Mohamed Ibrahim el-Sayyed, 42, lost a lot to Egypt’s revolution – his brother was killed during the initial 18-day uprising that led to former president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, and his son was killed in one of the many bouts of clashes between protesters and police that have marked the post-Mubarak transitional period. So when el-Sayyed heard that the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) had rejected all appeals challenging last week’s election results, thus pitting Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and Mubarak minister Ahmed Shafiq against each other in a runoff scheduled for next month, he came straight to Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“Disqualify Shafiq!” he chanted, raising his shoe in the air. El-Sayyed, who voted for Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi in the country’s first post-Mubarak presidential elections, said that Egypt would not tolerate a return of the old regime. He was joined in Tahrir by hundreds of other Egyptians enraged by the realization of what many called the “nightmare scenario:” a contest for the country’s top post being played out between an Islamist and a felul, or “remnant” of the old regime, thus sidelining more secular, independent forces.
Video of Tahrir Square protesters, including Mohamed Ibrahim el-Sayyed (first 10 seconds):
Among the protesters was Khaled Ali, himself a contender in the election’s first round and champion of leftists and liberals, who took just half of one percent of votes.
In addition to peacefully demonstrating in Tahrir, protesters reportedly cut off power to two buildings with Shafiq billboards, chanting, “Lights out for Shafiq,” and set fire to Shafiq’s campaign headquarters in the Cairo neighborhood of Dokki.
As early as last Friday, voters knew that Morsi and Shafiq would likely face each other in the runoff. However, after runner-up candidates registered appeals with the SPEC, many Egyptians held their breath for a different outcome. The appeals cited allegations that names were added to the voting rolls and that hundreds of thousands of policemen and soldiers – who are not allowed to vote in national elections – unlawfully received voter registration cards, and then were pressured into voting for Shafiq.
Demonstrators said that none of these claims were seriously investigated.
In its announcement Monday, the SPEC simply reaffirmed that Morsi had come in first place with 24.78 percent of the vote and Shafiq in second place with 23.66 percent. Following behind were Hamdeen Sabahi, moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and former Arab League head Amr Moussa.
Free and fair elections?
Election monitors, including the U.S.-based Carter Center, gave the voting and counting process generally positive marks. But for many in Tahrir, whether or not there was massive fraud or only minor violations is beside the point. As the Carter Center noted, a bigger cause for concern was “the broader context in which these elections were held.” Most notably, the highly controversial Article 28 of the SCAF-issued Constitutional Declaration makes all decisions by the SPEC final and immune from appeal. Issandr el-Amrani, who blogs as The Arabist, wrote, “[the SPEC’s] ruling is not appealable, it has a past record of dubious decisions, and it behaved suspiciously by distributing last minute supplementary voter lists and blocking access to observers to counting rooms. The [S]PEC had no credibility even before the vote was cast”.
In addition to grievances against the SPEC, the Carter Center cited the never suspended Emergency Law, which “continues to stifle democratic debate [and hinder] the full enjoyment of electoral rights,” as a barrier to holding free and fair elections.
Others in Tahrir lamented how elections could even he held under military rule. Mostafa Salah, 22, said the people should have demanded a civilian caretaker government to oversee the electoral process, to ensure that the military would not rig the process in order to protect its own interests.
Where to go from here
On how to move forward, the mood in Tahrir was divisive: some demonstrators said that faced with such an impossible choice, they would boycott the second round of elections. Some said that although they do not want an Islamist government, they would vote for Morsi just to keep the old guard out of power, while others said the opposite: despite Shafiq’s shadowy past, they would do anything to keep the Islamists from having control of both the legislative and executive branches of government.
Still others maintain that street politics are the best route. Some activists called for a million-man march to take place on Tuesday. “The streets are the answer,” tweeted well-known activist Ahmed Aggour, known as “Psypherize”. Aggour supports a boycott of the next round of elections, and predicted that Egyptians would come out into the streets en masse and hold another “Friday of Rage,” a reference to a key day in the 18-day uprising which ousted Mubarak a year and a half ago.
Stephanie Figgins is a freelance writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Her background lies in international affairs and economics, specializing in social change and national security issues in the Middle East and Africa. Recently, she has focused on transitioning economies and political systems in Libya and Egypt.