Morsi, Shafik, Sabahi: Top Three Presidential Contenders in Tight Race in Egypt

Cairo – Stunned Egyptians awoke Friday to learn that the revolution that led to the first democratic elections here in history appeared to produce a Muslim Brotherhood and a regime holdover as the presidential finalists, sparking fear and ire in revolutionaries whose call for change could instead lead to more of the same or Islamist-based governance.

The educated Egyptians who’d led the marches that forced Hosni Mubarak to resign the presidency last year conceded on Twitter and elsewhere that the voting showed that revolutionaries didn’t truly understand popular Egyptian sentiment. The anonymous Egyptian blogger “Big Pharaoh,” for example, concluded that the revolutionary “bubble” had burst.

Others threatened to boycott the run off election slated for next month.

The voting results so far, compiled district by district by those conducting the count, showed Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in first and Mubarak’s former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik in second. But the results changed hour by hour as ballot results trickled in — Cairo and Giza had not yet reported — and it appeared that Arab nationalist Hamdeen Sabahi was moving toward second place, making it difficult to say for certain which two will face off next month.

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the one time favored moderate Islamist, and former Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa appeared out of the running.

In tweets and statements, Aboul Fotouh campaign workers said they were shocked.

At stake in the election are two vastly different visions of the Arab world’s most populated nation. A Morsi win, coupled with the Brotherhood’s dominance in the parliament, offers a conservative government that is likely to distance itself from the U.S. and Israel. Such a win would also likely reshape how the Arab world sees Islamic-based governance.

Meanwhile, Shafik would continue the practices of the past regime, which has led to a weak economy, massive unemployment and a shrinking middle class, opponents argue. But supporters hope a Shafik presidency could also mean the return to stability. The economy and security have only worsened since the revolution, they argue.

More immediately, many Egyptians do not believe Islamists or revolutionaries will accept the results if the top candidate is Shafik, leading to another round of mass protests in Tahrir Square. Many believe Shafik is a government-backed candidate, and even as the votes were counted, there were already threats of returning to the streets, particularly if Shafik were to win the run off. Shafik’s polarizing impact was evident Wednesday when he was pelted with shoes as he left the polling station where he had cast his ballot.

A Sabahi candidacy in the runoff — with half the vote still to be counted, only one percentage point separated the top three vote getters — would represent a revolutionary victory, even as scores of voters McClatchy spoke over the election cycle said they understood little about his policies. Rather, they said they preferred him because he was neither tainted by the previous regime or a power of a well-organized, domineering party, like the Brotherhood.

While the numbers were preliminary, there were some patterns in the results. Morsi dominated in poorer governorates, particularly in the middle of the country. In disenfranchised communities where younger voters had a strong showing, like Port Said, Sabahi won. And in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-largest city, Sabahi won with 25 percent of the vote. There appeared no pattern in Shafik-dominated communities. Some were wealthy or Christian and others were poorer areas spread around the country. His base is often referred to as the “Couch Party,” those who didn’t participate in the revolution and are now seeking security.

In the southern governorate of Minya, where 50 percent of residents are Christian, the vote split between Morsi and Shafik.

That Shafik could have come in second suggested that he took advantage of divided votes between various revolutionary candidates. Indeed, together revolutionary candidates had more than three times as many votes as Shafik, according to returns so far.

Although numbers tricked in throughout the day, they remained unofficial. Egyptian presidential commission officials told McClatchy they would not release any official numbers until May 29, allowing candidates time to appeal any district results. But according to the constitution, the election commission has the final word on the results, giving the candidates no chance to appeal.

The election has been defined by unpredictability. No one candidate ever dominated the two-month campaign season. Rather, they swung between the four candidates now battling for the two top slots. So far, none of the remaining nine candidates have conceded the election or endorsed a candidate. And regardless of the outcome, the responsibilities of the new president remain unclear as Egypt has yet to pass a new constitution.

The ruling military council has promised to so before the next president is expected to be inaugurated July 1.

© 2012 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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