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Current Events Jayson

My Egyptian Run-Off Election Prediction

To open, and to be clear, I have no idea who will win this election. Both Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsy took about equal shares in the first round, the revolutionaries are divided between them and many are boycotting, and who knows what the average Egyptian wants, or if he chooses to vote at all.

Of course, this is simply the difficulty from the polling perspective. Things are equally unclear about the suspicions of manipulation. The status quo opinion, especially after the dissolution of parliament, is that that state is working on behalf of Ahmed Shafik. This is reasonable, but it is also open to other conspiracies.

So amidst this mass of confusion I will wade: Mohamed Morsy will be Egypt’s next president.

First, from simple vote analysis: Both Shafik and Morsy captured about 25% of the electorate. Running amidst many other candidates, it is fair to say this represents the natural constituency of both.

In third place was Hamdeen Sabbahi, who represented the non-regime, non-MB vote. A great proportion of his supporters will boycott, and the rest will likely be split equally between the two as their conscience settles on the lesser of two evils.

In fourth place was Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, and somewhat significantly behind him was Amr Moussa. Abul Futuh’s votes will likely go to a fellow Islamist, while Moussa’s will shift to the civil state advocate. It’s probable most of these voters also are not thrilled about their final choice, but there are more of Islamist ilk, so Morsy gets the edge.

That leaves the undecided. Actually, these might not matter at all. Turnout for the first round of elections was only 46%; it is expected to be lower for the run-off. Both Shafik and Morsy have powerful political machines, so these will probably cancel each other out.

But if the non-committed voter chooses, I think he will have more inclination to lean toward Morsy. Shafik does not have a project; his campaign is based on the promise of a return to stability with a heavy dose of accusation against the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has lost a significant portion of its popularity since their triumph in parliamentary elections, but this sentiment is probably weakest (or least recognized) among the non-politicized voter. For these, Morsy represents either 1) the choice of a ‘Muslim’ president, or 2) the choice of change.

I think these factors will push the edge to Morsy in the end.

Second, no prediction is worth its weight unless it deals also with the underlying issues of interest and possible manipulation. Again, though murky, here is my best shot.

The first issue concerns outright vote fraud. In all that follows, I have no evidence to present, but only a reading of the tea leaves. I do not expect state sponsored cheating.

The reason is legitimacy. The military council won legitimacy by protecting the revolutionaries during the initial eighteen days of protest against Mubarak. They have since lost most of this legitimacy as they have navigated the transition, but their promise was to deliver civilian rule through a democratic process.

The only way for the military to salvage legitimacy is to fulfill their promise. Fraud would evaporate it. So would brute force or coup d’etat. The military likely desires to continue playing a role in Egypt’s politics behind the scenes. The only way for this to occur is to preside over legitimate elections, no matter the outcome.

Have they steered the outcome, through the apparatus of the state? Perhaps. The question is toward whom.

It is easier to guess at whom they have steered it away from. The first elimination was of strong, independent candidates. Omar Suleiman (of the intelligence services), Khairat al-Shater (of the Muslim Brotherhood), and Hazem Abu Ismail (of the Salafis) were all disqualified on procedural grounds – all with legitimate, explainable, though somewhat tenuous reasoning.

The second elimination was the most challenging. This was the electoral contest which promoted the strident partisan candidates over revolutionary centrists. It is far too uncertain to assert the military ‘arranged’ or even ‘steered’ this outcome. Yet it is reasonable they were not displeased by the winning candidacies of Shafik and Morsy, both of whom represented the major players of the old regime.

For the second issue, it is in this context the recent dissolution of parliament and likely assumption of constitution writing can be understood.

If Shafik wins, the constitution will be written under friendly circumstances, while the election of a new parliament would likely see a less dominant Islamist presence.

If Morsy wins, the constitution still stays out of the hands of Islamists, while the absence of a parliament denies the Brotherhood a second source of legitimacy. In this scenario, Islamists are even less likely to win parliament, as the people – already wary of the MB – will keep them from having a strong mandate.

A Morsy victory will set off alarm bells among many, and for those unfavorable toward the Brotherhood there is reason for concern. The presidency will allow gradual Islamist population of the general bureaucracy. A Brotherhood triumph could set a pattern for other nations, and their success could transform the map of the Middle East. The alarm for many will be that geopolitics has shifted, and the powers-that-be (i.e., the US) now favor Islamist rule.

While shifting alliances are possible, even on a legitimate basis of popular rule, my gut still imagines it not to be the case. I think the US and the Egyptian military are fundamentally averse to the Brotherhood.

This blog has done a good job at making the case why the military might not mind, or even favor, a Morsy victory. Chief among them is that it gives the military a cover for a civilian – and in particular an Islamist – to take the fall for all coming problems, natural or instigated.

A popular theory in Egypt claims that the military yielded parliament to the Brotherhood to give it just enough rope to hang itself. Indeed, their popularity has suffered as observers discovered them as a manipulating faction dedicated to the preservation and increase of its own power.

This theory can be extended to give them the presidency in order to complete the job. Losing parliament and the constitution divests them of the tools necessary to cement their control, and leaves the president to flail in the wind.

If indeed the powers-that-be want to rid the region of the specter – and promise – of the Brotherhood, this may be a far better strategy than repression.

Unfortunately, it is a dangerous and illegitimate game – if it is being played at all. The point here is to examine why a Morsy victory may be allowed, or may be accepted, or may even be encouraged.

Of course, Shafik could win, either along the lines of status quo conspiracy, or along the lines of popular legitimacy.

Parliament may have been dissolved because it violated the law. The constitution may revert to the military because political parties could not agree on the writing committee. One should never dismiss the simple and obvious explanations.

Yet even these, I venture to guess, will lead to a Morsy presidency.

Unfortunately, too often in Egypt, there is an angle behind every obvious. This will continue until Morsy, or Shafik, or the continuation of the revolution is able to install transparency as a hallmark of government.

May this day come, through the rule of whomever.

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Current Events Jayson

Felool and Islamists, in my Home

With Ahmed Shafiq

‘Felool’ is the Arabic word designating ‘remnants of the regime’, that is, those who lost power and influence after the revolution, having formerly benefited by proximity to Mubarak and his circles of influence. An Islamist favors a system of government in which sharia law plays a principle role in determining legislation. What then are they doing in my home?

Well, they belong there. They are my two oldest daughters, aged 5 and 4. Our youngest, age 2, does not yet have political consciousness.

Once the revolution began becoming politics, ‘felool’ expanded in meaning to include those who support some continuation of the old regime, perhaps saying things like, ‘It wasn’t so bad,’ or, ‘Not everyone in it was corrupt.’

But in many cases, ‘felool’ also served as an accusation to throw around against political opponents deemed not sufficiently revolutionary, or sufficiently Islamist.

In its final incarnation, used thereafter in this article, it applies specifically to the candidacies of Ahmed Shafiq and Amr Moussa, and their supporters.

So why is my oldest daughter felool? Here is the imagined explanation, sufficiently plausible.

The Egyptian political spectrum has evolved into basically three camps. The first camp is Islamist. Mohamed Morsy represents the Muslim Brotherhood, and while Abdel Munim Abul Futuh has sought to position himself as a centrist, he still identifies as an Islamist. Having gained the endorsement of many Salafis, he has scared away a number of former centrist or revolutionary supporters.

The second camp, as mentioned above, is felool. Ahmed Shafiq was Mubarak’s last-ditch prime minister, appointed to stem the tide of the protests. He carried on for a little while after Mubarak stepped down, but continued protests in Tahrir forced Shafiq’s sacking as well. Running for president, he does not outright call for a return to the days of Mubarak, but he does call for a return of stability and opposition to Islamists, with lip service to the youth of the revolution.

Amr Moussa is less felool, having served in Mubarak’s cabinet early in his administration but having more detachment from the regime while serving as chairman of the Arab League up until the outbreak of the revolution. Still, he is old, and certainly a product of the Mubarak era. He will be gentler with diverse political parties, most likely, but still represents stability and non-Islamism, as well as a vote toward ‘reform’ rather than ‘revolution’.

The third camp says a pox on both your houses. Hamdeen Sabbahi is an old school Nasserist, which means he is a nationalist with socialist tendencies. His campaign has been advancing as of late as many voters are fed up with the above choices. They have rejected Mubarak, but don’t trust Islamists.

This is where my daughters come in. We are an American Christian family living in Egypt. We have attempted to live in the culture, speaking the language as best we can. Within this choice we worship at the Coptic Orthodox Church, and my daughters both attended preschool therein. The oldest just completed kindergarten as the only non-Egyptian in her private school.

If you tweak out the demographics of this simple description of our lives, you will find we are predisposed to supporting the felool, and to a lesser degree, Islamists.

We are Westerners, and Islamist candidates unnerve us no matter how many reassurances they issue. (Living here, we can also see the opposite of these reassurances at times.)

Yet we also see the conservative religious make-up of much of Egyptian society, and recognize the right of a people to be governed according to its mores. Islamism should not be dismissed in principle, though certain interpretations may be.

We are comparatively wealthy, having our daughter in a private school. Those who benefitted economically from the Mubarak era are more inclined to support felool candidates.

Yet Islamists are also successful businessmen in Egypt, having much support among the middle class, which populates the private school our daughter attends.

We are Christians, and rub shoulders with the Copts. This community is desperately worried about the possibility of Islamist rule, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Their oft-spoken preference is for Ahmed Shafiq.

As is the preference of my oldest daughter.

Yet we also place high respect on the values which drove much of the Egyptian revolution, and recognize the corruption and lack of representation characterizing much of the Mubarak regime. We sympathize with those who desire an Islamist, yet revolutionary candidate, and their oft-spoken preference is for Abul Futuh.

As is the preference of my second daughter.

My daughters do not know the names of any other candidates. Perhaps they simply picked up on the name their Western, school, and Coptic friends banter about, who themselves have picked up on the name uttered by their parents.

That is the plausible, though invented explanation. The reality is much simpler.

Driving about in a taxi the other day a Shafiq supporter tossed his political brochure into the vehicle. A little further on a truck full of Shafiq partisans beeped their horns loudly, flew high his banner, and chanted as they drove, ‘Ahmed Shafiq! Ahmed Shafiq!’

Now my daughters do the same, even the Abul Futuh supporter.

Many Egyptians have shown political acumen far beyond their nation’s democratic experience. Others, perhaps, have made their decision in a similar matter, gauging the preference of those in the area, or gravitating to the candidate with the greatest name recognition.

Surely, however, they have not done as my second daughter.

Each candidate sports a symbol to help illiterate voters find their preferred candidate on the ballot. Mohamed Morsy, of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, has the scales of justice. Sabbahi, the Nasserite nationalist, bears an eagle akin to that on the Egyptian flag.

My four-year-old, simply, likes Abul Futuh’s orange horse.

Translation: Abul Futuh, for president of Egypt; Number 5

As a foreigner I escape the responsibility, and privilege, of having to decide. Yet my respect and admiration goes to the Egyptian people seeking to craft the future of their nation amidst diverse paths.

At times the rhetoric has been strident, and there is sufficient cause for worry in multiple directions. Yet as we have learned much from the Egyptian people, we hope there is at least one lesson we may offer them:

Felool and Islamists may reside peacefully in the same home.

 

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Current Events Jayson

My Egyptian Presidential Prediction

From left: Shafiq, Sabbahi, Mousa, Abul Futuh, Morsy

Egypt’s presidential election polls are all over the map. Most have had Amr Moussa and Abdel Munim Abul Futuh in the lead, with Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood trailing significantly.

And then results of the overseas ballots were revealed, putting Morsy significantly in the lead.

More recent polling indicates that the nationalist, semi-socialist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi is gaining, as he is free from ‘contamination’ either from the former regime or Islamist trends. Meanwhile former Mubarak emergency prime minister Ahmed Shafiq is also gaining, as he projects confidence to restore stability and take the Islamists head on.

And in the last days, Moussa and Abul Futuh are seen as reeling, as their efforts to be centrists crumble as the political scene polarizes. See notable Egyptian blogger Mahmoud Salem – Sandmonkey – for analysis to this effect.

Perhaps a poll off the subject, then, may help to clarify things. Though unlikely, here is the effort. Several months ago Arab West Report authorized a survey consulting five thousand Egyptians through personal interviews throughout the Egyptian republic. They sought citizens’ opinion on Article Two of the Egyptian constitution, which states Islam is the official religion of the state and sharia law is the main source for legislation.

Following the revolution this article became a political hot potato. While some Copts and liberals found it to be a discriminatory element of Sadat-era sectarian politics, it was the conservative Islamist element that made the most use of it. They warned Egyptians at the time of the national referendum in March 2011 that a vote against the army-endorsed transition would result in a wholly new constitution (as opposed to the army-sponsored amendments) which would threaten to remove the article – and the centrality of Islam – from the national identity.

It is unlikely that this campaign affected the referendum results too seriously, but in a nation weaned on identity politics during the Mubarak era, it had an effect.

Arab West Report tested that effect several months afterwards. The results were interesting, and as follows:

  • Only 36% of Egyptians have even heard of Article Two, but once informed…
  • 88% of those polled favored keeping Article Two as it is in the constitution
  • 92% of those favoring desire to preserve Islam as the official religion
  • 43% of those favoring desire for Islamic law to govern all Egyptians
  • 12% of those favoring believe it is too sensitive to change it
  • 9% of those favoring desire a religious, as opposed to a civil, state
  • Only 2% of those polled favored cancelling Article Two from the constitution
  • 6% of those polled favor amending Article Two
  • 74% of those favoring desire to achieve equality between Muslims and Christians
  • 17% of those favoring desire to protect the civil character of the state

Obviously, a vast majority of the population is comfortable with Islam as the designated national religion. Somewhat telling is that of these, a significant plurality desire sharia law to govern as well. Furthermore, a sizable minority wishes outright definition as an Islamic state.

Though ‘significant’ and ‘sizable’, this sentiment remains a minority among the ‘vast’ support for keeping Article Two as is. What might this mean for the elections?

On the one hand, it could mean the victory of an Islamist candidate. Elections are often won by the constituency most dedicated to a particular issue, which can resonate with the population and mobilize their support. 40+% of the population desiring the rule of sharia law perhaps is ripe for activation. (Other polls put this percentage even higher.)

Yet I would argue against this trend, though I am making a prediction based on the unknowns of the Egyptian political landscape, a bet on the average Egyptian citizen.

To run down the candidates, borrowing from Sandmonkey’s analysis, each of the candidates represents a specific element of the general constituency.

Mohamed Morsy of the Brotherhood represents Brotherhood interests, and their very sizable following of adherents. Still, it is a limited and definable circle. The somewhat negative reaction to parliament following the 70+% Islamist victory will hamper their sympathy vote immediately following the revolution.

Ahmed Shafiq represents the interests of old regime, perhaps the military, business and capital, and a large share of Coptic sentiment. He has the potential to win a large number of undecided voters who react negatively to post-revolution instability, and those who favor reform over revolution. Yet over the past year the nation has adopted the idea of Mubarak’s corruption and the validity of the revolution, and he is too tainted with it to succeed.

Abdel Munim Abul Futuh, the other Islamist and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, represents the general Islamist sentiment which is not comfortable with the Brotherhood. He is poised to capture a significant share of the Salafi vote, if not the majority, but also a significant share of the revolutionary vote. He is on friendly terms with Mohamed el-Baradei, who remains a hero to much of the revolutionary core. The unfortunate matter for him is that this core is generally elite. Though Salafis are not, his popularity is likely limited to the upper crust activists and does not spread to the countryside.

Hamdeen Sabbahi suffers a similar problem. Though a long term opposition figure, the opposition to Mubarak pre-revolution was basically a movement of dissatisfied elites. He represents the interests of many Egyptians who maintain their dissatisfaction – now with the front running choices of Islamist or old regime candidates. This includes a number of revolutionaries, liberals, and Copts, but their numbers are far too small.

This leaves Amr Moussa. A very unsexy candidate, he positioned himself early in the revolution as a candidate for president. He is tainted by association with Mubarak, but is also recognized as not having been a vital cog in the regime’s wheels. He is older in age, satisfying those who desire a transitional figure to guide the movement to democracy. He is a statesman with wide name recognition, striking a presidential figure. His skill in diplomacy suggests he will have few natural enemies, able to navigate all competing interests, both foreign and domestic.

Yet his greatest asset, I argue, is that he does not represent any interests in particular. Though it would be naïve to state this unequivocally, it is clear he is not a partisan.

I argue, neither is the Egyptian citizen.

The development of party interests and zeal is (probably) healthy for Egyptian democracy. If allowed to nurture without any one party taking immediate control, and perhaps dominance of the political scene, these diverse constituencies will mature and coalesce and lose the stridency marking current campaigning. This fanaticism is natural following a revolution, but it is also transitory.

The Egyptian public was depoliticized for sixty years. Though awakening, I do not believe it has been transformed. Moreover, the Egyptian personality is not fanatic or partisan. It is national, it is centrist, it is even, perhaps, accepting of the inevitability of a strong, dare-it-be-mentioned, Pharaonic figure.

If the public support for this election was not so strong, the result would likely be taken by the best organized particular constituency. As with the parliamentary elections, this would likely be an Islamist.

Yet the turnout for the first free, and hopefully fair, elections in Egypt’s history is expected to be overwhelming. If so, the average citizen will come to the forefront. I estimate this average citizen will support Moussa.

Might he be motivated by religious politics, perhaps. Might he be motivated by calls for stability, perhaps.

I expect rather his rejection of particular, well-definable interests. Amr Moussa, for better or worse, is best positioned to win their favor.

Alas, and alleluia, no one knows. This is a virgin electorate, and the glory of Egypt. May her vote be true, and may it be accepted by all.

May it be the beginning of popular and national sovereignty.

 

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