Bilal Ahmed reports from Cairo on the possibly premature Muslim Brotherhood declaration of victory in the Egyptian presidential elections.
According to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) official election tally, Mohammad Morsi has won the Egyptian presidential runoff elections with 51% of the vote as opposed to the 49% of ex-Mubarak Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik. The Brotherhood conducted exit polls at Egypt’s approximately 16 000 polling stations, and their results certainly have some merit. MB statistics were more or less in line with the final election results from phase one of the presidential elections in late May, and were also accurate during the three-phase parliamentary elections of November 2011 through January 2012.
However, it is far too early to be celebrating a Morsi presidency. I was in a hookah cafe just outside of Tahrir Square when MB supporters began celebrating, and a colleague accurately commented that it was premature.
At the time of writing, only four million votes from the election have been officially counted with 51.7% for Morsi and 48.3% for Shafik, with much of the major urban centers being inconclusive. Cairo in particular is unpredictable, as the city leaned towards the Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi a few weeks ago and voter turnout has been spectacularly low. These uncounted votes could easily sway the election, especially considering that turnout has been much higher in Upper Egypt due mainly to minority fears of Islamist rule. These factors could easily be cited in order to justify an electoral victory for Shafik, whose campaign is already claiming victory.
Although MB statistics have proven reliable in the past, the Brotherhood has everything to gain from claiming victory in the current election in which it is the only revolutionary candidate. The executive branch of the presidency is also its only political card left after the Islamist-dominated parliament was dissolved by court order a few days. Morsi chose to contest this election because he knows that the MB is not trusted among revolutionary groups in Egypt and cannot depend on broad support apart from its own party. These factors, and the pressure to gain some power for the suddenly fledgling group, could have influenced the exit poll numbers. This is, of course, the least likely scenario at this time given how electoral results seem to be backing the MB statistics.
The real danger is the likelihood of voter fraud in the official electoral count, which is much higher than in other Egyptian elections over the past seven months.
SCAF and the Mubarak-era deep state has been slow to react to the revolution except through violence. The recent power grab through three controversial high court rulings passed in the last week reflect that this is no longer the case. Indications came earlier when the electoral commission threw out the candidacies of Salafi politicans and Mubarak-era officials alike. However, the “state vote” was still split between Amr Moussa and Shafik, and the deep state machine could not effectively mobilize in favor of the old order. Shafik’s emergence as the sole state candidate has ensured the loyalty and cohesiveness of various institutions, allowing them to throw their support behind him and attract voters who are predominantly electing a leader they fear the least. His candidacy allows for actions against the revolution from Mubarak officials to accelerate, and the slow counting of this official tally is likely tied to that. Ballots in an already close election could still easily sway in favor of Shafik, particularly in Cairo.
It remains to be seen whether SCAF is happier with Morsi or Shafik, as the Constitution proposed yesterday reads as though either candidate is satisfactory. However, this is Egypt, and a revolution has not changed the state’s tendency to rig elections and undermine them if necessary. It is, in short, too early to be celebrating or analyzing “President Morsi.”