The PJ Tatler

Great News: Egypt's Next President Will Either be an Islamist or a Leftist

Either way, Egypt’s future post the Arab Spring is not bright.

The candidate of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood won a spot in a run-off election, according to partial results Friday from Egypt’s first genuinely competitive presidential election. A former prime minister an a leftist were in a tight race for second place and a chance to run against him to become the country’s next leader.

The run-off will be held on June 16-17, pitting the two top contenders from the first round of voting held Wednesday and Thursday. The victor is to be announced June 21.

The landmark vote – the fruit of last year’s uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak – turned into a heated battle between Islamist candidates and secular figures rooted in Mubarak’s old regime. The most polarizing figures in the race were the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and former air force commander and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, a veteran of Mubarak’s rule.

Read the tea leaves a bit: The Islamist has the best organization and the most enthusiastic support. He’s the odds-on favorite to win the Egyptian presidency.

The secular Mubarak regime repressed the Brotherhood in the decades since the group assassinated President Anwar Sadat. If they take full power, Egypt won’t be safe for anyone who had any connection to the old regime at all, or for anyone who supports secular government. There will be revenge pogroms and an exodus of secular intellectuals as there was from Iran after 1979, which will end up strengthening the Islamists’ grip on power in Cairo. Looking a bit farther afield, Egypt’s Islamist turn could help revive al Qaeda: Ayman al-Zawahiri heads the terrorist organization since bin Laden’s death, and he is Egyptian and was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood there. He spent years in prison for his role in the assassination of Sadat. He made headlines a few days back for calling on Saudis to follow Egypt’s lead and have a Spring of their own.

The June 21 runoff may be Egypt’s last chance to avert a full blown Islamist takeover.