Few Options in Egypt
Amal turned her gaze away from me and looked off in another direction.“I can’t even bring myself to say it,” she said, shaking her head in utter disbelief.
We were sat outside a teahouse on Monday night – around 48 hours after the results from last week’s presidential election began emerging.
In top place was the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi. Derided by many Egyptians for his blandness, he was nevertheless a shoe-in for the forthcoming run-off due to the Brotherhood’s organisational clout.
No surprises there then.
Not so for the man who came second – Ahmed Shafik, former air force chief and short-lived Prime Minister in the dog days of Hosni Mubarak’s crumbling regime last year.
His success, surging into the runner’s up spot following a late spike in his support, left many Egyptians dumbfounded.
Hence the gloomy outlook from Amal, a leading member of the April 6 youth movement, the group which has been at the vanguard of anti-regime protests since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year.
Left with the ultimate Hobson’s choice – between a Brotherhood despised by many secular activists and a former Mubarak lackey – Amal and her colleagues are now unsure of which way to turn.
“We don’t have many options,” admitted Mona Dadeir, another member of April 6. “All we’re trying to do is minimise our losses.”
In one sense, the ascendency of Ahmed Shafik has cast a shadow over the legitimacy of the young revolutionaries who helped bring about the fall of a dictator.
Official results released Monday indicated that Shafik secured 23.6 per cent of the vote, with just over five and a half million Egyptians choosing him as their preferred candidate.
There have been allegations of voter fraud, but there can be no doubt that a substantial swathe of Egypt’s population – many of them exhausted by the uprising and fearful of political Islam – decided that a former military man with close ties to the ruling establishment was Egypt’s best bet.
For the young revolutionaries in the ranks of April 6 – most of whom are committed to overthrowing this very same establishment – it presents a dilemma.
Continue battling the regime, and they could risk alienating more Egyptians; but turn their backs on the charge for change, and all of last year’s struggles will have been in vain.
Yet many activists see the election from a different angle. Look at the votes cast for the so-called revolutionary candidates, they say, and a different picture emerges.
The liberal Islamist, Abdel Moneim Abel Fotouh, and left-winger, Hamdeen Sabahi, received nearly nine million votes between them – a clear indication that there is an electoral majority against the ancient regime.
Factor in Mohamed Morsi, who got 5.7 million votes, then the anti-establishment bloc appears unassailable – though the suspicion which exists between the Brotherhood and many secular activists rather confuses the picture.
All is not lost in the minds of Egypt’s revolutionaries. Given the success of Hamdeen Sabahi, a man who is now being referred to as the “president of the revolution”, they now have a talisman of impressive stature.
Yet following the results of the first round of Egypt’s presidential elections, they are now under no illusions that they must settle in for the long haul.