Saturday, May 26, 2012

Why I am Optimistic After Egypt’s Presidential Elections Results

As I was leaving my office to go vote, I had absolutely no idea whom to vote for. I decided that I will take the 40 minutes car drive as a last opportunity to ponder the different candidates. I made various phone calls to friends to get insights, they each told me to vote for their candidate.

I reached the polling station and stood in the queue; still I had no idea whom to vote for. I didn’t want to vote for Aboul Fotouh because of various reservations I have detailed here. I didn’t want to vote Hamdeen Sabahy because I bought into the conspiracy theory that he was indirectly supported by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to undermine their enemy Aboul Fotouh.  I didn’t want to be a part of that dirty plan because I still respect Aboul Fotouh as someone who steadfastly supported the square and the revolutionaries.

The queue started to become shorter and I found myself at the doorstep of the polling station. I paused a little and dashed out of the queue! I still needed sometime to think.

I called a  journalist friend of mine and begged her to just tell me whom to vote for. She told me to either vote for the candidate I believed in or to vote politically and strategically. I decided to vote for the candidate I believed in and casted my vote for Khaled Ali; the young leftist lawyer whom I believe has a bright future ahead of him. So I basically voted for the youth and the future.

As results came pouring in, I discovered that once again the Egyptians proved me and other analysts all wrong. They voted in a way that no one had foreseen. And personally, in spite of everyone’s doom and gloom about the second round, the results showed me that there is light at the end of the tunnel if the right things were done.

In this post I will not talk about the doom and the gloom, I will not talk about the horrible Shafik vs Morsy scenario we’re in now, I might do that in another post. But here I want to simply detail to you all the reasons why we should be optimistic and cherish our victories instead of just being so consumed about the current nightmarish situation the second round has bestowed upon us.

The Sabahy Blitz

Yesterday I got a phone call from a colleague at work who voted Shafik because of his fear of the MB. I expected him to start the conversation by telling me how paranoid he is with Morsy being in the second round. He instead started his conversation with these words: did you see what Sabahy did?

What Hamdeen Sabahy managed to do in such a short period of time and with such meager campaign funding was so profound and astounding. I didn’t want to vote Sabahy because I feared to be part of a dirty conspiracy theory aimed at taking votes away from Fotouh. Yet it seems that Fotouh was the one who took votes away from Sabahy and not the other way round!

Ladies and gentlemen, Sabahy won in Alexandria; the bastion of the Salafi movement. He did not just win in Alexandria, he swept through it! It was a landslide.

Twenty years ago a rogue radical Islamist took control of the poor populous neighborhood of Imbaba and declared the independence of “The Islamic State of Imbaba”. A month ago I was invited to a traditional street wedding there, the only campaign posters I saw were of Hazem Abu Ismael and Mohamed Morsy. The MB and Salafi parties won by a landslide there in the parliament election. Hamdeen Sabahy won Imbaba in the presidential elections.

Sabahy was not just the candidate of many poor farmers and workers who saw in him a replica of the good side of Egypt’s former president Gamal Abdel Nasser; the Nasser who is biased towards the poor and unprivileged, and not Nasser the dictator and torturer. He also managed to garner the votes of thousands of young Egyptians, especially university students, who saw in him the face of their revolution. A friend living in the Delta town of Etay el Baroud told me “the old were voting Shafik; and we the young were voting Sabahy”.

Sabahy was also the choice of the pro-revolution voters who were distrustful of Fotouh and thought of him as too vague on social issues. Interestingly, Sabahy was also the choice of many young upper and middle class voters. He came in second in Heliopolis, first in Nasr City and he ended up winning Cairo and Giza (Greater Cairo) combined!

A new leader has defintitely been born and Sabahy needs to be very careful as to how he will utilize the diverse base that put their trust in him.

40% Voted for Revolution Candidates

35% of voters voted for Mubarak’s remnants. Around 25% for Shafik and 10% for Moussa. Shafik voters were driven by the assumption that he is a strongman capable of restoring security. These are revolution-weary voters who are striving for stability. Their vote is understandable.

Instead of lamenting over the 35% who voted for Shafik and Moussa, why don’t we rejoice over the 40% who got out of their comfort zones and voted for Aboul Fotouh and Sabahy. Why don’t we cherish this victory and work on making the 40% to be 50% or even 60% in the coming years?

Islamists Losing Ground

Do you know what it means that a non-political Islamist wins by a landslide in Alexandria and the poor neighborhoods of Cairo? This amounts to a political earthquake.

In the previous parliament elections, there was no alternative to the Islamists. They ended up taking 77% of the votes. In the presidential elections, the Islamists (Morsy plus Fotouh) took 43%. The MB won 11 million votes in the parliament elections, they took 5 million this time. I read a news report that in Kafr el Sheikh, locals objected to the way the MB were campaigning and a fight erupted which required the army to intervene and put down. Do you realize the magnitude of this piece of news? This is unprecedented. Locals in the Delta region fighting with the MB. WOW.

Egyptians are not waiting eagerly for the person who will shove “God’s law” down their throats, they are waiting eagerly for the person who will help them put food on the table.

If these elections taught us something, it’ll be the fact that we can never really predict the Egyptian vote. Provide alternatives to Mubarak’s remnants and the Islamists and you will always end up with nice surprises. Personally, these elections results were one of them.

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