Islamists are an integral part of Egyptian society, but they do not represent any sort of majority.
By DINA KHAYAT
It was a brilliant and manipulative move. At 4 a.m. on June 18, only six hours after polls closed and well before an initial count had been completed, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi held a press conference and declared himself the winner of Egypt’s presidential election.
It took nearly a week for election officials to confirm that. When they did, U.S. President Obama called Mr. Morsi the same night to congratulate him. In the interim, the Muslim Brotherhood had established the psychological fact of “President Morsi” on the ground, letting its announcement sink into the Egyptian and international psyche. By the time the official results were in, any other outcome would have seemed fraudulent.
Yet again, the Muslim Brotherhood proved themselves masters of self promotion and at delivering their message. Since the January 2011 uprising, they have succeeded in portraying themselves as the only strong, organized political force that can represent the majority in Egypt and make or break its revolution.
The reality is quite different. Consider who voted for whom in Egypt’s presidential election. The turnout for the June 18 runoff was low, with about 50% of voters abstaining. Islamists in all their hues voted en masse for Mr. Morsi, giving him (officially) 51.73% of the vote. The rest went for Ahmed Shafik, a former general and the last prime minister under Hosni Mubarak. His supporters consisted of Muslim secularists, Coptic Christians and a sizeable portion of the urban and rural poor, who heard Mr. Shafik’s clear message of security and getting the country back to work. After 18 months of nothing but demonstrations, with rising unemployment and an economy on the brink of collapse, that message was a welcome one.
Mr. Morsi portrayed himself as the candidate of the revolution, as a man of God who would stand up to Mubarak’s old regime. Yet using its full, formidable electoral machinery, the Muslim Brotherhood could only get around a quarter of Egypt’s 50 million registered voters to cast a ballot for Mr. Morsi. The close result, and the depth and strength of secularism in a people who are also deeply religious, surprised even the Brotherhood, which had apparently believed its own hype. The reality is that, while the Muslim Brotherhood are an integral part of Egyptian society and political reality, it is fatally wrong to believe that they represent any sort of majority.