The campaigns of the candidates for president of Egypt drew to a close at midnight on Sunday, in preparation for voting on Wednesday and Thursday.
On Sunday, al-Shuruq published an opinion poll on the election. In the poll, a third of Egyptians said their number one concern was security (i.e. law and order). 14.3 percent said their biggest concern was the economic crisis. 8.3 percent said it was education. Given that the economy contracted in 2011 and is only expected to grow 1.4% in 2012, it is quite remarkable that it ranks low as a concern. People are much more worried about an uptick in crime since the revolution.
This is the ranking of the major candidates. (MB means “Muslim Brotherhood”)
1. Undecided: 29.8% (down from 33.6%) in their last poll
2. Ahmad Shafiq 15.8% (slightly up from 15.2%) – Mubarak’s last PM, Air Force Gen.
3. Amr Moussa 15.1% (Slightly down from 16%) – Mubarak FM, Sec. Gen Arab League
4. Abdul Moneim Abou’l-Futouh 13.2% (way down from 20.8%) Liberal Muslim former MB
5. Hamdeen Sabahi 12.3% (way up from 5.7%) Nasserist leftist pan-Arabist
6. Muhammad Mursi 9.5% (up from 5.2%) Muslim Brotherhood
Unfortunately al-Shuruq did not seem to say anything about their methodology, but their last poll, published Thursday, was of 1,000 Egyptians and was scientifically weighted, with men, women, urban, rural, rich and poor in their proportion to the population. If this sample is the same size, then these numbers could be plus or minus 2 points or so.
The presidential election is very important because Egypt, even more than France, has a presidential system that subordinates parliament to the chief executive. The president can dismiss parliament, for instance. The military council will issue a constitutional amendment by fiat on Monday attempting to whittle down those powers, but likely the president will remain very strong.
The big news out of the poll is that the presidential debate between the two then front runners, Amr Moussa (secularist, former foreign minister) and Abdul Moneim Abou’l-Futuh (former Muslim Brother turned Muslim liberal) hurt both candidates, but especially Abou’l-Futuh.
Abou’l-Futuh is accused of trying to be all things to all people, speaking like a fundamentalist to the Salafis and like a liberal to the Coptic Christians and secularists. One Egyptian called him a “cocktail.” This apparent indecisiveness and chameleon-like behavior seemed to help him early on, as he gathered one constituency after another to become the front-runner, but the debate showed him in a poor light as a flip-flopper.
Moussa, in contrast, was only hurt slightly by the debate, but he wasn’t helped by it. As long-serving secretary-general of the Arab League, he has favored foreign policy initiatives that most Egyptians approve of. He did break with Mubarak [over a] decade ago, but not everyone forgives him for having been in the cabinet in the 1980s [and 1990s]. His rival Abou’l-Futouh says Moussa’s victory would be the victory of counter-revolution.
The fall of the front-runners created a new front-runner, former Air Force general and aeronautical engineer, Ahmad Shafiq, who wrote a dissertation on the military uses of Outer Space (someone should introduce him to Newt Gingrich). He is former minister of aviation and boasts of the good job he did with Cairo’s international airport. Shafiq is considered by many Egyptians, especially in the countryside, as the law and order candidate. Many voters dislike him because of his close association with the overthrown Mubarak regime. But those who feel that security has suffered since the revolution hope his would be a firm hand at the till. In Daqahliyyah a couple of days ago there was a village clash between his supporters and the Muslim Brotherhood, in which several people were wounded and a Muslim Brother was said to have been killed.
On Sunday it was reported that at a couple of news conferences in Cairo critical of Shafiq, his supporters came and broke them up, beating up critics. One event showcased charges that there was corruption at the Aviation Ministry while he headed it.
Also benefiting from Abou’l-Futouh’s plummet and Amr Moussa’s failure to get traction is leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi. Younger than several of the other candidates, Sabahi is typically described as a follower of the ideas of Gamal Abdel Nasser. He supports workers and the poor and promotes Arab socialism. He is highly critical of Israel of of what he calls US imperialism. He was one of the founders of the Kifaya! (Enough!) movement against Hosni Mubarak, which began with protests in solidarity with the second Intifada of the Palestinians in 2001 and continued with a huge protest against the Iraq War in 2003, then against the corrupt Egyptian elections of 2005. His numbers have doubled, putting him in the category of a plausible candidate if he continues to surge. He could not impossibly end up in the run-off election between the two front runners, which is envisioned if no one gets a clear majority in the first round.
And, improving somewhat but still not out of single digits is Muhammad Mursi, an unreconstructed Muslim Brother who says he wants to implement Islamic law in Egypt. Mursi did a Ph.D. in engineering at the University of Southern California and claims to have been an assistant professor there briefly. Although the Muslim Brotherhood has a strong party machine and can’t be counted out, Mursi labors under real disadvantages. Many Egyptians fear giving the Brotherhood the presidency, given their control of parliament. Many are angry at the Brotherhood for reneging on its pledge not to run a presidential candidate. Many feel that the Brotherhood has proved bad managers, bollixing up the process of appointing a committee to draft a new constitution and trying to stack it with their members of parliament (a move that the courts have struck down).
In al-Shuruq’s last poll, the Brotherhood suffered a ten point gender gap, with women disproportionately declining to support it, and many youth were not enthusiastic for it either.
That three of the four frontrunners in this poll are secularists, and that two have associations with the overthrown former regime, is quite remarkable, and suggests something of a backlash against the Muslim fundamentalist tide in the parliamentary elections of last fall. Some Egyptians tell me that they are fairly secular-minded and like having a good time, and they didn’t vote for puritanism when they voted for the Brotherhood. They just wanted to make sure the Mubarak regime couldn’t come back. Now they are worried about the tourist industry being scared away by the Brotherhood, and they are worried that their own beer parties are in danger, and they are worried about the rash of burglaries and increase in firearms. So these people want a secularist with political experience instead of more fundamentalism.
Polls are snapshots, and even if this one is accurate, it may not predict the results of the presidential election very well because of the small sample and the very large number of undecided voters. And, my conversations with Egyptians have hardly been scientific. But both the polling and the conversations suggest some real concerns of the public on the fronts of religion-state relations and concerns about security.