The Secular Presidential Candidate Has a Better-than-Expected Chance

The preliminary results of the first round of Egypt’s presidential poll tell an unexpected story:
The Islamist parties, though widely expected to sweep the board of Egyptian government, have unexpectedly lost much of their allure for the Egyptian voter since January, when they gained control of parliament by means of the first post-Mubarak general election.
The first round of the presidential vote saw the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party -FJP candidate Mohammed Morsi sliding: He picked up around 25 percent (5,578,760 votes) of the vote, chased closely by Mubarak-era minister and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq who came away with 24 percent (5,333,840).
The next surprise was another secular candidate, the Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third with 21 percent (4,670,939 votes).
The top three were trailed by two ex-frontrunners who were dumped by the voter, ex-Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh – 18 percent (3,919,727) and, down in fifth place, former Arab League secretary general and Mubarak-era Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, with 11 percent (2,391,214 votes).
When the ballots are sorted into pro-Islamist and non-Islamist piles, the two Islamic candidates, Morsi and Aboul Fotouh, are seen to have failed to secure a majority – just 43 percent! They dropped well behind the 56 percent garnered by the three non-Islamist candidates.
The June 16-17 second round of the presidential vote is anxiously awaited to see whether the emerging trend is solid or ephemeral.

Islamists lose ground between general and presidential elections

This trend is strikingly underlined by comparison with the general election five months ago.
Then, the Islamist FJP-dominated Democratic Alliance picked up around 47 percent of the People’s Assembly seats with some 13 million votes. That figure crashed to 5.5 million in the presidential race (in which voter turnout was 10 percent lower than the general election.)
Even adding the pro-Muslim Aboul Fotouh’s ballots to the mix gives the Islamist bloc no more than 9.4 million ballots in the first presidential round, a steep loss of 3.6 million supporters since January.
Muslim Brotherhood strategists deduce from those figures that their bid for president is a fight for their life.
If Mohammed Mursi loses to Ahmed Shafiq, the Muslim Brotherhood falls back into its persecuted, half-recognized state prior to the revolution.
Above all, although started by other disaffected groups, the revolution offered the behindhand Brotherhood a unique historic opportunity not to be missed for making Egypt the first Muslim country in the world to come under its rule.
In the view of DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Middle East experts, Brotherhood strategists are correct in assessing this as an epic chance not to be missed: If they manage to get their nominee Mohammed Morsi past the winning post next month, they will have turned the Egyptian revolution around as their pathway to power, a transformation with potentially explosive impact for regional and world history – comparable to, or even greater than, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s overthrow of the Shah of Persia 33 years ago.

Shafiq offers hope of a secular outcome for the revolution

The Shiite revolution has stayed more or less within the confines of Iran and parts of Lebanon, rarely able to fight its way out of minority status in the Muslim world, despite the ayatollahs’ efforts to “export” their revolution far and wide.
In contrast, Egypt’s Sunni revolution, if consummated by the election of a Brotherhood president, will have tremendous resonance in the largely Sunni Arab world, the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and North Africa.
The alternative to winning worries Brotherhood leaders deeply. They fear a return to their former victimization by the regime’s security services and the inevitable grinding down of their political traction, a process portended by the losses they sustained between the parliamentary and presidential polls.
The movement is therefore bestirring itself for a supreme effort to woo the Egyptian electorate by all means possible.
Morsi’s rival, former air force chief and Mubarak-era veteran Ahmed Shafiq, who began organizing his campaign belatedly in April, has been buoyed up for an equally determined effort by his surprising emergence as a realistic president candidate. He is now offering the first glimmer of hope for saving post-Mubarak Egypt from falling under Islamic rule and its recovery from 15 months of upheaval as a democratic, free and secular country.
This hope is shared by the army, the security services, Mubarak’s National Democratic Party NDP) which still controls large parts of Egypt, business leaders, the high-tech elite and the Christian Copts. They are all cheering Shafiq on to a victory.

The hard-core revolutionaries are the big losers

Whichever of the two candidates carries the day in the June 16-17 contest, the big losers will be the disaffected masses whose epic struggle from Tahrir Square deposed President Hosni Mubarak after 32 years in power. It was spearheaded by young activists, intellectuals, liberals, bloggers, victims of political persecution at the hands of the regime, women campaigners against gender injustice, and the expatriate academics who live outside Egypt, whether or not by choice.
These groups will have lost everything they fought for: A Muslim Brotherhood president would spell the end of a secular, democratic Egypt; whereas Shafiq, they fear, would try and turn the clock back to a Mubarak-style regime, so nullifying their revolution and its aims.
These revolutionaries have already experienced the agony of being too few to influence the course of democratizing the country through its first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections and first round of the presidential vote. In the royal duel to come in the final run for the presidency, they have been pushed aside and relegated to the role of spectators.
But the Egyptian revolution is still unwinding. Domestic political forces have not yet had their last word on the choice of the next president to rule the Land of the Nile. Neither have such weighty outside interests as the United States and Saudi Arabia.

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