Deserts are often known for their deceptive nature. The thousands of miles of identical landscape can make navigation a difficult task, with it being nearly impossible to tell if one is moving forwards or backwards, or merely walking in circles. The same can be said for revolutions. In all their hopefulness and drive for change, progress is hard to gauge. The change of power, much like the shifting desert sands, can cover ones tracks, making any semblance of change unrecognizable. Moreover, for those starved of nourishment (water or freedom), the prospect of salvation remains constantly on the horizon: unattainable, but always visible.
Welcome to Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, where desert democracy is coming to the forefront. Regardless of who wins the Egyptian presidential election run-off taking place on June 16th and 17th, one thing is for certain: the losing side will be severely disappointed. So is the reality of democracy, and Egyptians will learn it the hard way.
After the successful ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, something all segments of Egyptian society seemed to agree upon, the country soon awoke to the reality that not all 80 million of its people thought with the same mindset, an important fact that was glossed over during the fervor of the revolution.
The most important reality of democracy is that one’s ideas may not win all the time, and that one has to deal with their political ideas not being the dominant view of government for a time. In developed democracies like Canada, people may grumble and stomp their feet at their party’s loss in the election, but they accept it soon enough, for the good of the country. In Egypt’s first election after years of authoritarianism, it looks as though the losers will not go quietly into the night.
The sad reality of a post-revolutionary society, especially one leaving the oppression of an authoritarian regime who cared not for the hopes and wishes of its population, is that once completed, all of its population wishes their ideas be implemented, and theirs alone. The mirage of freedom that descends on the revolutionaries once they are successful gives the impression that finally, what they always wanted for the nation, will now finally come to fruition. The problem is that 80 million people have 80 million different ideas of how the nation should be taken forward.
Cue the two most polarizing presidential candidates in Egyptian politics: Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, two men who exist as political polar opposites.
Morsi is the chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political party created by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) following Mubarak’s fall. He was a member of parliament from 2000 to 2005 and was the chairman of MB’s Guidance Office before his appointment as the party candidate. Morsi has come under severe criticism because of the highly Islamic character of his campaign. He has said that he will propose a “phased” introduction of Islamic law into Egypt and with time Egyptians would come to accept it. More worrying is his comments on Coptic Christians, who make up nearly 10% of Egypt’s population, mostly middle class, saying that they should “convert, pay jizya (tribute by non-Muslims) or leave.”
Shafik, on the other had, is a Mubarak holdover, who seems too close to the old regime to be a viable post-revolutionary leader. Shafik was the last Prime Minister appointed by Mubarak, and continued serving after the president’s resignation. He was forced to resign due to pressure from protestors on March 3rd, after just over one month in office. He was, and still is, considered part of Mubarak’s old guard and has stated that he sees Mubarak as a “role model,” a comment which has sparked much controversy. Shafik is almost a carbon copy of Mubarak, being a fighter pilot in his military career, a staunch Nasserist, and a man with close ties to the military; to many Egyptians he provides no continuation to the revolution.
As flawed as they are, both men garnered the most votes in the May 23rd-24th first-round election. Morsi with 24.78% and Shafik with 23.66%.
These close results show the extreme divide inside post-revolution Egypt. When a man who seems to wish for an Islamic Egypt and another who is a member of the old regime are the top two candidates, it makes one wonder what the revolution was all for. There were other candidates who could have been successful, but have fallen by the wayside. There were secularists who did not have ties with the old regime, and there were religious candidates who were not nearly as extreme as Morsi, yet none could challenge the two.
And so Egyptians are faced with a tough decision on the weekend of June 16th, and more worrying is what will come after. If Morsi wins, will the SCAF, secularists, and Christians accept a Muslim Brotherhood president and a Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament, which would almost guarantee an Islamic constitution? And would the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis, and the more radical revolutionaries accept a president who is a member of the old regime? Unfortunately, it appears that whoever wins, the future of Egypt will still be filled with more turmoil and indecision.
The Pharaoh, as former President Mubarak was referred to, may be no more, but the future of Egypt still feels as elusive and far away as ever. Like an oasis forever on the horizon in the Western desert, the prospect of freedom and prosperity in Egypt may well turn out to be a mirage.