Egypt’s Election: “We’ve Never Here Been Before”
By: Jim Zogby (Originally posted by Arab American Institute on Monday May 21, 2012)
This Egyptian presidential election has all the earmarks of being a “we’ve never been here before” event.
Never before have we seen such a competitive contest in Egypt or, for that matter, in any Arab country. And never before have we had a presidential contest, anywhere in the world that I can recall, where we have no idea what the winner will actually win when the election is over.
At this point, the polls are too close and no clear front-runner has emerged. Anyone can still emerge victorious. This is the third major vote in Egypt in the past year. The two earlier rounds were notable for the surprises they brought. First, there was the referendum to ratify the constitutional changes put forward by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Back then, the once very popular, Mohamed El Baradei, and the always popular former Foreign Minister and Arab League Secretary General, Amr Moussa, and the youthful leaders of the Tahrir Square revolt—all campaigned for a “no” vote. Just a few days before the vote, these forces were predicting victory. Meanwhile, the alliance of the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to be working in tandem in support of the referendum. Their combined organizational strength proved decisive and carried the day, winning by a huge margin of more than 3 to 1.
The surprise that occurred in the many rounds of the parliamentary elections was the consistent strength demonstrated by the Salafi movement. It had been expected that the Muslim Brotherhood would win handily. And they did. But what caught most observers off guard was the broad support given to Salafi candidates resulting in their party winning almost one-quarter of the seats in the new parliament.
While one might assume that these contests lay the predicate for this presidential election and can be used to project the outcome, it appears they may not provide a useful guide to the expected result for two reasons: Egyptians appear to view the presidency differently than they do the legislature; and competition among the Islamic parties and a general concern of a Muslim Brotherhood “over-reach” is producing an alliance of “strange bedfellows” which may affect voter behavior.
These factors combined have resulted in a Salafi/liberal alliance supporting the candidacy of a moderate former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdul Moneim Aboul Fatouh who has since been denounced by the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood’s own candidate has so far fared poorly in the polls, since even some in his own party are concerned lest their group be seen as wanting too much power too soon. Secularists and liberals have at least three candidates in the running. Far and away the leader of this group appears to be the charismatic Amr Moussa. Also scoring fairly well in various polls are former Prime Minister-for-a-month Ahmad Shafiq and leader of the Kefaya movement, Hamdeen Sabahi.
As I noted, the polling on this contest has been inconsistent—and for good reason. Because we’ve never seen a competitive presidential contest of this type in Egypt, we do not know how to predict the turnout, the voter intensity, or each party’s or candidate’s organizational strength. And so regardless of what the polls may be saying, I would never count out the capacity of the Brotherhood or the SCAF to play a major role on election day.
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