Shafik Seeks to Claim Mantle of Egypt’s Revolution

A former Mubarak minister is secular voters’ only hope of preventing an Islamist takeover.

Egypt’s electoral committee confirmed on Monday that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi and former prime minister Ahmed Shafik will advance to the second round of the nation’s presidential election, scheduled for June.

The runoff poses a dilemma for the majority of Egyptians who did not vote for either candidate and are equally wary of Islamist rule and the restoration of the old regime.

Shafik briefly served as prime minister last year when millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand the resignation of longtime president Hosni Mubarak. Before that, he was aviation minister and commander of the air force.

The Muslim Brotherhood hopes to capitalize on Shafik’s past. “We face desperate attempts to replicate the old system of governance in new attire that might fool some,” its political party said in a statement, “but the masses of our people and the enlightened revolutionary forces will not give these the opportunity.”

Few of the young revolutionaries who demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and other cities last year see the Muslim Brotherhood as ushering in a new era in Egyptian politics however.

Shafik addressed them when he said on Saturday that the “revolution was stolen,” chastising the Islamist group that was banned as a political organization under the Mubarak regime but has since gained the most from the turmoil. Islamists command a majority in the freely elected parliament and dominate a committee that is tasked with rewriting the Egyptian constitution.

Promising not to let the country “drown in chaos,” Shafik appealed in particular to minority Christians and secular liberals who fear that a Morsi presidency will threaten their freedoms. “No exclusion of anyone or distancing of anyone,” he declared.

It’s far from clear whether Shafik, who wasn’t considered a top tier contender before early voting results starting pouring in on Friday, will manage to enthuse enough voters to prevent Morsi from winning by default.

Christopher Haynes, who is pursing a Master’s degree in political science at the American University in Cairo and his written for the Atlantic Sentinel in the past, says that people in the capital are mostly dispirited. “Lots of them voted for Hamdeen Sabahi,” the left-wing candidate, “and those who were of a more Islamist bent mostly voted for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh,” a former Muslim Brotherhood leader who ran as an independent. Neither made it into the second round.

Aboul Fotouh, a liberal Islamist, is the only candidate to have challenged the official results so far, alleging that votes have been bought and representatives of his campaign were denied access to polling stations to monitor the election. “The national conscience does not allow for labeling these elections honest,” he said on Monday.

“Some people have told me that if Shafik wins, there will be a second revolution,” says Haynes but he doubts it. “Politics leaves people divided, as it has in Egypt.” He points out that one of the more notable reforms in recent months has been a ban on Internet pornography, raising concerns among secular Egyptians but hardly the sort of change that most people are hoping for and need.

More than a year after Mubarak was ousted, Egypt’s economy is still in shambles. The next president will grapple with a budget deficit that is the size of 10 percent of gross domestic product and an economy that is hamstrung by subsidies and red tape.

Youth unemployment, one of the key ingredients of the revolt, remains stubbornly high. An exodus of investors and tourists has made the situation worse for many of Egypt’s poor who complain that the Muslim Brotherhood, for all its pledges, has made very little effort yet to implement economic reforms. They could vote their values again next month but if a majority yearns for stability, Shafik could yet have a chance.