Although the coming two weeks up until the second round of Egypt’s presidential election will inevitably see a powerful see-saw struggle between the rival camps, the two contenders, the Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and pre-revolutionary Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, have both zeroed in on the key to their success. It is identified by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s experts as 8-9 million swing voters.
To win, they need to capture this voting wedge and add it to the numbers amassed in the first round.
Both contenders are therefore assiduously courting the second dark horse of the first round after Shafiq – the Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi.
He came in third with a surprising 21 percent of the vote (4,670,939 votes) – not too far behind Morsi’s 25 percent (5,578,760 votes) and Shafiq’s 24 percent ((5,333,840).
In his gift are half of the votes each needs for victory.
The run-up to the June 16-17 contest is also lurching from one surprise to the next:
The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate kicked off his campaign with a strong edge thanks to a vast, well-organized, largely clandestine political machine of approximately 600,000 dedicated activists plus the strongest voice on the Egyptian street.
Ahmed Shafiq had marshaled a big, well-oiled political-security machine, made available to him by the Egyptian intelligence- security establishment, which traditionally views the Muslim Brotherhood as its sworn enemy.
Mubarak’s political apparatus swings behind Shafiq
In the first round, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Egyptian experts report, this machine only came partially into play: Its personnel and their families – just over a million voters – obeyed orders from their superiors to vote for Shafiq. However, unlike on countless past occasions, they refrained from clamping down on the Muslim Brotherhood’s apparatus and adherents, leaving them free to wage an aggressive campaign.
But later this week, Shafiq started drawing ahead, when the apparatus of Mubarak’s ruling NDP sprang back to life, inspired by his successful showing in the first round. His campaign was suddenly boosted by the addition of 2.5 million political activists.
He owed much of his success in the first round to the millions of fellaheen of the Delta who abandoned their traditional loyalty to the Muslim Brotherhood and gave their votes to the more experienced ex-government official out of a desperate need for economic stability and a working central government.
To build on this support, abundant funds are needed to buy the votes of more village elders and clan heads.
Neither the Brotherhood nor Shafiq have that kind of campaign money – close to a billion dollars – to spend.
However, the latter is looking at two promising sources:
1. The Saudi royal house. That would depend on Saudi King Abdullah, a close friend of the deposed Egyptian president, deciding to take a hand in the Egyptian elections and help a member of his friend’s ousted regime to climb into presidential palace in Cairo. A decision in Riyadh is awaited.
The Saudis and Washington reserve their options
2. The United States. Shafiq is a familiar figure in Washington. Mubarak presented him in the past as his heir apparent – that is until three years ago, when the former Egyptian president first introduced his son, Gamal Mubarak, to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as his designated successor.
The US president’s decision is also awaited. His nod to US intelligence agencies in the Middle East to give Ahmed Shafiq a leg up would release ample US funds from the American cornucopia.
However, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s Washington and Middle East sources note, this change of heart would upend Obama consistent policy of the past two years and throughout the Arab Spring of sponsoring the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power in Arab countries as a force for moderation to displace long-reigning autocrats.
At the same time, a Muslim Brotherhood government rising to power in Egypt and sparking a Middle East Sunni revolution to confront the revolutionary ayatollahs, may be more than the US president bargained for when he encouraged the Arab Spring.
But is it enough to persuade him to throw his support behind Ahmed Shafiq?
The next two weeks up to voting day will be fraught with suspense.