In Egypt, a revolution at the crossroads

Omar Ashour writes: Everything about Egypt’s revolution has been unexpected, and the first-round results in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election are no different. The rise of former president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, General Ahmad Shafiq, who will enter the presidential runoff alongside the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, has raised eyebrows across the political spectrum. So did the meteoric rise of the Nasserist candidate Hamdin Sabbahi to third place, and the fourth-place finish of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who was backed by liberals and hard-line Salafi Islamists alike.

Egypt’s voters overwhelmingly chose the revolution over the old regime and shattered the myth that the push for change is an urban, middle-class, Cairo-based phenomenon: The eight revolutionary candidates received more than 16.4 million votes. But their failure to unite on a single platform directly benefited Gen. Shafiq, who unexpectedly won 5.9 million votes (assuming no election-rigging).

Gen. Shafiq’s success shocked many revolutionaries. “He is a murderer. His place is in jail, not on top of Egypt after the revolution,” said one activist. Indeed, Gen. Shafiq has been linked to multiple cases of corruption and repression, including the “battle of the camels” on Feb. 2, 2011, when Mr. Mubarak’s henchmen attacked Tahrir Square, killing and wounding protesters.

The rise of Gen. Shafiq is explainable in some areas. In Upper Egypt, “more than 60% of Copts voted for him,” a source close to the Coptic Orthodox Church said, and in Coptic-majority areas the pro-Shafiq vote exceeded 95% because he is widely perceived as a bulwark against Islamism.

Moreover, many state employees (around 5.1 million of them are eligible to vote) and their families supported Gen. Shafiq, owing either to direct instructions from their bosses or to the perceived threat of creeping Muslim Brotherhood influence on government bureaucracies. And Gen. Shafiq received financing and support from Mr. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP), as well as from business and security interests that benefit from the status quo.

But this was not enough to explain Mr. Morsi’s defeat in the Muslim Brotherhood’s traditional strongholds. In Sharqiya, a bastion of hard-core Muslim Brotherhood support with 3.5 million voters, Gen. Shafiq defeated Mr. Morsi by more than 90,000 votes. In Gharbiya governorate, another Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, he beat Mr. Morsi by more than 200,000 votes. [Continue reading…]

Meanwhile, Reuters reports: A group of Egyptian protesters set fire to the campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq in Cairo on Monday, the state news agency reported, after the ex-prime minister made it into the second round of the vote.

The privately-owned Al-Hayat channel broadcast images of a the fire at Shafiq’s campaign office in the Cairo district of Dokki, saying it had been caused by a group of protesters. It said there were no injuries.

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