Friday, 15 June 2012

Why Ahmed Shafiq will be Egypt's next president

Egyptians are off to the voting booths again this weekend, for the second round of the presidential elections. The two remaining candidates are Ahmed Shafiq, the former Minister of Aviation, and Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood's back-up man. For many voters it will be a choice between the lesser of two evils. And that is exactly why Shafiq will win.

A Shafiq billboard on Sharia Tahrir in Cairo. 
Ahmed Shafiq was appointed prime minister by Mubarak in the last days of his regime and served as minister under the former dictator for years. He is therefore seen as 'felool', a remnant of the old regime.

But this does not just work as a disadvantage: many people argue that under the old regime the country was safe and the economy was doing a lot better than it is now. With his military background and political experience, a lot of voters think Shafiq is more capable of getting the country back in shape than the inexperienced Morsi is. 

Shafiq is feeding on this: one of his biggest promises is that once he is elected, the police will be back on the streets within 24 hours, a pledge that every single Egyptian I have spoken to in recent weeks has enthusiastically cited. 

Another major advantage of Shafiq also comes from his past: he has the support of the former NDP networks. How far those networks still reach today is unclear, but the fact remains that many former NDP'ers are still holding influential positions within the government. 

With unemployment currently at over twelve percent, it is tempting to ingratiate the boss and follow his political preference. Another argument I've heard at least a couple of times: "With my end-of-year bonus in the back of my mind, I will gladly follow the political recommendation of my superior." 

Shafiq's neoliberal economic plan will get him a lot of votes from entrepreneurs, and Egypt is a country of entrepreneurs. Almost everyone has their own businesses on the side,  be it is as mobile phone seller, or Arabic tutor or tour operator.


Most undecided voters in Egypt are women. Last week Morsi managed to turn practically all of them against him by giving a speech at a women's conference, and flatly denying that domestic violence is a problem in Egypt. Indeed, according to Morsi, it doesn't even occur at all. 

He also reiterated the Muslim Brotherhood's ideas about women: a woman can't be president and family life should always come before a career. "If Shafiq becomes president we go back in time thirty years, but if Morsi gets elected we go 500 years back in time," is how one women's rights activist summed it up.

About ten percent of Egypt's population is Christian, and they will go to the polls for Shafiq en masse, out of fear that under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood the country will be transformed into an Islamic state. Another smart move on Shafiq's part: he has promised to appoint three prime-ministers if he gets elected: a Christian, a woman and an Islamist.


The Salafi Nour party, the second party in the Egyptian parliament after the Muslim Brotherhood, supported independent candidate Abdel Monein Aboul Fotouh in the first round of voting, after the disqualification of their candidate Hazem Abu Ismail. This time it advised its members to vote for Morsi. 

How many will follow this advice is uncertain, because the distrust of the Salafis against their biggest political rival runs deep. Most of them believe the Brotherhood is after total domination of the country. The Egyptian Islamic Jihad has surprisingly expressed support for Shafiq, a choice mainly based on the same distrust toward the Brotherhood. 

What is often presented as a major advantage for Morsi is the often cited grassroots activism of his party. But local communities seem to be suffering from Brotherhood-fatigue. In the first round not Morsi but Shafiq won the majority of the votes in the Delta, traditionally a stronghold of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

The party has not performed very well in the parliament which has caused many supporters to grow discontent. They've picked a lot of fights and have angrily stormed out of many parliamentary debates, but have so far provided very few solutions to Egypt's current problems. 

Back-up man

A major disadvantage for Morsi is that he is his own party's second choice. He was the back-up candidate after the disqualification of political heavyweight Khairat Al-Shater and is seen by many as a weak personality and a poor representative for Egypt abroad. 

Many liberals and revolutionaries are going to boycott the second ballot, which will also work in favour of Shafiq, because many of them would have voted for Morsi. Additionally, the liberals that are going to the polls are divided: some parties advise their supporters to vote Shafiq, others see Morsi as the better candidate. Even if it was just to keep the old regime out of power.


In the above article I have purposefully left out alleged election fraud. After all, these elections are claimed to be 'fair'. However, many Egyptians believe Shafiq will win, but it won't be a fair victory. SCAF will rig the elections.

These rumours are becoming louder now that the Constitutional Court has dissolved the parliament, leaving Egypt completely under control of the transitional military council once again. Which candidate has their preference should be crystal clear.

The Dutch version of this text got published at De Buitenlandredactie.

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