Egypt Voting for a Change

By Jamal Kanj

This weekend, Egyptians will line up to select their next president in the first democratic election in the country’s modern history.

It was moving a fortnight ago to witness voters, old and young, standing in the simmering heat or being wheeled in to cast their ballots in the first round – for many, for the first time in their lives.

But unlike prior robotic participation in a process with a predetermined outcome, the voters were filled with excitement and anticipation.

Nonetheless, last-minute fielding and the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission decision disqualifying Mubarak’s vice-president Omar Suleiman before ultimately sanctioning ex-premier Ahmad Shafiq’s candidacy, was a masterful, theatrical stunt by the old guard to ensure their place at the presidential polls.

As in genuine democracies, the results of the preliminary elections were disappointing for some and a surprise for most. Disappointing because the race was limited to a Mubarak-era candidate and a nominee from the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), also known as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The surprise was the success of the old guard’s candidate, who copied George W Bush’s second-term election strategy by perpetuating a sense of insecurity – leading 24 per cent to choose stability over the promise of change.

More than 50pc of Egyptians did not vote for the two final candidates. The disenchanted voters are left today with a choice of regurgitating the same or voting for change, while hoping this election is the start of a long-sustained democratic process.

Last weekend, I watched with amusement as Shafiq – the prime minister deposed by Tahrir Square – addressed disgruntled voters, promising to maintain the square as a beacon of democracy. He warned them not to allow the FJP candidate to hijack their revolution.

There is a saying in Arabic: "The worst of calamity is laughable."

Indeed, Shafiq’s sad assertions were hilarious. For one, it was under his reign that the regime hired camels and horses to terrorize protesters at Tahrir Square.

But lamentably, he was partially correct since the FJP was a "Johnny-come-lately" to the protests. It has been well established that the Muslim Brotherhood initially hesitated to take part in the January 25 demonstrations.

It joined only after protesters gained unchallenged, popular legitimacy assuring the likelihood of their success.

Still, between the two, Shafiq was an integral part of Mubarak’s rule.

In an article in The Weekly Standard on May 25, Washington Zion-con Elliot Abrams wrote: "Mubarak and the army could have agreed on Shafiq as their candidate: he was close to Mubarak and like him an Air Force general, and, as we now see, he is indeed the man the military have agreed should run and represent their interests."

Based on polls and recent waves of protests, the electorate is heading towards rejecting the Mubarak-era by supporting change.

The vote for Mohammed Morsi, however, should not be misconstrued as a vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s patriarchal platform.

Unfortunately for the gallant Egyptian youth, this is the quintessential sad ending of popular revolutions – where the selfless are sidelined and opportunists reap the fruits of their labour. At least in consolation to their noble spirit, the next president will never receive Mubarak’s patented 99pc of the vote.

– Jamal Kanj writes frequently on Arab issues and is the author of Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. He contributed this article to Contact him at: (This article was first published in the Gulf Daily News newspaper)

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