In Egypt right now, it is practically Bush vs Gore

It is 7.00pm Cairo time and most governates have reported results now in Egypt’s first ever (sort of) free and (sort of) fair presidential elections and amid generally low turnout the outcome is still not clear.  I wrote just before voting started that the best thing about them was that no one knew who would win, something that had never been true in the past.  That turned out to be an understatement: the uninspiring Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy is through to the runoff mostly on the strength of the MB electoral machine, but the race for second place is coming down to two candidates who wildly outperformed expectations — the regime stalwart Ahmed Shafiq (a military man who was Mubarak’s last prime minister) and the Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi (who became the de facto secular revolutionary candidate despite his backward-looking policy positions).  With most areas of the country already counted the results hinge on the vote in the Cairo and Giza governates, making it practically like Bush vs Gore and the Florida recount.  In all likelihood, it will be Shafiq.

I highlighted the election forecasts of Mahmoud Salem, who blogs as Sandmonkey, and he was right: Egyptians did not rally to the centrists (and, not long ago, presumptive frontrunners) Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh and Amr Moussa, who came last among the major candidates.  A Shafiq win would set up the worst-case scenario for the second round: an Islamist who wouldn’t even be the first choice of most Islamists and a counter-revolutionary general who promises to rule with an iron hand.  This is not what those magical eighteen days in Tahrir Square were supposed to lead to.  All you need to know about Ahmed Shafiq is that his spokesman told the New York Times today, “The revolution has ended.”  As for Mohamed Morsy, even allowing for the challenges of giving a speech in English rather than Arabic the rambling video (embedded above) directed at Egyptian expatriates gives a good sense of why he is so unconvincing.

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Update (30 minutes later): How quickly it shifts: now the Twitter stream for #EgyElections is saying the Cairo and Giza results actually move Shafiq into first place overall and Morsy into second; this despite the fact that it is Sabbahi who did best in the two governates, though not well enough to make up the gap with the leaders. If this holds, it still produces the expected runoff in the second round but I, for one, am amazed/heartbroken by the apparent size of the felool constituency.

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Update (15 minutes after that): Now the corrections are coming in: it appears Morsy will come in first and Shafiq second. Ah, the problem with real-time blogging. Whatever the order, there is little practical consequence since they both make it to the runoff in June but there is no mistaking the psychological impact of Shafiq’s strong showing.

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Click here to read all my posts about Egypt, the Middle East, or North Africa.

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