Most of the political forces, including the Islamic groups, have accepted the rules of the political game and the road map established by the Supreme Military Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) after the fall of the Mubarak regime. One of these rules is the parliamentary elections in which the Islamic groups won a majority of the seats in parliament followed by presidential elections that resulted in a second round between the Freedom and Justice Party’s candidate Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, the former Prime Minister from the Mubarak era.
After the verdict of the Mubarak trial was issued in conjunction with the announcement of the results of the first round of presidential elections, political groups denounced the verdict and angry feelings prevailed among public forces even though they were content with the rules from the start. Suddenly, Islamist groups tried to ride the wave and denounce the verdict along with the revolutionaries to send the message that they are part of the revolution. They publicly demanded the re-trial of Mubarak and the activation of the political isolation code in an attempt to exploit this rule in the run-off between their representative, Mohamed Morsi, and the other presidential candidate.
The Mubarak Trial and a Change of Rules in the Second Round
The first round of presidential elections in Egypt presented voters with a tough choice between one candidate who might reproduce the former regime and another who is calling for the establishment of a religious state. Both directions pose a challenge to moving toward full democracy in Egypt.
Immediately after Mubarak’s verdict, the rules of the game changed in the interest of Mohamed Morsi. Hesitation for supporting him as a presidential candidate decreased given that he became the only viable candidate who can save the revolution, despite shortcomings, especially after Shafiq announced that the provisions of the judiciary will be respected and that no one is above the law.
In spite of the Muslim Brotherhood’s initial reservation to go to Tahrir Square, they took advantage of the verdict and tried to politically manipulate the situation as well as the state of anger and resentment that has hit the Egyptian streets in favor of Mohamed Morsi’s propaganda campaign, depicting him as a candidate of the revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood used this provision as follows:
First: riding the wave of the revolution, they called for the investment in million men marches to enrage feelings. Morsi has tried to gain the revolutionaries on his side with his pledge to form a coalition government that is not led by the party of "freedom and justice," as he promised he will resign from the party’s presidency if he is elected.
Second: questioning the judgment of the judiciary and the erosion of state institutions in general in order to clarify how they are hostile to the revolution and the revolutionaries through their light judgments, which point to the continuation of the former regime. In addition, the group called for purging the judiciary and other fraudulent agencies, and commented on the terms of rejection and condemnation in order to affect the prestige of this great institution.
Third: attempting to recruit other presidential candidates, while taking advantage of their popularity, [the Muslim Brotherhood] managed to get 40% of the vote in the first round, which may enable them to win the election in [Morsi’s] favor. In particular, they made clear assurances guaranteeing that the Muslim Brotherhood will not dominate the Constitutional Committee assigned to write the Constitution. They also made promises that none of the leadership of the Brotherhood will take control of the political process, clarifying the relationship between state and society, appointing two deputies from outside of the Muslim Brotherhood, and establishing a government based on national unity. Even though they expressed their desire in these proposals, they did not provide real guarantees to calm people's fears.
Constraints faced by the Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood has lost a great deal of trust from the masses that they previously enjoyed. In obtaining about 24.3% of all votes in the presidential election, the Muslim Brotherhood lost nearly half of the votes they had in the parliamentary elections just a few months back when their votes exceeded eleven million votes, which granted them nearly forty percent of the seats in parliament.
The Muslim Brotherhood's failure in coordinating with other political parties on the path of the transitional process in part caused this decline in popularity. The Muslim Brotherhood's position in the parliamentary and presidential elections, the struggle over the formation of the Constitutional Committee, and their desire to place restrictions on the freedom of thought has also resulted in spreading fear of their ascendance to power. Some feel that a Muslim Brotherhood victory of the presidential seat would mean that they dominate all the reins of power in Egypt, leading to a state of political turmoil and lack of security.
Currently, the success of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate depends on how they will address the voting blocs that represent all spectrums of society, including:
First: opportunistic individuals and the business sector, which includes the sectors of society that greatly benefited from the economic and political structures of the former regime. This group was damaged by much of the revolution, which was followed by a state of uncontrollable security and deterioration in economic conditions. Thus, the Muslim Brotherhood will face many challenges in reassuring these people that their business affairs will not be negatively impacted.
Second: the Copts, who fear that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate will impose religious rule, especially in light of their talk about an Islamic Caliphate. Thus, choosing Shafiq is a better option for them in light of the Muslim Brotherhood's ongoing discourse about realizing their dream of the Islamic caliphate state. In attempts to reassure the Copts, Morsi retracted his promise of applying sharia law and promised that Christians would be treated fairly and would have the same rights and responsibilities as Muslim citizens. He also stated that women will be granted their rights in full.
Third: the revolutionaries, who, after observing the practice of the Muslim Brotherhood after the revolution, found that they have a pragmatic approach to reach power in any way possible. The revolutionaries concluded that the Muslim Brotherhood abandoned the revolution, especially in light of the events of Mohamed Mahmoud, the Council of Ministers, and El Kasr Al Ainy. Following these events, the revolutionaries split. Some revolutionaries, like the Executive Director of Marketing at Google Wael Ghoneim, called for reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood in exchange for an agreement to be included in the decision making process, while supporting the Muslim Brotherhood candidate as part of the January uprising. Others called for the boycott of the Muslim Brotherhood in light of their refusal to accept their demands, to the point of revoking votes to impact the legitimacy of the next regime.
Fourth: people who reject both options. Due to the rising number of those abstaining from voting since the first round, this voting bloc is gaining more weight. They do not support the revolution, nor are they affiliated with the Islamic trend or the former regime. If the Muslim Brotherhood capitalized on this bloc they would have a competitive advantage and guarantee success in the second round.
In conclusion, one can say that in the case that Morsi wins the presidency, the Islamic groups will take over the reins of power in Egypt. They will likely face strong opposition from the Military Council, which could impose its domination. Consequently, we can expect the military institution to play a more rigorous role. In the case that Shafiq wins the presidency, he will take advantage of the broad support from the military institution and will ignore the decisions of parliament, giving them the opportunity to play a greater role in challenging the forces of political Islam. In either case, Egypt will witness a period of tension and concern. If Shafiq wins, there will widespread protests and demonstrations. If Morsi wins, in a state of chaos with regards to security, there will be waves of violence and repetitive crises. Regardless of who wins the second round, we should accept the outcome of the elections; these are the rules of democracy.
Reham Mokbel is a researcher for the Journal of Democracy, a publication of Al-Ahram Foundation.