Egypt between the devil and the deep blue sea

By Jamal Kanj
Jamal Kanj views the sad choice facing Egyptians in the second round of the country’s first-ever democratic presidential election: Ahmad Shafik, a Mubarak-era establishment figure representing the military’s privileged status, and Muhammad Morsi of the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood.

This weekend Egyptians will line up to select their next president in the first democratic election in the country’s history.

A fortnight ago it was moving to witness voters, old and young, standing in the simmering heat or being wheeled in to cast their ballots in the first round of the presidential election – for many, for the first time in their lives.

But unlike prior robotic participation in a process with a predetermined outcome, the voters were filled with excitement and anticipation.

Nonetheless, last-minute fielding and the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission’s decision disqualifying former President Hosni Mubarak’s vice-president, Omar Suleiman, before ultimately sanctioning former Prime Minister Ahmad Shafik’s candidacy, was a masterful, theatrical stunt by the old guard intended to ensure their place at the presidential polls.

As in genuine democracies, the results of the first round of the presidential ballot were disappointing for some and a surprise for most. It was disappointing because the race was limited to a Mubarak-era candidate and a nominee from the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Unfortunately for the gallant Egyptian youths, this is the quintessential sad ending of popular revolutions, where the selfless are sidelined and opportunists reap the fruits of their labour.”

The surprise was the success of the old guard’s candidate, who copied George W. Bush’s second-term election strategy by perpetuating a sense of insecurity – resulting in  24 per cent of those voting choosing stability over the promise of change.

More than 50 per cent of Egyptians did not vote for the two final candidates. The disenchanted voters are left today with a choice of regurgitating the same old faces or voting for change, while hoping this election is the start of a democratic process.

Last weekend, I watched with amusement as Shafik – the prime minister deposed by the Tahrir Square revolution- addressed disgruntled voters, promising to maintain the square as a beacon of democracy. He warned them not to allow the FJP candidate to hijack their revolution.

There is a saying in Arabic: “The worst of calamity is laughable.”

Indeed, Shafik’s sad assertions were hilarious. For one thing, it was under his reign that the regime hired thugs on camels and horses to terrorize protesters at Tahrir Square.

But, lamentably, he was partially correct since the FJP was a “Johnny-come-lately” to the protests. It is a well-established fact that the Muslim Brotherhood initially hesitated to take part in the 25 January demonstrations. It joined only after protesters gained unchallenged, popular legitimacy, assuring the likelihood of their success.

Still, between the two, Shafik was an integral part of Mubarak’s rule.

In an article in the Weekly Standard on 25 May, Washington Zio-con Elliot Abrams wrote: “Mubarak and the army could have agreed on Shafik as their candidate: he was close to Mubarak and like him an air force general, and, as we now see, he is indeed the man the military have agreed should run and represent their interests.”

Based on polls and recent waves of protests, the electorate is heading towards rejecting the Mubarak-era by supporting change.

The vote for Muhammad Morsi, however, should not be misconstrued as a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s patriarchal platform.

Unfortunately for the gallant Egyptian youths, this is the quintessential sad ending of popular revolutions, where the selfless are sidelined and opportunists reap the fruits of their labour. At least in consolation to their noble spirit, the next president will never receive Mubarak’s patented 99 per cent of the vote.

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