Egyptians reacted in shock and despair after official results of the first round of Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential elections were announced on Monday afternoon on Egyptian State TV’s main Arabic news channel. Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate and Ahmed Shafik, a former air force commander and Mubarak’s last prime minister will face each other in the run-off poll (scheduled for 16 and 17 of June) after leading in the first round, Farouk Sultan, Head of the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission told journalists at a televised press conference on Monday.
Morsi won 5.76 million votes with Shafik following closely behind with 5.5 million votes out of a total of 23.3 million valid votes, Sultan said. Playing down voting irregularities, Sultan insisted these were minor and did not affect the overall results of the poll.
The outcome of the first round of voting provoked a new wave of angry condemnation from analysts and ordinary Egyptians alike. Author Alaa Aswany, an outspoken critic of the military junta tweeted urging Egyptians to boycott the elections en masse. He argued that the second round of the vote was certain to be rigged .
”Foul!” shouted a group of men watching the news conference at a roadside café in the working class district of Boulak.
The run-off pitting Shafik, a “Mubarak regime remnant” against a “colourless” member of the Muslim Brotherhood has been described by many Egyptians as a “nightmare scenario”. The election has polarised the country, with one camp wary of Islamist rule and another concerned about the continuation of the military dictatorship.
“If either of the two candidates becomes president, it would spell the demise of our revolution,” lamented Omar Ahmed, a young activist in a Facebook post.
The reaction to preliminary results of the poll has veered between sarcastic humour and outright indignation. Scores of internet users used social media networks Facebook and Twitter to call for fresh marches to protest the “illegitimacy” of the vote.
“It is no longer a choice between Shafik and Morsi. The choice is now between Canada and Australia,” is a joke widely shared on Facebook. This kind of humour reflects the disillusionment of a public growing increasingly weary of political and economic turmoil in the country. Meanwhile, scores of Egyptians used Facebook and Twitter to call for fresh marches to protest “the illegitimacy of the vote”.
Fifteen months after the mass uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, many Egyptians feel their revolution has been hijacked by both Islamists and the military generals overseeing the transitional period. The Muslim Brotherhood, which had joined ranks with the young revolutionaries in Tahrir Square demanding “Bread, freedom and social justice” during the 18-day mass uprising has since been accused of pursuing its own interests. Some activists say they have lost trust in the Islamist group after it aligned itself with the military authority to secure seats in parliament. They also accuse the group of reneging on earlier promises not to field a candidate for the Presidency. The Muslim Brotherhood and the ultra-conservative Salafis together won nearly three-quarters of the 508 seats in parliament in last year’s legislative elections.
Claims by the Justice and Freedom Party contender Mohamed Morsi — now the frontrunner in the race — that he represents the revolution have been rebuffed by thousands of protesters who flocked to Tahrir Square on Monday night chanting “No to Shafik ! No to Badie!” (the latter being the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood). Many Egyptians wonder if the loyalty of an Islamist president would lie with the religious movement rather than with the country.
But revolutionary youth leaders who spearheaded the 25 January uprising are now rethinking their position and say they are contemplating throwing their weight behind Morsi. They argue that “Shafik has the blood of the revolution martyrs on his hands.” The change of heart came after complaints about vote rigging filed by their favoured candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi — a die-hard Nasserist — were rejected by the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission and Sabbahi was declared officially out of the race. The revolutionaries had hoped a probe into Sabbahi’s complaints would tip the scale in his favor at the last minute, allowing him to compete in the run-off. Sabbahi, whose popularity has surged in recent weeks, came in a close third , garnering 4.82 million votes in the first round.
Wael Ghonim, administrator of the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook page that was a catalyst for the 25 January Revolution, has said he will support Morsi in the second round if he agrees to form a national salvation government representative of all factions of Egyptian society, including liberals and Copts. Youth leaders from the 6 April movement have also been in consultations with Morsi about the way forward, a sign that the group will support him and not Shafik.
Shafik has been trying to court the young revolutionaries, pledging to “bring the fruits of the revolution” between their hands. He warned the pro-democracy activists that their “revolution was being hijacked by the Islamists who mean to exploit it for their own ends”. His claims however appear to be falling on deaf ears and have provoked the ire of the revolutionary youths. His supporters are mostly those yearning for stability and have faith that only he can put the faltering economy back on track.
But the Tahrir protest — as well as demonstrations in other major cities across the country — reflect the heightened tensions and the growing frustration felt by millions of Egyptians who say they have to choose between two evils and that “neither candidate represents the spirit of their revolution.”
“It’s like having to choose between death by the sword or by hanging. In both cases we die” said 28-year-old Magued Mounir, a protester in Tahrir Square.
“If Shafik is president, then it’s back to square one…as if the revolution never happened. He is an extension of the old autocratic regime. And voting in an Islamist President would mean giving up our dream of a secular, modern Egypt,” said Yasmine Roshdy, another activist who was chanting against both candidates.
“We are trapped between a rock and a hard place,” said another protester who added that he had voted for Sabbahi in the first round.
In a repeat scenario of earlier protests, unidentified attackers stormed the square at midnight Monday attempting to break up the demonstration. A few hours earlier, Shafik’s Cairo campaign headquarters in Dokki was ransacked and set ablaze. Many Egyptians fear that the violence may be the start of worse unrest to come.
Journalist Shahira Amin resigned from her post as deputy head of state-run Nile TV in February 2011. Read why she resigned from the “propaganda machine” here.