x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Egyptian run-off: an election based on fear

Subtlety and moderation have been thrown out the window in the Egyptian presidential election.

If Egypt's first free presidential elections were about which candidate had what it takes to steer the country out of instability and economic malaise, the run-off next month will be based mostly on fear.

Preliminary election tallies suggest the showdown will be between Ahmed Shafiq, a former member of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, a member of the long repressed Muslim Brotherhood.

Subtlety and moderation have been thrown out the window.

Now, it will come down to a choice of polar opposites: will Egypt embark on a new experiment of giving near absolute power to followers of political Islam, or return from the brink of revolutionary change and elect a former air force commander whose campaign amounts to a continuation of the old regime.

The young revolutionaries of Tahrir Square and the throngs of liberals who voted for the candidates in the middle of the political spectrum have lost the most in these elections. Neither Mr Morsi nor Mr Shafiq represents something they can rally behind.

In fact, some analysts predict Mr Morsi will win easily in the run-off because these same voters will simply abstain or boycott the elections on June 16 and 17.

Those who do vote will be forced to make a difficult decision. It might come down to whom they fear the most.

Electing Mr Shafiq is giving a seal of approval to the Mubarak-style of governance.

Electing Mr Morsi would mean handing the Muslim Brotherhood, which already has nearly 50 per cent of the seats in parliament, free rein to refashion the new government how they see fit. The group has advocated a moderate view of the relation between religion and the state. But with control of the presidency and a strong influence in the parliament, they could easily pursue a more radical agenda.