The first round of presidential elections throws up key questions for the struggle, says Phil Marfleet
When Egypt’s parliamentary elections produced a majority for the Muslim Brotherhood last year, many journalists and academics declared that the revolution was over.
After the first round of the presidential elections this week they are saying the same thing. They were wrong last year and are likely to be wrong again.
Top of the presidential poll was the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi. Second was Ahmed Shafiq—a prime minister in the Mubarak era.
Shafiq is a leading representative of what Egypt’s revolutionary movement calls the feloul—“remnants” of the old dictatorship.
Third was the left nationalist Hamdeen Sabbahi.
Some activists are dismayed at the results, which mean there will be a run-off in mid-June between Mursi and Shafiq.
This has been called a “nightmare scenario”, in which Egyptians are asked to choose merely between military rule and Islamism.
In fact the choice is clear. A vote for Shafiq would be a vote against the revolution.
A vote for Mursi is a vote against the legacy of Mubarak and for continuing change.
Revolutionary activists will not enjoy voting for Mursi.
If they do not do so, however, they are likely to experience the real nightmare scenario—a president cloned from the dictator they overthrew last year.
Mursi is not in a strong position. The Brotherhood has struggled since the start of the revolution.
Its leaders have tried to make deals with Egypt’s real rulers—the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
At the same time they have been under great pressure from their own members and supporters to deliver further change.
They have suffered many splits and defections as it becomes clear that they can’t meet the people’s needs and expectations.
There was striking evidence of the wish for change in Hamdeen Sabbahi’s first-round vote.
He was backed mainly by workers, urban poor and revolutionary activists. He presented himself as one of the people.
Sabbahi had none of the advantages of the Brotherhood, with its national network of branches.
Nor did he enjoy the benefits that Shafiq—who was backed by SCAF and much of the media—did.
Yet Sabbahi carried Cairo, Alexandria and most cities heavily involved in the struggles of 2011-12, ending only 2 percent behind Shafiq.
This was a vote for the revolution on a scale which surprised even Sabbahi’s own supporters.
Egyptians will be better off with Mursi as president and an unstable Brotherhood in
parliament than with Shafiq in office. Shafiq is backed by generals who wish to bring the revolution to an abrupt end.
Now it is time to put Mursi to the test—and to continue struggles over jobs, wages, union rights and for radical political change.