The Islamist candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood will face former President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister in a runoff to become Egypt’s first freely elected president, several independent vote counts concluded Friday morning.
Out of a broad field of more than a dozen candidates, the runoff will pit the two most polarizing figures against each other in a reversion to the decades-old power struggle between Egypt’s secular-minded military elite and its longstanding Islamist opposition.
It was clear as early as Thursday night that a plurality of votes went to Mohamed Morsi, the American-educated engineer nominated by the Brotherhood, the secretive 84-year-old revival group that became the wellspring of political Islam around the world and already dominates the Parliament.
But it was clear only Friday morning that second place went to Ahmed Shafik, a former Air Force general who briefly served as Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister. A late entry into the race, he was a dark horse campaigning on promises to use a firm hand against the protests and lawlessness that have prevailed since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. He presented himself as a strong check on the rise of the Islamists. Of all the candidates in the race, Mr. Shafik came closest to promising a restoration of the old order and aroused both vocal support and threats of a “second revolution” if he should win.
Mr. Shafik’s law and order message resonated with voters, helping him to overtake the two candidates previously considered, along with Mr. Mursi, to be the front-runners. One was Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under Mr. Mubarak and former head of the Arab League, who had offered a softer but similar message. In the final weeks of the race, Mr. Moussa’s support appears to have all but collapsed in favor of Mr. Shafik.
Ahmad Sarhan, a spokesman for Mr. Shafik, said voters had rallied to the candidate because he promised to “save Egypt from the dark forces,” referring to the Muslim Brotherhood and more militant Islamists.
Mr. Shafik would bring back security, Mr. Sarhan said. “The revolution has ended,” he said. “It is one and a half years.” The other former front-runner who fell behind Mr. Shafik was Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a dissident former Brotherhood leader campaigning as both an Islamist and a liberal. He explicitly challenged the Brotherhood’s authority to speak as the voice of political Islam. His iconoclastic campaign promised to upend the old culture-war dichotomies of Egyptian and Arab politics, and it caught fire among an unlikely alliance of Brotherhood youth, ultraconservative Islamists known as salafis, and more secular minded leftists and liberals.
Mr. Aboul Fotouh came in third, according to multiple tallies. But in the final weeks of the campaign, some of his more secular-minded supporters appear to have shifted their allegiance to another dark horse, Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserite socialist, who appeared to narrowly trail Mr. Aboul Fotouh in the vote count.
Some liberals and leftists had argued that, in a country where 75 percent of the parliamentary vote went to the Brotherhood or more conservative Islamists, Mr. Aboul Fotouh was their best hope to challenge the Brotherhood’s political dominance. But after Mr. Aboul Fotouh accepted the endorsement from the main party of the ultraconservative salafis a few weeks ago, some high-profile artists and intellectuals jumped to Mr. Sabahi.
Between The Brotherhood and Secularism?
Mr. Sabahi offered an alternative for those who opposed both the Islamists and the former Mubarak government. A former poet turned populist, he combined a history of opposition to Mr. Mubarak, a public embrace of the arts, and full-throated defense of the cause of workers and farmers. He promised heavy taxes on the rich, more subsidies for the poor, a greater state role in the economy, and an end to the “the spirit” of Egypt’s Camp David peace treaty with Israel.
As the votes were counted Friday morning, some liberals and leftists ruefully observed that, taken together, Mr. Aboul Fotouh and Mr. Sabahi attracted more votes than Mr. Shafik or Mr. Mursi. Neither, however, will enter the runoff.
Mr. Morsi’s success was itself a testament to the depth of the organization’s grass-roots network and popular appeal, which may make him hard to beat in the runoff.
He was widely regarded as the least charismatic of the leading candidates. He was derided as a mere “spare tire” who was pulled in after the disqualification of the Brotherhood’s first choice, of its leading strategist, Khairat el Shater. Mr. Morsi mainly promised to execute Mr. Shater’s plans and platform, and Mr. Morsi’s own face barely appeared in his two television commercials. He did not participate in the single televised debate, in which Mr. Moussa faced Mr. Aboul Fotouh.
But his victory also came at a political price. To fend off the Islamist-versus-Islamist challenge from Mr. Aboul Fotouh, Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood dropped some of their efforts to cultivate a moderate image and turned their campaign appeals sharply to the right.
After distancing itself from the more conservative salafis during and after the parliamentary voting, Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood embraced them on the campaign trail, eagerly standing with them. He called himself the only true Islamists in the race, led chants for the implementation of Islamic law, and portrayed his political program as a distillation of Islam itself.
Some of those shifts may now complicate the group’s efforts to project a more moderate, centrist image, both in the runoff and in its dealings with the West as Egypt’s dominant political force.
“We are in the lead,” Essam el Erian, a leading Brotherhood lawmaker, said at a midnight news conference. “God willing, Mohamed Morsi will be the next president of Egypt.”
Egypt’s Christian minority, which makes up about 10 percent of the population, rallied around Mr. Shafik in a coordinated effort to vote as a bloc against the Islamists, voters and Christian leaders said.
“Because of his military background, Copts are confident he will be strong enough to restore security and enforce the rule of law,” said Youssef Sidhom, the editor of Al Watany, a Christian newspaper. A committee of lay political leaders had convened about six months ago to devise a Christian strategy for the presidential vote, Mr. Sidhom said. “After much hesitation between Moussa and Shafik, the final word was Shafik, in order to avoid splintering the Coptic vote.”
Fears of the Islamists appeared to have outweighed any reluctance by Christians to support a candidate from the military, despite the killing of dozens of Christian demonstrators by soldiers just a few months ago. After the massacre, senior generals sought to blame the Christian demonstrators for scaring the heavily armed troops.
Mr. Sidhom said Coptic leaders had concluded, however, that there was no military “conspiracy” against the Copts that resulted in the massacre. “There was a kind of chaos and panic among the small number of troops who were stationed there,” he said, although he noted that there had been no criminal investigation.
Officials of the Brotherhood, who have the best national organization of poll watchers, said more than half of the 50 million eligible voters turned out to vote on Wednesday and Thursday. Journalists and other nonpartisan observers reported orderly lines and no evidence of systematic abuses. At 9 p.m. on Thursday, the polls closed and ballot counting started in each polling place, in the presence of observers from the campaigns and monitoring groups.
- Reporting was contributed by Kareem Fahim, Dina Salah Amer and Mayy el Sheikh.