No Room for Grey

This Article was published on the Dailybeast website here, under the title “Egyptian elections: There is no clear front runner in the crowded field”. It’s better and modified there, although i do like my my title better. 😛

When I was in DC last week, the talk amidst the pundits in the Think Tanks and newspapers was regarding whether the next President of Egypt will be either Amr Moussa or AbulFotouh. In the absence of any real data or a clear front –runner, everyone assumed that the two with the highest media profiles would be the ones entering the run-off. One week later, this no longer rings to be true, with the bets now being placed on neither one of them making it. Why? Because they are both grey, and Egyptians, the great centrists that they are, when it comes to their President, are no longer interested in grey. Only Black or White. This is why AbuElFotouh and Moussa are now stagnating, and Mohamed Morsy, Ahmed Shafiq and Hamdeen Sabahy are all rising amidst the polls and the population. Why? Cause they are not grey.

AbdelMoneim AbulFotouh and Amr Moussa tried to position themselves as the two major centrist candidates from the Get go, one as the centrist Islamist candidate, and the other as the centrist “civil” (secular is such a naughty word, we are told) candidate, both hoping to rally different factions get the biggest amount of votes possible this way. Smart strategy, but not after a revolution, and especially not after the tumultuous year and a half that Egyptians have spent trying to figure out what exactly is going on in this country and where it is headed. The Egyptian voter would like some clarity, and neither one of those two candidates offered them that, which was incredibly evident in the debate that took place between them last week. Both of them –between attacking each other in the most undignified of ways-gave the most centrist answers they could come up with, and both come out as wishy-washy to the undecided voters. That was one presidential debate that no one won, and it left the average Egyptian voter thinking that whomever the President will be, it shouldn’t be those two. A hint: maybe someone should’ve explained to them that you are not supposed to debate your opponent in presidential debates, but rather use the time and media attention to talk to the undecided and give them the messages you were prepped to deliver by your handlers, instead of coming off looking like bickering old hags.

There are arguably 6 Egyptian voting blocs: Muslim Brotherhood, Non-MB Islamists (mostly salafis), liberals, revolutionaries (many leaning leftwards and majority are Baradei supporters), old regime backers and Independents. Moussa was counting on liberals, old regime backers, independents and some revolutionary voters who will see him as the only alternative to the Islamists. AbulFotouh was counting on getting the Baradei supporters, the independents, some liberals and some of the MB votes. Both were hoping to get those votes to get into the run-off elections, and both are now facing the realities that their calculations might all be wrong, with Morsy securing the MB votes, Sabahy almost securing all of the Baradei and revolutionary votes and Shafiq becoming the great hope of old regime backers. Why? Well, because Morsy is unquestionably MB and is very clear about it, Sabahy is a non-islamist revolutionary true and through, and Shafiq has been very vocal about his opposition of the revolution and the revolutionaries and a reminder of “the good old days” of Mubarak, where everything worked, the streets were secure, and no Islamist would dare to do “shananigans” they want to engage in now. Those respective groups had finally found the candidate that they feel comfortable supporting, which leads us to the ultimate question: Who, exactly, will vote for AbuFotouh and Moussa?

Well, with those 3 main groups out of the way, this leaves both candidates with a more limited pool of potential supporters, which may not offer them the best options or positioning. AbulFotouh has won the backing of the Salafi Noor Party, which immediately raised the question about what kind of deal he made with them, how centrist he truly is, and if his wish-washy answers to questions were not an attempt to win the center but rather fool it to vote for an islamist candidate. He still has few revolutionary supporters , which include revolutionary figures such as famous leftist activist Wael Khalil and the one-time revolution’s symbol Wael Ghonim, supporting him, but even they are finding it harder and harder to defend him as he journeys around the country with the Salafis or issues statements about his intentions to shut down alcohol factories.

Moussa is not having it any easier either, because the liberals are divided over supporting him or not. Their reasons vary from 1) Not desiring to vote for such a symbol of the Mubarak Era after revolting against Mubarak, to 2) concerns that he is more interested in the Presidency for his own Glory and ego, and not because he genuinely wants to save the country, and 3) their belief that Moussa is too much of a politician to take a principled stand on civil rights or liberties against the MB, and that he may very well compromise on those issues for the sake of his own political gain. This presents another problem for the liberals: if not Moussa, then who? This left the liberal votes divided between those who choose to back Moussa because he is an acceptable compromise, those who will back Shafiq because their friends are doing so and are doubting Moussa’s chances, and those who will hold their nose and vote for the Nasserite Sabahy instead because they believe he won’t compromise on civil rights and liberties, even if it means hurting their economic interests.

Make no mistakes: Many Independent votes will go to Moussa, especially from Upper Egypt, but he doesn’t have the support of the majority, or even half, of the independent votes, which seems like it will splinter itself over all candidates. Unless he engages in a final hail Mary before the elections, it could be very possible that we may not reach the run-off. His only hope lies in the ignorant faction of the independent voters, who will go and vote for the name that they know on the ballots. But even then, the names of the other candidates have become quite known for the majority of those voters, so it really is anyone’s game.

Either way, he and AbulFotouh will not get the large centrist majority that they hoped to gain to win from the first round or at least secure their place in the run-off. They might still get in, but it will be all dependent on their get out the vote campaign on the election day, and while Sabahy has the Baradeites, Morsy the MB, Shafiq the old NDP and AbulFotouh has the Noor Salafi machine, Moussa doesn’t really have anyone but his campaign and the few liberal parties that have supported him, because there are no excited hardcore Moussa supporters out there. He is far too grey.

This is not a new concept for Egypt, and something that only the people who bothered to analyze the parliamentary elections managed to get: Egyptians do not vote for centrist parties. Take the case of ElAdl Party for instance, which is in my opinion a great party filled with honest revolutionaries and genuine leaders, when it entered the parliamentary elections focusing on winning the centrist votes. They showed themselves as the alternative to the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood controlled Freedom and Jusitice Party and the Nour Salafi Party or the thinly veiled secularism of the Egyptian bloc, and ended up being the biggest losers in the elections, winning only one seat. Why? They were too centrist, which the average Egyptian voter viewed as attempting to not take a side, and instead voted for someone who will. The same logic applies to the Presidential elections, and it’s something that most pundits have elected or chosen to ignore. It underlines a fundamental political truth that everyone in the Egyptian political scene seems to ignore: You can’t synthetically create a center. A center is formed when two opposing forces of equal power and clearly different ideologies are fighting for control, thus creating the political balance that allows a center to emerge. This doesn’t exist in Egypt, which is why AbulFotouh is turning more and more islamist to appease his new salafi supporters, and Moussa is finding himself up in shit-creek without a paddle.

On a final note, the Egyptian presidential election has one final achievement to add to the list of the Egyptian revolution’s achievements so far: It has killed all ideologies. We have leftists supporting an Islamist candidate, liberals supporting a Nasserite leftists, A revolutionary workers-rights crusader candidate who didn’t get the support of the workers and ended up only getting nominated by MP signatures from parties that he considered anti-revolutionary, and revolutionaries who were strongly opposed to strong executive powers now begging for a constitution that doesn’t turn Egypt into a parliamentary system now that the Islamists have taken over the Parliament. It’s a fine mess that will surely leave analysts and pundits scratching their head for years to come to make any sense of its one million and one questions, where ironically all the answers so far are as clear as grey.

14 Comments on No Room for Grey

  1. محمد حامد
    May 22, 2012 at 8:01 am

    تذكر ان هناك حصان اسود اسمه حمدين صباحي

  2. gunner
    May 22, 2012 at 8:21 am

    good article,just i cant really understand or grasp the idea of the term ‘centrist’..can u explain a bit. Thanks in advance 🙂

  3. Rana Salah
    May 22, 2012 at 9:24 am

    What I like and endorse the most is the last paragraph.
    But I wonder what do you mean by revolutionaries? The groups who started the struggle in the 2000’s or the Islamic factions and communists who were tortured ever since Nasser era or rather the masses who swept the streets on Jan 25?
    It’s a vague expression.

    As for the centrists, your analysis shows that Egyptians are not centrists at all, they tend to lean over one side with no compromises, we’re judgemental by nature so even who pretends being centrist, like me, knows that he/she got a clear political orientation one way or another.

  4. Karim Hari
    May 22, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    “…..begging for a constitution that doesn’t turn Egypt into a parliamentary system now that the Islamists have taken over the Parliament. It’s a fine mess that will surely leave analysts and pundits scratching their head for years to come to make any sense of its one million and one questions, where ironically all the answers so far are as clear as grey.”

    There is no need for scratching one`s head for Years to come. It`s quite simple. The majority voted for the islamist. The tiny secularist fraction don`t accept it. So much for there democratic credentials. But what is more important its that Israel, the US and the gulf poodles won`t accept it. All for their own reasons. The gulf bordello potentates fearing for their own survival which is in danger if the MB wins. Israel is not ready since they have not succeeded yet to finish egypt off by funding and helping african potentates to build dam`s to cut egypt from the nile for example. The US care about there own business and strategic interest in egypt since they finally realized that egypt and not israel is the most important ally in the region. They want the former regime replaced by new heads. And this is why Moussa will win at the end of the day and the Parliament will end up being irrelevant. The zionist are happy. The US is happy. the corrupt profiteers are happy. The secularist losers are happy. The Bordello Arabs are happy and even Iran will be happy since they can take off syria after they taken Iraq already without any arab interference.

  5. streamfortyseven
    May 22, 2012 at 7:10 pm

    Here’s a US perspective:

    “Military Orchestrates Egypt’s Presidential Elections
    The military was the lone Hosni Mubarak-era institution to survive the revolution that toppled the country’s longest-reigning dictator last year. It remains the real power to this day and is skillfully orchestrating the May 23-24 presidential elections to paint a democratic veneer glossing over that simple truth.

    The plan seems to be working.

    The elaborate and deceitful military production casting the elections as the best hope to turn Egypt around is only part of the reason. Millions of frustrated Egyptians place their earnest hopes on the elections also because many, clearly exhausted from an economy that continues its downward plunge, are expectantly looking for easy, quick-fix solutions.

    “Who Changes What?

    Why is it certain the military will not leave the stage?

    Because media, academic and foreign consulate estimates of the military’s control of the economy ranges from a low of 15 percent to a whopping 30 percent. And none of this “militarization of the economy” will be diminished by the presidential elections anymore than the much-ballyhooed November 2011 elections to parliament lessened the military’s power.

    The army’s initial coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood and the more extreme fundamentalist Salafists was seriously challenged when the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) refused to delegate any genuine power to the Islamist-controlled parliament.

    For example, parliament could dismiss cabinet ministers but SCAF exclusively made all new appointments. In addition, SCAF maintained sole control of all military affairs, including their extensive budget and ownership of major portions of the economy – both state secrets.

    Under circumstances that limited parliament’s power and because the Islamist parties remained politically committed to defending SCAF against protestors, parliament failed miserably to enact any reforms.”

  6. MegRyan
    May 22, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I really think that Egypt is going the way of Iran. Where it once had an ally in the West, it will be the pariah of Africa. Note there is no longer Libya as the pariah of Africa.

  7. LK
    May 23, 2012 at 2:04 am

    Excellent analysis and I agree with most of your observations. The problem however “In the absence of any real data” any analysis is mostly guess work and affected by the people you know and talk to. We have no idea what is brewing in rural Egypt.

    Check this post from Liberal Koshari about Moussa:

  8. Yogi
    May 23, 2012 at 4:52 am

    While reading this post, the following quote came to mind:

    The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
    ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

    If being centrist requires exactly this function, then you have an explanation right there…

  9. Publicola
    May 26, 2012 at 5:19 am

    – 44% (islamist) versus 55% (non-islamist) votes –

    According to the (at present provisional, not yet final) number* of votes for the different candidates in the current presidential elections
    1. Mursi 4,406,782 (26.48 per cent) – (islamist)
    2. Shafiq 4,115,840 (24.74 per cent) – (military)
    3. Sabbahi 3,329,519 (20.01 per cent) – (nasserist)
    4. Abul-Fotouh 2,959,937 (17.79 per cent) – (islamist)
    5. Moussa 1,778,244 (10.69 per cent) – (secular)
    about 44% voted for islamist candidates versus 55% votes for non-islamist candidates.

    These figures of the current distribution of votes corresponds closely to
    the numerical number of individual votes
    for ‘liberal parties’ versus ‘islamists’ of the past parliamentary election 2011/2012
    as quoted by Naguib Sawiris (founder of the liberal ‘Free Egyptians Party’):

    … So, if you think that the democracy in Egypt resulted in the Islamists’ winning, it is not correct. …
    As a result, the liberal parties — and this is a very nice mathematical issue — the liberal parties actually got 11 million voters and the Islamists got 13 million.
    So, mathematically, we should have been at 45 percent in the parliament.
    I don’t know why we ended up with 15 or 20 [percent].
    Because the system which was pushed said that any party that doesn’t get 5 percent, this number will go to the highest party.

    from: “Naguib Sawiris: Excerpts from remarks at the 2012 Weinberg Founders Conference”
    Fikra Forum – May 8, 2012

  10. Publicola
    May 26, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Zeinab Abul-Magd* focuses her research on Egypt’s military. She says the upcoming presidential election will put an end to the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ (SCAF) interim rule as expected, but not to the army’s control of the country’s economy and politics.

    [*Zeinab Abul-Magd, an Egyptian academic, is a professor of Middle East history at Oberlin College and assistant professor at the American University in Cairo]

    – for detailed information: “No Matter How Egypt Votes, Army Won’t Simply Fade Away”
    (interview with Zeinab Abul-Magd)
    Al-Monitor – Tuesday, May 22, 2012

  11. lynnetteinminnesota
    May 27, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Sio the run-off will be between Mursi and Shafiq. There’s a lot to be said for “wishy-washy”. Now Egypt will just get same old, same old.

  12. Sarah
    May 27, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    Ok, Just in case I never did before

    that was one great analysis similar to the one u wrote before the last US elections that brought Obama 🙂

    too late i know, but i thought i commented before

  13. chanel sac
    May 28, 2012 at 6:50 am

    j’aime sacs chanel, je vous remercie ..


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