Egypt’s fate, I think, will not be settled by the June 16-17 presidential election (second round). It has already been set by the parliamentary election which has given a large majority to the Islamists as well as the ability to write the constitution. If Ahmad Shafiq defeats the Brotherhood candidate, Muhammad al-Mursi, parliament will simply make a strong prime minister (appointed by the Muslim Brotherhood) and a weak president.
But, of course, a victory for Shafiq would be significant, indicating that a lot of those who voted for Islamists in the parliamentary voting — as many as one-third of them, about 25 percent of the total population — are not eager for a Sharia state. That could be added to another 25 percent (40 percent of them Christians) who are anti-Islamist.
Shafiq, a former general and prime minister, is widely seen as a man of the old regime. Think of it this way. Suppose President Husni Mubarak had died or been disabled prior to 2011, or that the establishment had revolted and gotten rid of Mubarak on its own and chosen a successor. Shafiq might have become the new president and there would never have been a “revolution” in Tahrir Square.
So there you have it. One candidate wants basic continuity with more freedom; the other, al-Mursi, wants an Islamist state, Sharia law, and jihad. That’s a pretty clear choice.
The campaign is marked by the Brotherhood’s outspoken extremism and Shafiq’s relative moderation. It did not have to be that way. The Brotherhood could have continued to feign moderation, but perhaps its explicit radicalism is an attempt to capture the Salafist vote.
Shafiq also could have played the radical demagogue making big promises but he isn’t doing so. His strategy is apparently to play on Egyptians’ fear of radical change and instability, the idea that crime and anarchy are out of control and massive violence along with economic collapse are on the horizon. Shafiq, then, is the candidate of stability.
Let’s take a typical Shafiq stump speech. It includes the following points:
–Refusing to demagogue on the Palestine issue. “Choose a country with Cairo as its capital, not in Palestine….Some people want Palestine to be our capital. The Palestinian cause is in our hearts but our capital will remain Cairo and from our capital we will strive to help Palestine become an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital.”
That statement took guts for several reasons. He gives an alternative view of the issue, saying that the Brotherhood would sacrifice Egyptian interests, getting the country into war with Israel. While the Brotherhood—and even the U.S.-favored but defeated “moderate Islamist” candidate challenged Israel’s right to exist, Shafiq openly advocates a two-state solution without any tricks. Notice he said “East Jerusalem” and not, as Arab politicians often do, “Jerusalem.”
–Avoid adventurous actions that might get Egypt into war. “Choose me as I defend Egyptian security; defending Sinai which others will let slip from our hands….Defend the Suez Canal, which others want to give to foreigners.” Why would Egypt lose the Sinai or the Suez Canal? Because if it got into a war with Israel and was defeated, there could be a repeat of the situation that prevailed from 1967 and for many years afterward in which Israel was controlling all or part of Sinai and the Canal couldn’t function normally.