ones concerned. In the run-up to the vote, candidates also focused on foreign policy, seeking resonance with Egyptians leery with the country’s peace treaty with neighboring Israel.
“Whoever is elected Egyptian president is under immense popular pressure to take a tougher stance toward Israel,” Egyptian Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, who decided against running for the presidency, said in an interview with Vienna, Austria-based Profil magazine to be published today.
“At the moment there is just chaos” and it is “unclear who rules the country,” ElBaradei said.
Egypt’s future president will inherit a nation whose citizens may be expecting more than he can realistically deliver. The ruling military has warned that Egyptians should not expect the incoming president to hold a “magic wand.”
Once viewed as the political hub of the Arab world, many Egyptians accused Mubarak of squandering the country’s diplomatic capital in much the same way that critics allege that he, his family and his closest confidants stole its wealth. A court is set to rule in a little over a week on Mubarak’s fate, with the former president facing a possible death sentence if convicted of the most serious charge of complicity in the death of some of the roughly 850 protesters killed in the uprising.
For Heba Atef, one of about 50 million Egyptians eligible to vote, the solution lies with Nasserist presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi.
“The president should be able to make Egypt a glorious country again -- a country with dignity and a good reputation around the world,” said the 30-year-old government employee. Sabahi “has a strong personality and ideas, and he also listens to others.”
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com.