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Al-Ahram Weekly Online   21 - 27 June 2012
Issue No. 1103
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

And the winner is“ê¶

As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, Egypt was awaiting official notification of the results of the presidential elections. But that did not prevent the candidates and their supporters pulling off some final campaign stunts, writes Dena Rashed

Click to view caption
Mursi's camp celebrating since Monday dawn, Shafik's supporters celebrating as well before the official results;
Conflicting reports by the FJP newspaper announcing Mursi the winner on Tuesday, while Al-Dostour newspaper accuses the MB of rigging the elections on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Egyptians are joking online about going to vote for a president and getting two twins in return

'My opponent called me a cream puff. Well, I rushed out and got the baker's union to endorse me.' -- Claiborne de Borda Pell, US senator from 1961 to1997

A rumour, a piece of information or a slip of the tongue can all be weapons in the kind of presidential campaigns Egypt has been witnessing. Using every little incident, analysing it, and building upon it aren't necessarily new strategies when it comes to electioneering. However, as they were engaged in choosing a new president, and with so much at stake, Egyptians were probably exposed to too much information, and too little truth, in the country's first free-and-fair presidential elections.

After the elections took place last weekend, conflicting reports emerged, first from the Muslim Brotherhood, supporting Mohammed Mursi, and then from supporters of the last prime minister of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak, Ahmed Shafik, each declaring their candidate to be the winner. By Tuesday, democracy had given Egypt two unofficial presidents and the crowds were celebrating, though for different reasons.

The official results will probably be out today, Thursday, after the Weekly goes to press, yet even in the absence of a clear set of results the importance of the electoral process lies not only in the winner, but also in the lessons learned.

Various strategies and tactics were used in the elections. Egypt is a country used to parliamentary elections that have been marred by sometimes suspicious results, and as a result many experts on election campaigns have been called in to analyse the results. However, this time around things have been somewhat different, as analysing the presidential elections needs a different strategy. Targeting a constituency with a known cultural and social background is an easier task than targeting an entire nation.

The job is even more difficult when the presidential run-off presents Egyptians with two candidates at opposite ends of the political spectrum: Mohammed Mursi and Ahmed Shafik. Mursi, though heading the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, was not the group's first choice in the presidential elections, that honour having previously gone to Khairat Al-Shater. However, al-Shater was disqualified in April by the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC), along with Salafi candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, and former head of the intelligence services and vice-president Omar Suleiman.

Humour became a weapon in the campaigning as a result of Mursi being seen as a "spare tyre" for the preferred candidate, Al-Shater. While one of the perks of the 25 January Revolution has been the revival in the Egyptian sense of humour, the downside has been that this humour has seldom stopped, making it difficult at times to judge whether making jokes and hilarious illustrations are helping the candidate or drawing sympathy to his opponent, the target of the jokes in question.

Facebook and Twitter both played a role in launching "humour bombs" against each candidate. As Mursi was not one of the most popular faces in the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as being a spare tyre for the preferred candidate, many people did not take him seriously at first, under-estimating the influence the Brotherhood machine has when it decides to back a candidate in the elections.

On the other hand Shafik, a former commander of the Egyptian Air Force and minister of aviation, was a name known to many Egyptians. His having been Mubarak's last prime minister before the latter stepped down from power provided enough material for those against the previous regime to criticise the candidate. The anti-Shafik camp also used his slips of the tongue for their own purposes, splicing them together in video form. One was repeatedly used, when Shafik apparently said "I killed and got killed" when defending his military history as a fighter pilot on a TV show a day before stepping down as a prime minister in February 2011. Even before the elections a joke was circulating: "Shafik could be winning. He killed and got killed and was pushed out of the race and came back. He might lose and win in the end."

Despite the number of jokes directed against both candidates, these were the two that nevertheless managed to find their way through to the presidential run-offs out of the 13 original candidates, despite running against former foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa, Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi, represented as the revolutionary candidate, former Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fottouh, a moderate Islamist with liberal views, and Selim al-Awa, the face of moderate Islam. There were also some lesser-known faces, including labour rights lawyer Khaled Ali, and these were also not spared the jokes of the campaign.

The campaigning for both Shafik and Mursi played on several old, yet still appealing, techniques. In many ways, they used the criticism directed against them in their favour.

The messages of both were defined early on, once the two candidates had started addressing the voters. According to Mohamed Fayez, an expert at the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic and Political Studies, for Shafik the selling pitch was security, stability and installing a fear of a religious state among the wider public, as well as presenting understandable proposals on health, employment and education.

Mursi's sales pitch, on the other hand, was the continuation of the Revolution. He tried to calm fears of the installation of a religious state in Egypt, using the FJP-Brotherhood Al-Nahda Project as his electoral programme. "However, Mursi's discourse was unclear, and he didn't succeed in removing the fears from many people's minds," Fayez said.

In terms of targeting voters, Fayez said that Shafik had aimed to target unpoliticised voters with no pre-set ideology, along with those voting against a religious state. "Shafik's focus was also on those who have been negatively affected over the past year and half by the difficult economic conditions and who have suffered from the costs of the unstable post-revolutionary period," he commented.

Mursi's main target groups were clearer, and they included the Brotherhood, the Salafis, and those who could be swayed by a religious message. Mursi's campaign also focused on the swing voters who might also have been negatively affected over the past year and half but for whom religion is important.

Both campaigns used TV ads, street banners, press conferences, and public meetings with the voters extensively. Although the costs of the presidential campaigns are not supposed to exceed LE10 million, speculations about the cost of both were raised, though no official criticisms were made.

A fierce war of words was an obvious weapon used in the countdown to the run-off in the presidential elections. Shafik was slammed as a representative of the former Mubarak regime by the Muslim Brotherhood, especially after the passage of the disenfranchisement law by the People's Assembly that targeted both Shafik and Suleiman. However, as a result of the Supreme Constitutional Court later ruling the law unconstitutional, Shafik was able to stay in the race, initiating the official antagonism between the two camps.

Shafik, in turn, launched a war of words against what he called the "state of the Morshid," as he termed the Brotherhood's ideas of the form the state should take. He stressed fears of the mechanisms used by the Brotherhood, in terms of the possible future head of state's alleged loyalty to the head of the group, rather than to the state. He emphasised in his speeches and ads how the Brotherhood had set up deals with the former regime in order to win seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections, using an interview Mursi had given to the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. He also said that were he to win he would ensure that Al-Azhar remains the source of moderate Islam and the Coptic Church retains its position for Egypt's Christians.

Shafik's rejection of the religious discourse of the Brotherhood attracted Ibrahim Soliman, a gardener in his early 60s. He voted for Shafik and believes he is a good man. "I don't feel comfortable with the Muslim Brotherhood, and I think that if they attain office they will never leave," Soliman said.

In a debate held at the Bikya Book Cafe in Maadi one day before the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Mursi voters, including one student from Ain Shams University Medical School, Islam Mohei, and Omar Mohamed, stated why they were voting for Mursi even though they were not members of the Brotherhood.

"His record is clean. He will introduce changes, and he has the Al-Nahda Project behind him," they said. Statements from Mursi's campaign, like "he is supported by God, and telling people to vote for him is a religious act," as used by Manal Abu al-Hassan, a Brotherhood member, in rural areas, worried Mohei, he told the Weekly. However, these slogans alone "won't make me change my mind about voting for him." For Mohei and Mohamed, Shafik is a symbol of the counter-Revolution, and if he were to be elected he would crack down on the Revolution's gains, they said.

Amr Hussein, who is in charge of social media for Shafik's campaign, was also present at the debate, and he tried to counter the allegations against his candidate. He also debated the point in front of a small crowd at the Book Caf≥©, criticising the role played by the Brotherhood in the parliament since they took control of it in last year's parliamentary elections and the Brotherhood's efforts to control the committee to be set up to draft a new constitution.

The debate also included the voices of the mobtelun, those who intended to spoil their ballot papers in the elections, these being presented by Nour Ayman Nour, an activist and the son of political figures Ayman Nour and Gamila Ismail. From the unofficial number of some 800,000 spoiled votes in the elections that followed, it is clear that both candidates failed to propagate their messages to a number of voters. With an expected 45 per cent turn-out in the elections, there are also questions about why the rest of the voters chose not to vote.

One clear concern, according to Fayez, was the Brotherhood's use of fatwas (religious rulings). "In 2005, Sheikh Abdel-Rahman Abdel-Bar issued a fatwa urging people to vote, even considering it a religious duty. Then, in 2010 when there was no agreement between the Brotherhood and the regime to allow the groups the same 88 seats in parliament that it had gained in 2005, Abdel-Bar changed his fatwa and said that people shouldn't vote because the elections would be faked. In 2011, he returned to the first fatwa again, once again urging people to vote."

Fayez said that the present elections had seen the same Brotherhood strategy of mixing religion with politics. He stressed how Sheikh Safwat Hegazi had announced at a press conference attended by Mursi and Brotherhood Guide Mohamed Badie that the Brotherhood wanted to establish a "United Arab States" with Jerusalem as its capital. "This wasn't in the electoral programme, but it is the sort of sensational propaganda that we have been used to seeing in these elections," Fayez said.

The problem with such behaviour, as Fayez sees it, is that it tarnishes politics. "Under Mubarak, there was distrust for the system, and people didn't want to participate in politics because of that, among other reasons. Now, mixing religion with politics could lead to the same results, because at the end of the day people are supposed to be voting for the head of a state, not a sheikh in a mosque. They should be more concerned about what this person has to offer and what his electoral programme is about than his religious views," Fayez said.

On the other hand, Shafik had fallen into a trap by attacking the Brotherhood over recent weeks, Fayez said. "He sounded like the voice of the old state institutions, and he made it difficult for citizens to identify the differences between his discourse and that of others. This was especially the case when the Brotherhood was attacked by other institutions in the state, following the Islamist members of parliament's attack on the judges, for example."

Still without being sure who will be Egypt's next president, it is clear that whoever wins will do so by a slim number of votes, ranging from perhaps 200,000 to 500,000 out of a total of about 25 million votes cast. If this proves anything, then it is that there is a profound split in society, Fayez argued. "It also shows that the discourses of both candidates were not clear for voters."

Although the anti-Shafik campaign has long tried to present him as anti-revolutionary, Fayez said that in fact it seems that some 50 per cent of voters chose Shafik, indicating that the elections were not really about the Revolution. "We can't be sure that the 50 per cent that voted for Shafik were voting against the Revolution. Rather, the majority of them thought that the race was about a religious state and fear of that form of state, though not fear of religion itself. Thus the idea that people were choosing between an old system and a new one was not necessarily the issue."

Another interpretation of the almost 50-50 per cent split is that Mursi, if he wins, would do so with the help of voters who are not necessarily part of his constituency. The Brotherhood may imagine that a Mursi victory is an endorsement of their position and an indication of the strength of their voting bloc. However, this may not necessarily be the case, as the voters could have been voting against Shafik rather than for Mursi.

The final psychological war between the two camps took people by surprise, with Mursi appearing on TV at four in the morning on Monday, only five hours after the closing of the polling stations, to announce himself the winner. FJP delegates in the polling stations had been able to count the votes, he said, making him the winner.

Many Egyptians would have been following the vote count on satellite TV, and no one expected a winner to declare his victory without the official figures being announced. In fact, no one was expecting a press conference by the winner until Thursday. A further political stunt was pulled off by the Brotherhood immediately after the elections, when the group claimed that they had received the figures from the judges in the polling stations, even documenting them in print to pre-empt questions.

Shafik's campaign was not expecting such moves, and they were slow to reply, though by the next day the Shafik campaign had also declared its candidate to be the winner.

As Brotherhood supporters celebrated their alleged win in Tahrir Square on Monday, Shafik supporters danced to a different tune in other districts, also celebrating their alleged win. Meanwhile, the PEC said that the official result would be announced on Thursday after the end of the official count.

According to Fayez, the Brotherhood is preparing for "another revolution."

"In all the interviews with Mursi, he refused to admit that Shafik could have won the elections, insisting that he had won them. Brotherhood officials said before the elections that if Mursi didn't win, this would mean that the elections had been faked, leading to the need for 'another revolution,'" he said.

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