Navigate to News section

Egypt Heads to Polls Amid Uncertain Outcome

13 candidates, four frontrunners, (probably) two finalists

Marc Tracy
May 23, 2012
An empty ballot box this morning and a grinning bearer.(Mahmud Hams/AFP/GettyImages)
An empty ballot box this morning and a grinning bearer.(Mahmud Hams/AFP/GettyImages)

If you happen to know who is going to win Egypt’s presidential elections—whose first round is today and tomorrow—now is the time to find their equivalent of Intrade and place your bet, because nobody else really does. There’s a compelling logic behind comparatively moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh being the leading candidate (Wael Ghonim, the Google employee who was a hero of the revolution, voted for him). Word is that former foreign minister Amr Moussa, further a moderate, is leading in the polls. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursa is in fact leading in pre-filed absentee ballots (he can thank eligible voters in Saudi Arabia for that). And even Ahmed Shafik, who was of all things ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s final prime minister and is widely seen as the military’s favored candidate, has gained momentum.

Here’s the truth: even when we get the results next Tuesday (which is the day of reckoning according to this indispensable primer), we won’t know who Egypt’s next president will be: there will almost certainly not be a majority victory, which would throw the election to a second round, next month, between the top two vote-getters. (It’s like the recent French presidential elections, except in Egypt’s case, unlike in France’s, you can expect at least one candidate with an arguably anti-Semitic party to score better than third place.) I count six possible permutations, and even then we won’t know for another few weeks who will win.

So what do we know?

We know, as Amr Bargisi complains today in Tablet Magazine, that actual liberalism is basically off the table. We know that all the candidates are likely to press harder for the Palestinian cause than Mubarak did, at the least by insisting Israel adopt the “Arab peace initiative,” otherwise known as the 2002 Saudi plan, and that some of the candidates are unafraid to traffic in conspiracy theories and even anti-Semitism. We know that the eventual president will face a combination of constraints imposed by the military (which isn’t going anywhere), the Brotherhood-dominated parliament itself, the Brotherhood itself, and perhaps most of all (and for the very first time) actual constituents who worry about things like food and the role of Islam and, today it so happens, a crime epidemic. We know Aboul Fotouh—who, again, is the relatively moderate Islamist, albeit the one who has the hardcore Salafists’ backing—is a 9/11 Truther. We know, in short, that things are going to get bumpy, bumpier than they’ve been probably since February 2011, which itself was bumpier than they’d been in decades and decades.

Ultimately, it might be that Churchill line. The ouster of Mubarak, in hindsight, changed little practically, leaving aside its formidable effect on the region and the consciousness of Egypt’s 70 million citizens. However, politically speaking, it could be that this election will be not the end, or the beginning of the end, but perhaps the end of the beginning.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.

Become a Member of Tablet

Get access to exclusive conversations, our custom app, and special perks from our favorite Jewish artists, creators, and businesses. You’ll not only join our community of editors, writers, and friends—you’ll be helping us rebuild this broken world.