What Egyptians didn’t vote for (NEW YORK POST OP-ED) By AMIR TAHERI 05/30/12)
NEW YORK POST
NEW YORK POST Articles-Index-Top
With official results in from the first round of Egypt’s presidential
election, we now have a credible snapshot of public opinion in the
most populous Arab nation — one that shows a number of features that
couldn’t have been identified under one-party rule.
The first is the large number of Egyptians who still don’t know how
to participate in political life. Almost half of those eligible
didn’t vote, apparently unable to gauge the relevance of the
exercise. This contrasts with decades of fixed elections in which
99.99 percent of the electorate were reported as having voted.
To many Egyptians, including large numbers of urban middle-classers
who stayed away, “the right not to vote” is as important as the right
to vote. At the same time, millions of felaheen (poor peasants) were
relieved not to be rounded up and marched to polling stations to cast
their ballots for the ruling party’s candidate.
Second is the lack of support for the establishment that has
dominated Egypt since its independence in the 1920s — the military
elite that has dominated the government, and the Islamist Muslim
Brotherhood, which has acted as the main opposition.
In last week’s voting, the two candidates of that establishment —
Muhammad Mursi for the Brotherhood and Ahmad Shafiq for the military —
together drew less than half of the vote. Taking into account those
who didn’t vote, the two men represent around a quarter of the
electorate, despite immense resources at their disposal — the
machinery of administration for Shafiq and a tsunami of Arab oil
money for Mursi.
Third is the size of the Islamist vote.
For decades, experts have claimed that a majority of Egyptians wanted
the Brotherhood to rule. Now we know this isn’t so. Mursi and Abdul-
Munem Abolfotuh (the dissident Brotherhood candidate) together won
around 40 percent of the votes — one-fifth of those eligible — in a
country in which 85 percent of the population is Muslim.
The Islamists also did poorly in cities with a strong working class,
especially around the Suez Canal, where the Brotherhood was born in
The Brotherhood did well in lower-middle-class urban areas, where
Islamist charities provide social services that the government
The size of the Islamist vote is in line with that of other Muslim
countries’. In those with credible elections, Islamists have won
between 11 percent (Malaysia) and 44 percent (Turkey). More recently,
Islamists have won 21 percent in Morocco, 27 percent in Tunisia and
13 percent in Algeria.
The so-called Tahrir Square constituency had no horse in this race; a
chunk of it boycotted. But it’s unlikely that any Tahrir Square
candidate would’ve collected more than a fifth of the vote, as
Hamdeen Subbahi did with his mix of Tahrirism, Arab nationalism and
leftist rhetoric. The truth is that a majority of Egyptians don’t
quite know what the Tahrir uprising was about, apart from the demand
that President Hosni Mubarak step aside.
Subbahi’s surprising success in coming in third indicates that the
Egyptian left, in alliance with Arab nationalists, can still attract
a sixth of the electorate.
Another surprising feature: The urban poor, seen as the Islamists’
core constituency, didn’t vote for Mursi. A large chunk went for
Subbahi, while Shafiq also attracted many.
The outcome of the Mursi-Shafiq duel next month remains uncertain.
Some voters who abstained in the first round may go to the polls in
the second, which they see as decisive. (This is the experience in
France, where two-round elections are the norm.) In the first round,
all three Islamist parties went for maximum mobilization in support
of Mursi, while Aboulfotuh attracted traditional Muslims. Thus, a
larger turnout in the second round could favor Shafiq.
In fact, some Egyptians worry that the military has made a deal to
share power with the Islamists, with Shafiq as president and Mursi as
prime minister. But the first round shows that the two putative
partners may not find it easy to pull off such a scheme.
As I noted in The Post a year ago, Egypt is experiencing change
within the regime rather than regime change. That change may or may
not result in a revolution by radically altering the political,
social and economic structures built since Egyptian independence.
In any case, revolutions are designated as such after they’ve
happened — not while they may be happening. (Copyright 2012 NYP
Holdings, Inc. 05/30/12)
Return to Top
MATERIAL REPRODUCED FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY