With Egypt’s presidential elections just two days away, the only certainty is
The crop of viable candidates is down to a handful, but how to
identify a favorite is anyone’s guess.
The latest poll from the state-run
Al-Ahram Center, released Sunday, found ex-foreign minister Amr Moussa leading
the pack with 31 percent, down 10% from a week ago. Ex-prime minister Ahmed
Shafiq remained in second place at 23%, while the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed
Mursi jumped into third, barely edging his Islamist rival Abdel Moneim Abol
Fotouh with roughly 15% apiece.
By contrast, the independent newspaper
Al-Masry al-Youm found last week that a plurality of Egyptians remain
undecided, with the rest putting Shafiq just ahead of Moussa.
different picture emerges from the initial results of absentee
Results from 15 embassies and consulates worldwide place Abol
Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader, on top with nearly 12,000 votes. Hamdeen
Sabahy, a leftist nationalist in the mold of former president Gamal Abdel
Nasser, came in a surprise second with some 8,000 votes, with Moussa just behind
and Mursi and Shafiq bringing up the rear.
Each set of results should be
viewed with a critical eye: the first because the survey was state-run, the
second because Egypt is an exceedingly difficult place in which to
Surveys there are notoriously unreliable, due to the country’s
immense size and population and because Egyptians retain a built-in reluctance
to reveal honest opinions to anyone appearing to wield authority.
the initial voting figures, they don’t include some of the largest expatriate
communities, like Saudi Arabia, where results are expected Thursday at the
earliest. The kingdom has the world’s largest Egyptian expat population at 1.5
million, followed by Kuwait (where the Islamists Abol Fotouh and Mursi came out
on top) and the United Arab Emirates (where Egyptians opted for the nationalists
Sabahi and Moussa).
Presidential balloting will take place Wednesday and
Thursday, with a run-off election between the two leading vote-getters next
Many Egypt-watchers greeted Shafiq’s high polling numbers with
surprise. Islamists and youth revolutionaries alike have derided the former
premier as a “remnant” of the old Hosni Mubarak regime, and Shafiq lacks the
anti- American and anti-Israel credentials his rival Moussa accumulated over
decades as a minister and Arab League chief.
Still, in recent weeks,
Shafiq has managed to win important backers as a symbol of the relative
stability of the Mubarak era.
“I think he may be the army’s candidate,
and that of members of Mubarak’s party,” Zvi Mazel, a former Israeli ambassador
to Egypt, told The Jerusalem Post.
“That’s no joke – we’re talking about
two or three million people – in government offices, in the governorates and
municipalities,” Mazel said. “Also, the Copts have apparently thrown their
weight behind him – that’s another 10 million. It looks like he’s got a real
But just as Shafiq appears to have the wind at his back, so do
Mursi and Abol Fotouh.
On Thursday, the Brotherhood organized a
760-kilometer- long chain of Mursi supporters across the country in what the
group billed as the longest human chain ever, and over the weekend, two major
Salafi groups held thousands- strong rallies for Abol Fotouh.
wild card is the Salafis, ultra-hard-line Islamists who took a quarter of the
seats in parliamentary elections earlier this year (the Brotherhood took another
half). The national election board last month disqualified the Salafis’ main
presidential candidate, and the Brotherhood and Abol Fotouh are now scrambling
for every last Salafi vote. Mursi is the Brotherhood’s second-choice candidate
after its original contender Khairat Shater, who was disqualified over a legal
conviction. Critics say Mursi lacks Shater’s charisma, but the backing of the
group’s highly disciplined nationwide network makes him a formidable candidate
with ever-growing clout.
As for Abol Fotouh, his big-tent support base
extends far beyond Islamists to influential leftist and relatively liberal
groups, and even some Coptic Christians. The candidate’s economics adviser is
Samer Atallah, a Christian economist educated at Berkeley and McGill, and he has
also won the backing of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who symbolized the
tech-savvy youth who toppled Mubarak in a popular revolt last year. In all, some
100,000 people are registered as volunteers for the 60-year-old’s
Three candidates – Shafiq, Mursi and Abol Fotouh – are said to
be riding waves of support, while Moussa still leads in official polling. But
voting is a zero-sum game: A vote cast for one candidate always comes at the
expense of another. In a country where polling is of limited utility, so, too,
are predictions. Only after the election results are in will the world know who
will hold the principal position in the Arab world’s most pivotal state.