Egypt Independent

In the field of feloul, Shafiq rules



On Friday morning, the campaign headquarters of two candidates who once served under the same regime reflected the unexpected results emerging from Wednesday and Thursday’s vote.

The operations room of Ahmed Shafiq, Egypt’s last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, was buzzing with campaigners in action while others had their eyes glued to laptops, anxiously following their candidate’s rise to the top of the race.

Not far away, Mubarak-era Foreign Minister Amr Moussa’s campaign headquarters was deserted. Apparently disheartened by their candidate’s unexpected losses, campaigners who had been calmly working until the last minute of polling the day before were nowhere to be found.

Initial results show that Shafiq came second to Mohamed Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate. They will compete in the runoffs next month. Meanwhile, Moussa lagged in fifth place.

Shafiq and Moussa were aiming for the same constituency, but experts say a combination of organizational support from the military, the dismantled National Democratic Party (NDP) and the church, in addition to the simple fact that he was better able to appeal to that constituency's needs, made Shafiq the people’s favorite feloul (remnant of the old regime) in the elections.

Both candidates that emerged from the fallen regime presented themselves as strong statesmen with the experience to bring stability back to the country. They both largely targeted those desperate for stability, those fearing an Islamist surge, and those against the revolution.

“With his personality and background, Shafiq was the better embodiment of the old regime for those who want it. Moussa was a bit too mellow for them,” says Samer Soliman, political science professor at the American University in Cairo.

For one, he says, Shafiq's military background was a better choice for those who valued order and stability above all.

Shafiq was also more straightforward regarding his relationship with the old regime and the revolution. He talked about the revolution with indifference verging on negativity, occasionally commending members of the old regime.

In one television appearance, Shafiq spontaneously said “unfortunately the revolution succeeded.”

Moussa, on the other hand, tried to portray himself as an outsider in the former regime and insisted that his rule would be an extension of the revolution.

“Shafiq’s discourse was clearer. Moussa tried to create a distance between himself and the old regime to appeal to a larger base,” says historian and columnist Sherif Younis.

But as he tried to appeal to a larger base, Younis says, Moussa lost his constituency, while Shafiq had a more specific discourse tailored exactly for them.

Last year, Moussa was the only candidate among the 13 that made it to the voting day with name recognition in large sectors of society. However, as the year wore on and Moussa maintained a vague, all-encompassing discourse, other candidates were taking chunks of his votes by offering more specific alternatives. The sudden surge of Shafiq’s popularity weeks before the elections was the last nail in Moussa’s coffin, Younis says.

“After being seen as the only candidate who fit the image of a president, he has become just one of many,” says Younis.

Shafiq “cut to the chase”, Younis says. With a growing impatience towards protests and fear of Islamist rule among many, Shafiq made it clear that he would crack down on both.

Voters who were anti-Islamic rule or unsatisfied with the Brotherhood's parliamentary performance turned to Shafiq, who was able to lead the vote in many Brotherhood strongholds around the country, even coming ahead of Morsy in the latter’s birthplace, Sharqiya.

“During the past period the surge in Islamists' power exposed their ideology and their tools to the people. The people now know how to evaluate who is in their best interest,” said Soha al-Sharkawy, media coordinator in Shafiq’s campaign.

But discourse aside, some believe that without a robust institutional backing, Shafiq wouldn't have made it. 

Abdel Halim Kandil, columnist and political analyst, says that ultimately it was organizational support from the military, the church and old NDP networks that put Shafiq ahead of Moussa.

“It was clear that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces decided to put their support behind Shafiq and not Moussa,” says Kandil. “There is an intricate security and state apparatus working behind him.”

According to Kandil, that support includes abundant financial resources, evident in the larger-than-life posters of Shafiq spread all over the country.

The media also reported organized efforts by members of the formerly ruling NDP to use the party's resources to support Shafiq.

Although Kandil concedes that the voting process was not rigged as used to happen under Mubarak, he says the “people’s will” was rigged instead.

He alleges that Shafiq’s campaign used NDP methods, such as exploiting people’s poverty by buying votes, persuading government employees, and transporting them in buses to the polling stations.

Moreover, the church was reported to unofficially direct the Christian constituency to vote for Shafiq.

Soliman says that while Moussa was originally the pick of a large number of Christian voters, church leaders' backing of Shafiq steered Christian votes towards him, leaving only a small percentage for Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi and Moussa.

Soliman sees this as a naive reaction to Shafiq’s harsh anti-Islamists discourse. The past has shown that this is not a sign that the Christian community should celebrate, he says.

“Mubarak cracked down on Islamists, and still Christians faced a lot of oppression and problems under his rule,” he says.