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Missing Leadership In Revolution Renders Egypt’s Poll Turnout Low – OpEd

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By By Mohyeddin Sajedi

Egypt’s presidential race, with a runoff in June, can be assessed from a number of aspects. If the outcome of the [May 23-24] election is what the unofficial results suggest, [then the top two vote-getters, out of a dozen candidates,] will be Mohammed Mursi (from the Muslim Brotherhood) and Ahmed Shafiq – [a former premier] of the ousted regime, who will face each other in the June 16 and 17 runoff.

1. Egypt’s presidential election was marked by a significantly low turnout, which as a result raised the alarm among the country’s revolutionary forces. According to official statistics, roughly 50 percent of those eligible to vote cast their ballots. In other words, half of the Egyptian public chose not to express their opinions.

What is generally referred to as ‘a headless revolution’ and can be found in both Egypt and Tunisia, might explicate the public unwillingness to participate in Egypt’s presidential election.

The lack of a leader, who could bring people together, and divisions within political blocs were the main reasons why many Egyptians felt the presidential election was not really about change, and decided not to take part in it. This came as a large number of Egyptian religious leaders had stressed that it was a religious duty to participate in the presidential vote.

The Egyptian revolution lacked recognized leadership from the beginning to the end, and this explains why its goals remain a gray area for many Egyptians. Interpretations of the revolution have varied enormously, depending upon the political factions’ positions. Radical mottos invented by certain Salafist figures; namely, covering the pyramids and the Sphinx in wax as they are “religiously forbidden”, and pledges to press for the implementation of sharia laws in a society not yet ready for them are among other causes of the public consternation over Egypt revolution’s goals.

2. Divergence among Islamic parties and candidates has contributed greatly to the low voter turnout in Egypt’s presidential election. Mursi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, could receive one fourth of all the ballots cast. He was not the Muslim Brotherhood’s first choice but was chosen after Khairat el-Shater was disqualified from running for president. Mursi’s lead in the first round of Egypt’s presidential election shows Muslim’s unrivaled grass-roots organization, and that Muslim Brotherhood fans will support any contender introduced for the June presidential runoff.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, another Islamic presidential candidate, formally quit all political work with the Muslim Brotherhood and resigned from its membership in 2011, following his decision to run for president in the May election. Following the Egyptian revolution, the Brotherhood pledged not to run a candidate for the top office.

Aboul Fotouh could have become Egypt’s first democratically-elected president if he had not been forced to leave the Muslim Brotherhood when he declared his intention to run for president. He could receive support from revolutionary youth movements, liberal political as well as several Salafi blocs that did not want to be recognized as admirers of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Aboul Fotouh’s success, before the High Election Commission struck him in April from the presidential ballot, forced the Muslim Brotherhood to break its pledge in late March 2012 and nominated its chief strategist and financier, Khairat el-Shater.

Egypt’s ultraconservative Salafi groups will now have to support Mursi against Shafiq in the run-off vote, or adopt a neutral position.

Another presidential candidate, Dr. Mohammad Salim al-Awa, is renowned as an Islamic scholar and jurist both inside and outside Egypt. He could secure a very small fraction of votes, partly because he failed to find a sponsor to fund his campaign.

All the above-mentioned Islamic presidential contenders could obtain nearly 50% of votes in Egypt’s presidential election. Islamic parties might not be worried about Shafiq’s chances to take the presidential office if they had voted for a sole endorsement and let other two candidates fill the vice presidential positions.

3. Ahmed Shafiq, a former commander in the Egyptian air force who served as both aviation minister and prime minister under Mubarak’s authoritarian regime, enter a runoff with Mursi after he won slightly less votes than his Muslim Brotherhood rival.

Many believe Shafiq is tacitly supported by the ruling military council that has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster in January 2011. Nevertheless, he is alienated with the goals of Egypt revolution, and even Amr Moussa – a veteran foreign minister and former Arab League chief – said he ordered Mubarak’s supporters, some riding camels and horses and armed with sticks, to clash with anti-government demonstrators in Cairo’s landmark Tahrir Square in early February 2011.

It is worth mentioning that Shafiq has long had the full support of Sufi parties, and has never expressed remorse over serving Mubarak. He is the only Egyptian official known to keep the Camp David accord intact, and strengthen strategic relations with Washington.

Shafiq’s victory in the June runoff election would plunge Egypt into deeper crisis as the majority of seats in the People’s Assembly, the lower house of the Egyptian parliament, as well as the Shura Council, the upper house, belong to Islamic lawmakers.

One will have to wait another month to see who the supporters of the defeated candidates, including Hamdeen Sabbahi – an outspoken proponent of the leftist, pan-Arabist policies of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser, Amr Moussa and others, will vote for.

Mohyeddin Sajedi is a prominent Iranian political analyst, Mohyeddin Sajedi writes extensively on the Middle East issues. He also serves as a Middle East expert at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran.

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