The votes have been counted and the results, though not yet official, are in: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi came from behind to win Egypt’s presidential election and he will face former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq on June 16-17.
According to Ahram Online, the latest unofficial tally shows Morsi in first place with 25%, thanks to a tremendous last-minute surge. Two polls before the election showed 33% to 38% of voters were undecided, giving him room to grow. His growth came at the expense of his closest Islamist rival, former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, who presented himself as the consensus candidate that is acceptable to all.
The Brotherhood wisely moved to the right when Aboul-Fotouh campaigned as a centrist, bringing his numbers down. The most conservative Islamist elements of Egyptian society, specifically the Salafists, had endorsed Aboul-Fotouh and it appears that the Brotherhood won them over. In the final weeks of the campaign, the Brotherhood doubled-down on implementing Sharia Law.
Morsi forcefully declared, “We will not accept any alternative to Sharia, the Quran is our constitution and it will always be.” The Brotherhood had hardline clerics campaign for Morsi. One, Safwat Higazy, said at a rally that “We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate come true at the hands of Mohammed Morsi.”
It worked. The last polls showed Morsi in fourth or fifth place. He ended up taking the prize.
Now, the Brotherhood is moving to the center and is framing the contest with Shafiq as one between the old regime and the revolution. Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, the top Brotherhood cleric, instructed Egyptians to pick Morsi. He said that the upcoming run-off is not about Islamism versus secularism but between “the revolution and the enemies of the revolution.”
A Brotherhood official confirmed that it is seriously considering offering Aboul-Fotouh and Hamdeen Sabahi, the secularist who came in third place, posts as vice presidents in exchange for their endorsements. If that happens, then the Brotherhood is virtually guaranteed to win the presidency.
The Brotherhood is also trying to appeal to Christians. A top official said, “Who killed them [Christians] in protests? Who prevented them from building churches? The old regime, not us.”
Elliot Abrams makes the point that a Morsi victory could be good for the West and the secularists in the long-term because the Islamists will have to accept blame for everything that goes wrong. Over time, the Islamist support will fall as Egyptians seek new alternatives. This is what happened to Hamas’ popularity in the Gaza Strip.
Ahmed Shafiq came in a very close second place at about 24%. He was supported by those who miss the Mubarak regime, Christians and some secular democrats. He was a long-shot candidate until the very end and his rise came at the expense of Amr Moussa, his closest secular rival. Moussa’s support began falling after his debate with Aboul-Fotouh where he mistakenly called Iran an “Arab country.”
Shafiq and the secularists as a whole also benefited from a backlash against the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists as a whole. In February, 43% of Egyptians supported the Brotherhood and 40% supported the Salafist Nour Party. Within a few months, only 26% supported the Brotherhood and 30% supported the Salafists. It seems that many Egyptians were uncomfortable with the possibility of one party or one ideology controlling both the parliament (which the Islamists won with 75% of the vote) and the presidency.
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