Uncertainty Shadows the Eve of Egypt’s Elections

On May 23, Egypt will experience her first presidential election since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak

By Sallie Pisch

On the eve of such historic elections, Egyptians are wary.  No one has any idea who will win the country’s first post-Mubarak presidential race. And many of the Egyptians who aren’t boycotting the election also aren’t voting for any candidate.

They’re voting against all the others.

The liberals, leftists, Islamists, moderates, conservatives, and everyone else are all suspicious of each other.

A year ago, Egyptians were still high on hope after an adrenaline-filled uprising toppled three-decade ruler Hosni Mubarak from power. Egyptians hoped their next presidential election would be free and fair, a chance to democratically elect Egypt’s new head of state.

The feeling now is one of uncertainty.  Few Egyptians have found a candidate they strongly support among the field of 13. Instead, many are casting ballots for the candidate they think has the best chance of winning against the candidate they least want to see in power.

The activists who risked their lives on the streets to oust Mubarak last year don’t see a liberal candidate who represents them. Some have said they’ll vote for the closest thing – Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi or leftist lawyer Khaled Ali – but others have chosen to simply boycott the vote.

“We can’t elect a president under military rule,” one such activist said a few days before the election. For him, Egypt’s ruling military council must be ousted before truly fair elections can take place.

He plans to boycott the election entirely.

Some Egyptians see Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh as a moderate choice. Once a prominent member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Aboul Fotouh was kicked out of the organization when he announced his intention to run for president last year. At the time, the Brotherhood insisted it would not front a candidate.

Others see Aboul Fotouh as just another Islamist, even if he is more moderate than the official candidate of the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammed Morsi. The country’s Coptic Christian community, in particular, is wary of both candidates.

“I’d like to vote for Khaled Ali, but he doesn’t have a chance,” said Farida, a Coptic Christian businesswoman. “And I hate the thought of voting for Amr Moussa, but at least he has a chance to beat Aboul Fotouh.”

Many “revolutionaries” label those who support Moussa or former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq as felool, literally ‘remnants’ of Hosni Mubarak’s formerly ruling regime. What some view as a return to stability they view as a return to the former president’s dictatorial ways.

Some see Moussa as a legitimate option and others, like Farida, as the lesser of two evils. As former head of the Arab League Moussa is familiar with international politics and Egypt’s role in the international community, plus he was not a direct part of the Mubarak government.

Sabbahi, who gained more than some expected in the Egyptian overseas vote last week, is also controversial. On one hand, Sabbahi is seen as a true revolutionary rather than a free rider, someone who fought the regime for years before the outbreak of last year’s revolution. Others argue that Egypt needs stability right now, and that a Nasserist would only further destabilize the country and disrupt the economy.

The conservatives voting for Moussa or Shafiq fear instability from the ‘revolutionaries’ like Sabbahi or Ali; the Islamists are suspicious of the leftists and liberals, the liberals are skeptic of everyone; and everyone except the Islamists worry that Aboul Fotouh or Morsi will try to apply a strict Islamic law on the country.

There is fear and suspicion across the board, but some still hope that at the very least this week’s election will set Egypt on a new course to recovery and success.


Sallie Pisch is a journalist and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Writing for various Egyptian and foreign media outlets, she has covered Egyptian politics since 2010 and was an eyewitness to the Egyptian Revolution and its aftermath. 

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