The prospective presidential run-off vote between the ‘feloul’ Ahmed Shafik and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi has done nothing to quell political tensions in Egypt. There is hope that large concessions will be made by the eventual victor, specifically to avoid dominating the drafting of a new constitution. The night before the results of Egypt’s presidential election were announced last week I had dinner with a close friend. She had voted for the leftist Khaled Ali because she admired his message about the need for all Egyptians to make sacrifices in the name of economic and political renewal. Ali had never polled beyond the single digits and when I told my friend she was wasting her vote she replied that voting one’s conscience in an election was more important than the results.
“Unless,” she added, “it turns out to be Morsi and Shafik.”
Before the election it seemed anything was possible for New Egypt. Now, with the vindication of Old Egypt’s two most relentless warring tribes, it appears to be a good time to stock up on canned food and bottled water. Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and Ahmed Shafik, a golem from the ancien regime, are twin reminders of Egyptians’ inability to once and for all scrape autocracy off the souls of their shoes. A contest like this requires only one name on the ballot: Least Bad.
As the reality of the poll results sunk in I paid a call on Mohammed Habib, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood before he lost a power struggle for the top spot in late 2010. Habib had declared his support for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in the presidential race and he scorned the Ikhwan for fielding a candidate despite earlier assurances it would do no such thing. But he said it was vital that Morsi prevail over Shafik in the final round of voting next month. The Brotherhood had made many mistakes, he acknowledged, “but it has done nothing to compare with the crimes of the old regime.”
Habib applauded the Ikhwan’s decision, announced that morning, that it would invite leftist Hamdeen Sabahi and Aboul Foutoh, who finished third and fourth respectively in the ballot, to serve as deputies in a coalition government. But the group should go a step further, he said, by assuring the nation that neither Brotherhood nor Freedom & Justice Party members would dominate the drafting later this summer of a new constitution. “Unless they do this,” Habib said, “Shafik will win and that would be a catastrophe for Egypt.”
Habib was right, though I wonder if such a gesture will be enough to defuse the potential for violence between the two competing visions vying for Egypt’s future. Shafik owes his resurrection to the ham-fisted way in which the Brotherhood went about scaring one constituency after another with its habitual instinct for control – of the syndicates, of parliament and now the president’s office. Unless it can check its appetite, it will sustain an anti-Ikhwan alliance of secularists, Coptic Christians and pious Muslims uncomfortable with the prospect of single party rule. By making the election safe for a warmed-over cadre like Shafik, the Ikhwan dragged its thirty-year feud with Hosni Mubarak through the garden party of Egypt’s young democracy. It has a lot work to do before it can reclaim the public trust.