Policy Analysis 28 August, 2012

Egyptian Presidential Elections

Policy Analysis Unit

The Policy Analysis Unit is the Center’s department dedicated to the study of the region’s most pressing current affairs. An integral and vital part of the ACRPS’ activities, it offers academically rigorous analysis on issues that are relevant and useful to the public, academics and policy-makers of the Arab region and beyond. The Policy Analysis Unit draws on the collaborative efforts of a number of scholars based within and outside the ACRPS. It produces three of the Center’s publication series: Assessment Report, Policy Analysis, and Case Analysis reports. 


Inspired by a desire to see an end to the transitional period declared following the toppling of Mubarak in 2011, a period that lasted much longer than most people expected, Egyptians flocked to the 2012 presidential elections in droves. The two candidates in the second and final round of the presidential race came as a shock to many, with a myriad groups from the revolutionary coalition vying for power, resulting in a sense of disarray among them, leaving Ahmad Shafiq - Mubarak's last prime minister - to face Mohammed Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. A number of factors contributed to Morsi's ultimate, yet slim, victory; this paper details the official results of the election before examining these factors in detail.

Table 1: Official results of the first round of voting[2]

Total number of voters registered on the electoral roll


Total number of actual voters


Overall rate of participation


Total number of valid ballots


Total number of invalid ballots



Candidate name

Total number of votes

Percentage of valid ballots

Mohammed Mohammed Morsi al-Ayyat (Mohammed Morsi)



Ahmad Mohammed Shafiq Zaki ("Ahmad Shafiq")



Hamdeen Sabahi



Abdulmonem Abulfotuh



Amr Mousa



All other candidates




Table 2: Results of the second round of the Presidential Election[3]

Total number of voters registered on the electoral roll


Total number of actual voters


Overall rate of participation


Total number of valid ballots


Total number of invalid ballots



Candidate name

Total number of votes won

Percentage of valid ballots

Ahmad Shafiq



Mohammed Morsi




Understanding the Electoral Results

The results of the final round of the elections were not purely a reflection of the candidates' true popularity among Egyptian voters. In addition to each candidate's own political backers and the political current they represent, each of the final candidates (Morsi and Shafiq) also won the support of large swathes of the electorate, either as individuals or political forces who stood to lose from the other candidate winning, some voting for Morsi feared a Shafiq victory and vice-versa. This reality was the result of a polarization not only among the Egyptian political classes, but also Egyptian society in general, resulting in a polarization that is likely to make its negative effects felt long after the elections. 

A truer indication of Morsi's and Shafiq's respective levels of electoral support, and the size of the socio-political strata within Egypt that supports them, would be the number of votes each of them won in the first round of the elections: around 5.5 million each. In the second round, Morsi's and Shafiq's respective vote counts had increased in roughly equal measure, with many Egyptians opting to boycott the run-off.

The political labels that both of the second round candidates were burdened with came about during the first round. Shafiq was widely accepted to be the candidate of the former regime, and to garner the support of the now disbanded National Democratic Party, while Morsi was the obvious candidate for not only the Muslim Brotherhood, but also the broader Islamist movement. Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserist, and the Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh were widely seen to be the revolutionaries' candidates. Amr Mousa, the former Egyptian diplomat, was also believed, like Shafiq, to be a candidate of the former regime despite his protest of being independent.

Even these simple labels, however, are without a doubt not entirely accurate. Aboul Fotouh may have been regarded as a revolutionary candidate because of his actual participation in the mass protests from the earliest days, in addition to representing moderate Islam, but he also won the support of some radical groups within the Salafi movement. In the end, it is also true that the two candidates who were in the second and final round of the presidential elections were also the only two candidates who enjoyed countrywide support (in Morsi's case, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the grassroots of the NDP for Shafiq). Once the campaigning for the second round began, both of these candidates also found themselves facing a new challenge; while they may have attempted to project an image of their own, they were also labored with another, separate political identification imposed on them by other political factions, as well as by the competitor.

Morsi attempted to present himself as the revolutionary candidate while casting Shafiq as a remnant of the former regime. Shafiq, who was a general under Mubarak, sought to present himself to the electorate as the candidate for a "civic" (as opposed to a religious) state: the idea being that a Morsi win would pave the way for the Islamization of the Egyptian state's institutions under the Muslim Brotherhood. The April 6 Youth Movement announced their official backing for Mohammed Morsi, confirming his place as the "revolutionaries' candidate," yet Shafiq was also capable of marshaling the support of a number of liberal luminaries, such as the well-known human rights campaigner Saadedine Ibrahim and Osama Ghazali Harb, who rallied around him as the candidate of the civic state as opposed to the candidate of the religious state.

The demands from some quarters to boycott the presidential elections began after the first round ended, and came mainly from youth-oriented social media groups and a number of prominent political figures. Some of these prominent political figures, such as Dr. Mohammed el-Baradei, openly and explicitly called for the boycott of the polls. Others, including Hamdeen Sabahi, were more subtle in their demands. For example, Sabahi could only be said to have given a press conference following the first round in which he appeared to support the boycott. Surprisingly, as indicated above, the number of people who cast ballots in the second round actually increased compared to the first round: 26,420,763 voters compared to 23,672,236. In other words, roughly 2.8 million (around 10 percent) more Egyptians came out to elect a president when the final round of voting came around, a fact that gave rise to concerns about the integrity of the electoral process. This increase in the number of voters was very likely due to the polarization of the previously mentioned Egyptian electorate. An attendant phenomenon was the increase in the number of invalid ballots as compared to the first round, which is a likely outcome of increased popular demands for a boycott as an act of protest against both available candidates. 

Egypt after the Elections

It could be said that the results of the Egyptian presidential elections corroborate the oft-stated refrain of the Mubarak regime: that the only viable alternative to the former regime was going to take the form of political Islam, essentially the Muslim Brotherhood. Much was done to exaggerate the dangers that could overwhelm Egypt in the case of a Brotherhood victory. Beyond confirming the predictions of the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the results also attest to the fact that there were a variety of non-Islamist political forces that had the ability to organize and impose their presence on the Egyptian political scene. This diversity of the country's political landscape was most evident in the first round of polling, where the myriad of offered options put paid to the myth that there was a dichotomy of two choices: either a remnant of the former regime or an Islamist.

Despite the period of disarray that followed in the wake of a countrywide people's revolution and the toppling of Mubarak, it seemed natural for there to be high expectations of elected bodies. These same expectations, however, also pose the clear danger of disappointment on the part of the people with any elected official, including an elected president. The complexity of the present situation, and the difficulties associated with bringing about an economic revival after many recurrent crises afflicted the Egyptian economic, the new president and his entire regime have a difficult task ahead of them.

In addition, one must consider the continuing role of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and its often controversial measures to contain and manage the transitional period between the fall of Mubarak and the rise of a democratic parliament, causing several crises along the way. In fact, SCAF is the acting legislative authority in Egypt now that the parliament has been dissolved, and controls the state's finances, as per the new constitutional amendment, which gives the military body the right to draft and approve the national budget. The inevitable conflicts and challenges resulting from the fact that SCAF still holds on to some power, maintaining some public responsibilities and authorities, while there is now an elected president, are discussed in the following section.[4]

Elections and the Balance of Political Power

Experience from other countries would dictate that these last elections will serve as a barometer of public approval, and will, thus, impact the balance of powers between the various political forces active in the country, though the actual election results do not necessarily reflect the true support for a number of active and influential political movements. It stands to reason that a political faction, once elected to power, would do what it can to dominate an institution to which it is elected. However, while building a national consensus related to the principles of democracy and its rules, these principles of the majority rule may lead to a constitutional order that become constant rather than variable, as per election logic and devolution of power.   

In terms of the power dynamic between political Islamists and their more civic state-minded, as well as independent, opponents, the cards were stacked in the Islamists' favor by virtue of the legislative electoral system. Expanding the size of electoral districts, whether single-member district or proportional representation, made the Islamists victory more likely throughout the country as this increased the voter turnout in both rural and urban areas. This electoral system also put an end to the accentuated power of tribal and clannish coalitions, which controlled any previous legislative election, as these coalitions are not prevalent in electoral districts because their control is confined to specific centers. Given that 60% of the registered voters are residents in the Egyptian countryside, where such clan-based and tribal patronage systems are strongest, the enlargement of the voting districts reduced their influence.

With the Freedom and Justice Party representing the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Nour Party representing a variety of Salafist groups, the Islamist bloc came to dominate both houses of the bicameral Egyptian parliament (the lower house being the People's Assembly and the upper house being the Shura Council). This electoral victory then became a source of increased self-confidence on the part of the Islamists, which their media discourse exacerbated. They also began to depict the ongoing activism led by the revolutionary youth who toppled the previous regime as a form of frivolous vandalism and sabotage. Islamists went on to employ more exclusionary rhetoric soon after the polls, while coordinating bilaterally with the SCAF, by carefully selecting all of the members of the Constitution-Drafting Committee. With Islamists making up more than half of the members of the committee, it is questionable how reflective it is of the Egyptian public, especially since they are insisting on imposing their view on the constitution currently being drafted. This conflict between the Islamists and their more secular counterparts over the drafting of the constitution contributed to the stark polarization of the Egyptian body politic between civil and Islamist forces before the 2012 presidential elections. Their only obvious point of agreement was the desire to free themselves of the remnants of the old regime.

Not all of the Islamist parties displayed such hubris, however. Indeed, the Brotherhood, realizing that they could not hold on to power single-handedly, worked to establish a relationship with the April 6 Youth Movement. A lack of confidence between the Brotherhood and other movements, however, prevented them from expanding their alliances to include even more political movements. This rupture between the Brotherhood and the other groups drove many of the non-Islamist parties to call for a boycott of the second round. While both Islamist and secular political forces had a common enemy in former Mubarak Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, which paved the way for a revolutionary alliance and helped to mend fences between these groups, their differences were quick to appear again once Morsi was back in power and called for the reconvention of the parliament, which was previously dissolved by the constitutional court.

The Islamists' perception that they had wide support among non-politicized Egyptians, alongside their success in the parliamentary elections, fed their belief in their own ability to exclude other groups from the political fray. Both of these positions were accentuated with the election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, with the Freedom and Justice Party trying to impose unilateral control over events, and their opposing political forces becoming an "opposition for the sake of being the opposition".

The proceedings of the meetings of the Constituent Assembly indicate that the Freedom and Justice Party is trying to present a better model through avoiding the mistakes of the past in its dialogue with other sectors of the society, including with the clerics of Al-Azhar. Some have concluded that this more conciliatory behavior is the result of the Brotherhood's political arm being aware of the dangers that surround the very existence of the Assembly itself; in other words, the Freedom and Justice Party is looking for reconciliation, but not necessarily to contain and control all political differences.

This polarization of the political sphere could lead to a situation that adversely affects the transitory process of democratization; instead of a true democracy, the end result of this charged atmosphere could be a simple bi-lateral stalemate with prevailing Islamist political forces on one side and the SCAF on the other, fighting over the ways to divide power. In such a situation, the military council will be able to contain the power of the elected president, curtailing that president's powers in the same manner as they disbanded the People's Assembly only a month before the presidential elections. After dissolving the lower house of the parliament, SCAF transferred some of its legislative powers to themselves. At the time of writing, before the cabinet had been announced, it had become clear that SCAF would be able to exert influence in the selection of the ministers in Morsi's first government. The stage is, thus, completely set for a showdown between the Islamist forces and SCAF. It is important to keep in mind just how dramatically different this is from the reality reflected in the elections. Unlike the bipolar, highly charged conflict now apparent between civil and Islamist forces, Egyptian voters expressed a highly diverse set of opinions. This complex situation will be reflected in the fight over the drafting of the coming constitution.

Dr. Mohammed Morsi and the Challenges He Faces

Some of the most pressing challenges facing Egypt's new president include:

1.    A difficulty in bringing about a revolutionary, yet constitutional, change in the state's administrative arm in a way that meets Egyptians' expectations and ambitions because of the constitutional, legal, and administrative rules inherited from Mubarak's era, a change that will likely take many years to achieve. Such a change is contingent upon, among other things, a change in mainstream ideas and ideologies within high-level administration, as well as the arrival and functioning of the new parliament.

2.    Morsi has, thus far, been unable to control the state's censorship, security apparatus (e.g., the Police, administrative censorship, and the Central Auditing Organization), and the wider bureaucracy, a result of the employees of those organizations remaining loyal to the Mubarak regime. The leaderships of said institutions, widely believed to be corrupt, are often tied to the previous regime through nepotism and business partnerships. This fact is likely to limit the efficiency of any presidential directives and resolutions aimed at improving the lives of the people of Egypt.

3.    Morsi has a lack of control over the military; in fact, the latest complementary Constitutional Declaration (issued by the SCAF on June 17, 2012) revives the National Defense Council's stripping the president of basic authorities. The president will, accordingly, be unable to carry out his tasks as chief of staff and his powers related to armed forces will be limited.

4.    This newly-created council dominated by military officers will be in charge of formulating and implementing internal security policies, as well as foreign policies, making it impossible for Morsi to appoint and dismiss the Ministries of Defense, Interior, and Foreign Affairs, in addition to other heads of security that are responsible for preserving Egypt's sovereignty.

5.    The president's inability to formulate and implement practical solutions to Egypt's pressing needs for housing, health, education, and employment will likely give rise to popular uproar, leading to the spread of chaos and violent protests throughout the country.

6.    The over-arching conflict between the Islamist political groupings on the one side and liberal, nationalist, and leftist groups, on the other, is likely to heighten during Morsi's term in office. This is especially true given the (perceived) desire of political Islamists to mold Egyptian society in their image, introduce radical changes, and impose restrictions on various social and cultural activities, such as the media, arts, literature, and so on. 

7.    Aside from the political polarization already taking place, one can also expect a similar, internal and theological dispute between different groups of Muslims. The leaders and preachers of political Islam will be pitted against Egypt's official religious institutions, Al- Azhar Mosque and other Sufi institutions. Such disputes will likely lead to some confusion on questions of religious jurisprudence, not to mention religious and political polarization. 

8.    Securing Egypt's borders, both to the east and to the west, in the coming months will remain a big challenge for Morsi. The Libyan Revolution allowed for the domination of the Libyan-Egyptian frontier by heavy weapons smugglers. Besides weapons, the newly free trade along the border of the two countries allows for the passage of drugs into Egypt. Should the security and police forces not comply with the new president, Morsi is going to have great difficulty in imposing his control of the borderlands. Added to these problems is the matter of trafficking and smuggling along the Palestinian-Egyptian borders, where the town of Rafah is divided across both sides. The immediate result of this would be a decrease in available commodities that contribute to an increase in prices; thus, it is necessary to impose severe security control to eradicate this phenomenon.  Further to this, reducing the suffering that of the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip will require an amendment to the agreements governing the movement of goods along both sides in a way that allows for a greater volume of goods moving between Egypt and Palestine. In fact, while the Palestinians, no longer having to build and renovate the subterranean tunnels, would be the immediate beneficiaries of an increase in the flow of goods at less expensive rates, Egyptian authorities, too, would stand to gain from enhanced collection of customs duties.

9.    Even within Egypt's borders, it is imperative that the new president ensures the rule of law is implemented throughout the country, and that security gaps and crime hot spots within it are stamped out. Factors complicating this include the unprecedented spread of firearms throughout the country, not to mention the escaped convicts who broke free during the revolution, and the police services being derelict in the performance of their duties.

10. By passing a decree to increase their wages, Morsi has also increased expectations on the part of the military and police forces. Meeting these increased expectations will be another of the serious challenges facing President Morsi, especially given the deficit in numbers of the ranks of these services. Not satisfying this important group of people will lead to discontent with them, causing internal unrest. Even if President Morsi does meet all of the expectations of the military and police forces, however, he may find himself faced with dissatisfaction on a much wider scale throughout Egyptian society, the vast majority of whom are dealing with their own difficulties of reduced income, and because of this will also then be more likely to demand an increase in wages. It has all the makings of something akin to real strife between different social strata.

11. More broadly, the new president has to deal with issues of poverty, unemployment, and concerns of social justice. These are arguably the most pressing issues for President Morsi to address during his term because of the scarcity of resources and the recurrence of political crises that hinder the formulation of any comprehensive development plan. Any delay in implementing such a plan, if any, will make popular resentment ever more likely. 

12. Finally, Morsi is expected to face a purely constitutional (potential) crisis, a possible dispute between the presidency and the judiciary, because many of the new president's critics seek to depict him as being disrespectful of judicial independence. One particular critic who stands out is Senior Judge Ahmad al-Zend, president of the Association of Egyptian Judges, well known for his loyalty to Mubarak's regime. Al-Zend is likely to continue stoking the flames of this dispute. If the president is unable to manage this conflict properly, it will likely reflect very poorly on his image among the Egyptian public, stirring up mass anger.

In addition to the above challenges, President Morsi will also face a number of foreign policy dilemmas; the difficult choices he will have to impact will doubtlessly impact on the domestic politics of Egypt. Firstly, since the 1978 Camp David Accords, Egypt's ability to control the Sinai Peninsula has been severely restricted because of the security arrangements that are unfair to Egypt, a fact that creates a public outcry demanding that these agreements be changed. Be that as it may, President Morsi has no constructive partner among his Israeli interlocutors, who happen to be unconditionally supported by the Americans.

Secondly, a much anticipated return of Egyptian-Iranian relations (Egypt sheltered the former Shah in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution) might present another dilemma for the new president, particularly given the fears of the Gulf states, also important allies for Egypt, who fear that such a rapprochement will come at the expense of their national security, bearing in mind that many of the GCC states maintain diplomatic relations with Iran.

Additionally, Egypt will have a difficult time balancing its relations with the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas, and its relations with the United States and Israel, both of whom consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization. This represents a major challenge facing Egyptian foreign policy in the coming period. It is incredibly unlikely that an Islamist-led Egyptian government will sever relations with Hamas, or contribute to the further strangulation of the Gaza Strip. This fact will present a real dilemma for the new government of Egypt, which also needs to present a "moderate" image of Muslim Brotherhood to the West in general and to the United States in particular.  

Egypt's present deep economic crisis, a result of a reduction in financing, has left the country with no choice but to maintain good relations with its financial backers, the Gulf states and Western donors, so as to avoid any hindrance to the flow of these funds. Egypt, in other words, will be beholden to the demands of foreign donors: any Egyptian failure to provide its foreign donors with concessions will exacerbate the funding crisis, thus increasing internal tensions. This will have its own negative repercussions on Egyptian public opinion, especially with many Egyptians hoping that the new post-Mubarak era would give their country its much-desired national dignity, and a sense of greater balance and reciprocity in Egypt's foreign relations. As a result, Egypt needs to be able to manage its foreign relations without delaying the flow of donations, all without providing important concessions.

The challenges mentioned above may not be exhaustive, but they do demonstrate the level of difficulties faced by Egypt's first democratically elected president.

Dr. Mohammed Morsi and the Challenges He Faces

This paper suggests that the future path of Egypt under President Morsi will fall into one of four major scenarios, of varying levels of likelihood:

1.    The "Collision": This is the very likely outcome of a direct conflict between the new president and SCAF, a conflict stemming from the constitutional and legal paths during the transitional stage when these paths clearly diverged while dissolving the parliament and disbanding the Constituent Assembly. Each of the two parties to this conflict will remain adamant in their positions, with the military council attempting to enlist the judiciary as its proxy in the fight. It is already apparent that the executive bodies of what can be called the Egyptian "deep state" are not cooperating with President Morsi to implement his agenda, which is an embarrassment for him. This presents the possibility of a military coup against the elected president in a bid to contain a potential widespread popular protest against the president.

2.    Political Deadlock: In this scenario, the president will be locked into his conflict with the SCAF and the judiciary, but all parties to the conflict, being cognizant of the risks presented by a direct, armed confrontation, will avoid any kind of violent showdown for the foreseeable future. Instead, both actors will use arguments, as well as legal and political procedures, to present their opposite number with challenges. The outcome of such a case will be a legislative and constitutional vacuum for Egypt, which could last for several months as the parties dispute the questions of political legitimacy, posing the risk of a slide into a much longer-lasting environment of instability. 

3.    The Half Revolution (power sharing): This implies an agreement between the forces of political Islam and the military officers, leading to a mutually agreeable division of the political pie in a way which averts a direct conflict, ultimately leading to the departure of SCAF from the political stage, while allowing the Council to maintain its complete economic and administrative autonomy, perhaps even investing them with the right to veto some governmental and presidential resolutions. Although it would avoid a direct conflict and would provide a partial stability, this resolution would also effectively end the dream of a "civil state," and would anger the youth who stood behind the revolution and the Leftist and liberal currents of Egypt's body politic. Any such balance of powers, however, will remain ever-fragile and highly susceptible to popular pressures or to shifts in the political landscape that follow new elections, which will lead to their own re-alignments, and evolve into other forms of conflict followed by negotiations and compromises.

4.    Stability: This last possible outcome is one that is least likely for Egypt right now, given the prevailing state of affairs. It is predicated on SCAF handing over to the president all of his constitutionally mandated powers, and the judiciary withdrawing from the political fray and accepting the Constituent Assembly, which would formulate a new constitution that achieves some consensus and allow for power sharing between the three branches of government, all of which would lead to a sound and stable democracy in Egypt. Given the constitutional vacuum that discredits all players, this simple dream is idealistic, and applying it on the ground in this period of deep political divisions will be very difficult. 

Egypt is clearly headed for a period of confrontation between the civilian authorities and the military. It would be a mistake to conclude from this that the dispute is over the exact mechanisms of democracy in Egypt; rather, it is a conflict over the civility of the state, meaning there would be neither a religious state nor a military one, and over the fundamental, constitutional principles of the state.

Both a breakout of violence and complete tranquility seem like remote possibilities right now. This suggests, then, that the transitional stage in Egypt will be prolonged even more. The best that can be hoped for at this stage is the interaction of social and political forces in Egypt's civil society and a rebalancing of their powers, which means a prolonged transitional period. This would bring in the judiciary and the executive (the presidency), alongside political parties, the public opinion, and the media, which would bring about a pluralist democracy. Still, however, the conflict between religious forces and those in favor of a civil state continues to legitimize the army's participation in politics. It is this reality of political polarization that stands in the way of a genuine democratic transition within Egypt, and only by addressing it at the core will progress be possible.


[1] This analysis was written prior to the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's dismissal of Cairo's top two generals and his quashing of a military order that had curbed the new leader's powers.

[2] "Egypt's high elections commission: Morsi and Shafiq to face each other in a run-off; participation at 46.4% in the first round" (published in Arabic), Al-Youm al-Sabi, May 28, 2012, http://www.youm7.com/News.asp?NewsID=690562&.

[3] Official website of the Egyptian election commission, http://www.elections.eg/index.php/pdf?file=images/results/aggregated_result.pdf.

[4] As mentioned earlier, this document was written prior to the dismissal of the two generals.