Did Egyptians vote against their revolution?

Given the tumultuous fervour of the past year, the support shown to an ally of the former president has surprised many.

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi (L) and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq look set to face off in a second round of polling [AFP]

Cairo, Egypt –
The results of the first round of voting in Egypt’s presidential elections appear to have taken many by surprise, both at home and abroad.

Many had expected Egypt’s first ever democratic presidential election would be the final battle in the war against the former regime, a battle Mubarak’s allies were seemingly inevitably set to lose. But the result, which pits former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in the second round, seems to many to contradict that expectation.

Yet if we examine the results of the first round of polling, it is clear the majority of Egyptian voters chose in favour of the revolution. The combined total of the three main pro-revolutionary candidates amounts to more than 65 per cent of the vote. Ballots cast in favour of remnants of the old regime – the loathed feloolas they’re known in Egypt – amount to fewer than 35 per cent.

Former US President Jimmy Carter speaks to
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But the question still stands, why did so many people vote for someone such as Shafiq, who, as prime minister, was ousted with the regime? This is a man who reportedly once described Hosni Mubarak as his role model.

Under close scrutiny, it appears that the majority of Shafiq’s support came from four voting blocs.

The Copts

Ahmed Shafiq, together with several Egyptian media outlets, managed to play on some of the fears and insecurities felt by the country’s minority Christian community. The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, apparently failed to allay them.

Headlines claiming an Islamist president would spell the end of personal freedoms, or that Egypt’s Coptic identity would be erased, drove many to vote for a man who had billed himself as the only person capable of defeating the Brotherhood.  This appears to have translated to votes at the ballot box. In one polling station in Shubra – which has a large Christian community – Ahmed Shafiq received more than 5,000 votes. Amr Moussa came second there, with a mere 800.

If we consider that Egypt’s coptic community makes up at least ten per cent of Egypt’s 60 million voters, and if, like the rest of Egyptian society, only 50 per cent voted, that would mean between two and three million Copts voted. If only half of those voted for Shafiq, that would count for at least one fifth of his total.

The Mubarak beneficiaries

One of the facts which engendered so much support to the revolution was that, under Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was a country where the minority benefited, while the majority struggled just to survive. For a nation in which 60 per cent of citizens live below or around the poverty line, Egypt has an astonishingly high number of millionaires. A post-revolutionary Egypt ruled by a revolutionary president could spell the end of the inequity which has helped such people.

But it wasn’t only the super rich that benefited from the old regime – corrupt police officers and corrupt civil servants also enjoyed special status. Under a change of guard, they would be unlikely to be able to continue receiving kickbacks for handling a citizen’s paperwork, or charging drivers 100 pounds ($17) to avoid having their driving licence confiscated over minor traffic infringements.

The security services and their families

According to several army oficers who spoke to Al Jazeera, directives had been given in some sections of the military that officers should encourage their families to vote for Shafiq.

Egypt has been ruled by a military officer for 60 years, and it seems the military aren’t quite ready to let that change. There are roughly 400,000 soldiers in the army, and they may be responsible for a significant portion of support for the former Prime Minister.

Those in search of ‘stability’

Egypt hasn’t been at war for almost 40 years. Before the revolution, the country and the people were not used to nationwide disturbances. Mubarak managed to convince Egyptians that his rule was one of stability – albeit accompanied by rising poverty and unemployment, widespread corruption, indiscriminate oppression and near economic collapse.

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Since January 2011, the streets of Egypt have continuously seen demonstrations, deaths and disturbances. Some Egyptians perceive this to be a result of the revolution, rather than as the poisoned fruit of 30 years of Mubarak rule finally blossoming. Provided that they are still able to put food on the table, they are happy to return to an autocratic state run by someone such as Shafiq.

There are obviously others who voted for Shafiq, and exceptions within these four groups. There have also been accusations that votes were bought, or that some ballot boxes were rigged, and these allegations warrant investigation; but this does not negate the fact that, while the revolution may have liberated many across the country, it has so far failed to change the entrenched views of some.

Shafiq’s potential second round victory still concerns many here. After shoes and stones were thrown at Shafiq when he voted in Cairo on Wednesday, his election would likely see the return of mass protests in Tahrir square and across the country. For his part, Shafiq has said he would not tolerate such demonstrations and would “restore order” to the streets within six hours.

The police force has been resoundingly defeated once by the Egyptian people – and officers are unlikely to be too keen to face off with them en masse any time soon. Would Shafiq use the army to forcibly disperse crowds? Would they obey orders issued against their fellow countrymen?

Egypt’s immediate political future seems as unpredictable as it is polarised. Many, however, only wish for a leader who cares more about the people of the nation than he does about settling old political scores.

Follow Jamal Elshayyal on Twitter: @jamalAljazeera

Source: Al Jazeera