I am relieved that my skepticism about the election results was ultimately incorrect. Although I pride myself on being as objective as possible, I am not afraid to admit that I was also terrified of an Ahmed Shafik presidency. During the press conference with the Egyptian electoral commission about half an hour ago, journalists erupted in cheers and applause after the announcement of Mohamed Morsi’s victory. The commission angrily chastised them and told them to sit down, with one representative stating, “you are not four years old.” I take this as evidence that many parties attached to the Egyptian revolution are filled with a massive sense of relief, even if they boycotted the elections.
There are some immediate consequences to this decision that should be discussed.
First of all, this election has effectively proven that the Muslim Brotherhood exit-polling system will be a major revolutionary tool in the coming months and years. The variation between the MB-announced results and the official figures from the electoral commission was about 0.06%, which effectively makes this runoff the most transparent election in Egyptian history. I myself was somewhat skeptical of the MB figures in this election, because it had everything to gain from shenanigans, but it made an excellent move through using its vast organizational network to conduct accurate polls. Egyptians have never been able to completely trust election results before, and the MB has now positioned itself as a party able to keep elections honest by gathering correct information about the election results. This will be crucial to ensuring that future elections are truly democratic.
Second of all, Islamist rule in Egypt will inevitably be polarizing. Many populations in Upper Egypt especially, such as Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, solidified in favour of the statist Shafik because a conservative Islamist presidency is considered terrifying. If the MB, through its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party, desires to have broad legitimacy, it will need to immediately reverse its past policy of dominating every political branch in Egypt. En-Nahda officials have warned the FJP previously that in order for Egypt to have political stability, Islamist parties need to consolidate their rule with liberals and leftists as well (even if they have the organizational ability to completely dominate the organs of government as the MB has). Morsi will need to do this if he is serious about stabilizing the turbulent revolutionary climate in Egypt.
Third of all, President Morsi will need to deal with the MB’s associations with SCAF and divisions within his own party.
The first is made worse from a reading of the SCAF constitutional plans, which make quite clear that it is satisfied with a powerless Morsi government so long as its own privileges are not threatened. If Morsi wishes to be a revolutionary candidate, he will need to reverse the MB’s existing policy of acquiescence with SCAF and take a firmer line against them. This means seriously speaking to the meetings that FJP officials have had with SCAF over the past 18 months, which have lent considerable weight to the narrative that the MB elite and SCAF have coalesced in order to protect their interests in revolutionary Egypt. Their uneasy alliance, made complicated by the fact that SCAF made its autocratic moves last week because it remains terrified of a powerful MB presidency, will severely undermine Morsi in the eyes of revolutionaries. His reputation is already shaky due to the MB defying its own December 2011 pledge that it would not field a presidential election, as well as the awful reputation of the now-dissolved revolutionary parliament.
It will also undermine him in the eyes of his own party, which is currently splintering between the MB elite and its younger participants. Morsi’s adherence to neoliberal economic policies is particularly alienating now that they are mobilized in the context of electoral politics. Serious state policy that translates the MB’s stance into direct action will be met with by mixed reactions from the MB’s revolutionary youth, many of whom participated in Tahrir Square because of economic reasons. If Morsi does not distance himself from the exploitative economic policies associated with the late Sadat and Mubarak regimes, then he will further risk being seen as no different from the old order. This split could also be cultivated by Morsi’s social conservatism, which was easy to ignore until the MB became an official party through the FJP.
These factors will need to be dealt with swiftly and decisively. The first test of Morsi’s presidency will be the continued sit-in currently occurring at Tahrir Square. If a crackdown takes place, or Tahrir is at all cleared, then it will begin a trend in his presidency where he is seen as “no better than Mubarak.” Considering that he was elected primarily by individuals who thought that Shafik was “no better than Mubarak,” this would be political suicide for him.