The first round of Egypt’s presidential election put the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Mursi, in first place. Just one percentage point behind was Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under ousted President Hosni Mubarak.
Has the revolution that began on January 25th 2011 moved into reverse gear? The results show that it may have stalled, but will surge forward again. The winner was in fact the main loser!
Mass protests followed the results in Cairo and Alexander and other cities and towns. These were reportedly not just against Shafiq but also in opposition to the MB candidate. Hundreds stormed the campaign HQ of the Shafiq campaign in Cairo, setting it on fire.
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) had ten million votes (47%) in the parliamentary elections a few months ago. This time Mursi’s vote was just over five million (25%). He was the MB’s second choice for candidate – their first choice, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified because he was convicted under the Mubarak regime. Al-Shater is one of Egypt’s wealthiest businessmen – an indication of the outlook of the MB leadership.
Former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq (left) and Mohamed Mursi (right), head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party
In the parliamentary elections, the ultra-conservative Salafist party, Nour, took 24% of the vote. Their candidate, Hazem Abu Ismail, was also disqualified from the presidential election, because his mother allegedly held dual US nationality. A candidate who defected from the MB and stood as an independent with an appeal to secular liberals, Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, got 18% of the vote – much less than predicted in earlier opinion polls. He gained support from Salafists, which probably lost him votes from others who hoped he would bridge the gap between Islamist and secular supporters of the revolution.
Another candidate predicted in early polls to do well, former Arab League general secretary Amr Moussa, came fifth with 11%. He had been an establishment favourite, with just about enough opposition credentials to be able to claim to support the January 25th revolution. Moussa and Aboul-Fotouh had been seen as the front runners and given a TV debate, which seems to have damaged both their results!
Rapid growth for left candidate
The two candidates who did better than expected were Shafiq, an unapologetic remnant of the old regime, and Hamdeen Sabbahi. Of the major candidates, Hamdeen Sabbahi is most identified with the revolution. He gained 22% of the vote, double the prediction a week earlier, topping the poll in Cairo, Alexandria and Port Said. In the January parliamentary election, his Karama (Dignity) party won just 6 out of 478 seats. Sabbahi has over 30 years record of opposition to the Mubarak regime and was jailed by it. His election slogan - “One of us” – reflected this, as well as his poor family background.
Sabbahi stood on a programme that included raising the minimum wage from LE700 (116US$) to LE1200 (200US$) per month, a maximum wage, unemployment benefit for youth and a minimum grant of LE500 to four million poor families. He opposed austerity measures that “have a harmful effect on citizens’ standards of living and contribute to a recession that the citizen pays for.” He also proposed a big increase in use of solar power, a state bank to help farmers, free education and the elimination of illiteracy.
Welcome though all these measures would be, Sabbahi’s programme for implementing them is the Nasserist idea of “a planned development economy, and creating balance between the three economic sectors – public, private and cooperative.”
Although Nasser was able to balance for a few years between the capitalist West and Stalinist Russia, the global domination of capitalism today means there can be no ‘balance between public and private economic sectors.’ Only public ownership of all the big companies, banks and large estates can lay the basis for a ‘planned development economy.’ And planning has to be under the democratic control of workers, small traders and small farmers, rather than a bureaucratic elite of state and military officials.
Old regime’s candidate support
Shafiq emerged as the candidate most supported to restore ‘law and order’ and a sense of security to all those feeling threatened by the upheavals since January 25th 2011. Many of these are likely to be small shopkeepers, traders and small businessmen who have lost trade (including from tourists) during the unrest. Others feel tired after 16 months of revolutionary and counter revolutionary upheaval, with the ruling class and old regime still seemingly clinging to power. Some nostalgia for an apparently more settled past can grow. His campaign was well-financed by the remnants of the old regime and by big business, which want a president that could push back the gains of the revolution.
Ahmed Shafiq’s supporters
The Christian minority also appears to have voted quite strongly for Shafiq due to their increasing fears of Islamisation of the state and the threat of persecution that could follow. However, the combined vote of the two main Islamist candidates, Mursi and Aboul-Fotouh, was only 43%, compared to the combined 72% vote for the MB and Nour in the parliamentary elections.
Turnout in the first round of presidential elections was down, at about 45%, reflecting a widespread view that the election would not lead to change in people’s lives and some disappointment already with the parliament. "We are expecting a lot of this parliament,” one Nour Party voter had said celebrating its electoral success in January. “We expect they will answer our needs and solve the problems the country has been facing including unemployment and shortage of gas cylinders." (Ahram 23.1.12)
Turn to industrial struggle
The two candidates heading into the second round, Mursi and Shafiq, gained only 49% of the first round vote between them. The working class and radicalised youth will not have the choice of voting for a candidate that stands for the aims of the revolution and for independent working class policies. Given this, the abstention rate could be higher in the second round, as many workers and youth see no reason to vote for either candidates, which represent parties and forces that stand in the way of the fundamental social, economic and political change sought by the January 25th 2011. The MB, as the ‘lesser evil’ option, can pick up working class and youth votes, to keep out Shafik. Other voters, particularly Christians, may vote for the Mubarak-era candidate in opposition to fears of political Islamist forces taking over the presidency, as well as parliament. Mubarak’s old big business friends will be hoping Shafiq wins and continues to let them make huge fortunes while workers and the poor suffer.
Whichever of them wins, the working class and poor will need to fight to defend their interests against the ruling class. A Mursi win will disappoint MB voters, as he and the MB leaders do not represent any real change to workers’ lives. In turn, this could see gains being made by the Nour party, if no viable workers’ alternative is built.
But workers have already had some experience of a right wing, political Islam election victory. Striking bus drivers in March had to resist strike-breaking by the army “while the Brotherhood and Salafi MPs who we voted for in Port Said have ignored our demands," a bus driver said. "They’re not defending our rights or the rights of commuters.” (Egypt Independent 13.3.12)
The MB says it is trying to build a coalition government with “all political groups, especially the revolutionary groups.” A spokesman claims it "believes in the true value of a national consensus."
Any revolutionary groups joining a MB coalition to keep out Shafiq would soon be tainted by its anti-working class policies. Sabbahi has correctly refused to enter any coalition talks (although his Karama party did join the MB’s Freedom and Justice Party in the ‘Democratic Alliance’ for a few months, last year).
Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, it is clear that Egyptian society remains in a state of rapid flux. Neither reaction nor revolution has been able to stabilise its support. If Shafiq becomes the new president he will face widespread opposition from the start, particularly from the workers and youth who led the revolutionary struggle. After almost six months of electioneering, attention will start turning towards other means to improve living standards. More strikes are likely, providing the newly formed independent trade unions with opportunities to show that solidarity and struggle can win victories.
But any gains won will always be under threat from employers (and this includes the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, with its large economic interests). Building a political party that can unite workers, youth and the poor around a programme of action to change society can challenge the ruling class.
A workers’ and poor people’s government, implementing a socialist programme, based on nationalisation of the major companies, and genuine democratic workers’ control, would end the dictatorship of capitalism and the poverty, repression and insecurity it brings. The fight for real democracy cannot be separated from the fight for socialism.