Update: Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi has won a spot in the second round of Egypt's elections, according to results Friday from Egypt's election.
Egypt's first presidential elections may appear to bea small stepping-stone towards democratization, but the significance of Egypt's first-ever experience with democracy has reverberated across the nation and the entire Arab world.
To many Egyptians, this election is tangible evidence of the beginning of a genuine democratization process. The difficulties that have arisen on the ground in the aftermath of the popular revolution that toppled Mubarak in 2011 have left a large portion of the population highly disillusioned. The economy has been experiencing a rapid collapse, with severe declines in tourism and foreign direct investment as well as a dwindling of foreign reserves. The security situation has also deteriorated as police presence has become practically invisible, while an army presence is discernible. The road to the presidential elections has been far from smooth, with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) deeply entrenching itself into power with no indication of stepping down — aside from occasional reassurances to a smooth transition.
There are five frontrunners in the election: (i) Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, the moderate, ex-Brotherhood Islamist; (ii) Amr Moussa, the liberal/secular former head of the Arab League and foreign minister under Mubarak in the 90s; (iii) Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) candidate; (iv) Hamdeen Sabahi the Nasserist and leftist; and (v) Ahmed Shafik, the former Minister of Aviation who was made Prime Minister of Egypt between January and March of 2011 amidst the revolutionary turbulence.
Aboul-Fotouh has presented himself as a moderate or ‘liberal’ Islamist who seeks to implement Islamic ideals but with an emphasis on democracy. Moussa’s campaign is based on his previous political experience, seeking to reassure the population that he is the right man for the upcoming economic and political challenges. Mohammed Morsi is a U.S.-educated engineer and was the FJP’s backup candidate after Khairat El-Shatter was banned from running. He has also presented a platform based on stability according to a return to Islamic principles. Hamdeen Sabahi is a secular Nasserist, who has repeatedly highlighted his connections to the Egyptian working class and has sought to regain “dignity” for Egyptian politics.
No candidate has captured the youth vote, or emerged as the favorite in the election. As many as one-third of candidates had remained undecided until the first day of voting on the 23rd of May. Egypt's youth are split into various groups, such as those who are seeking stability from these elections and those who argue that the revolution must continue. The elections have created chasms between revolutionaries against military-supporters, Islamists against secularists, as well as between leftists and rightist economic perceptions to achieve social justice. The argument between revolutionaries and military-supporters (which is representative of the revolution versus stability argument) means that many people who wish for a resumption of normal life will be voting for a ‘stability’ candidate — either a military figure such as Shafik, or Moussa. Since both were ministers under Mubarak, they have been branded as feloul (meaning remnants, literally referring to ‘bad’ remnants of the Mubarak regime) by many Egyptians who argue that voting for feloul is almost similar to voting to bring Mubarak back.
The Islamism vs. secularism argument has been settled by the previous parliamentary elections in which the Muslim Brotherhood and the right-wing literalist Salafis dominated the Parliament. As the Parliament has been a subject of ongoing criticism, the lure of Islamism may have slightly decreased, while the significance of an economic resurgence may take precedence over Islamist versus secular politics. The Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel have been at the core of the election campaigns, with many candidates arguing that they would like to renegotiate the terms of the treaty to suit Egyptian needs. Sabbahi and Aboul-Fetouh have argued that it does not serve Egyptian interests, with the latter suggesting that it is the main threat to Egypt’s security. However, none of the candidates have explicitly called for the abrogation of the treaty.
Some hardline revolutionaries are boycotting the elections as they argue that another revolution is inevitable with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces in power. The revolutionaries come from a wide range of political and economic backgrounds and ideologies and have not formed a consensus for backing one candidate. They have also failed to put forth a younger candidate, and most of the candidates currently running are those who have been in politics for a long time.
As each corner of Cairo is filled with election posters, Egyptian political consciousness has clearly come to life and has successfully created the first presidential elections in which the winner is not predetermined.