Millions of Egyptians huddled in front of their TV sets Sunday afternoon watching with bated breath as Counselor
Farouk Sultan, the Head of the Supreme Presidential Election Commission, announced the results of the
presidential run-off vote. After delivering a 50 minute-long speech defending the election commission’s “independence and integrity” against complaints of voting irregularities filed by the two candidates, Counselor Sultan finally named the Muslim Brotherhood candidate the winner. Mohamed Morsi , he declared , had narrowly defeated his opponent with 51.7 per cent of the vote by a slim margin of 800,000 votes.
Like many Egyptians watching the televised address, I was tense having spent several days speculating who the winner would be and what the likely implications of that victory were. The moment I heard that Dr. Morsi had won, I heaved a sigh of relief and was unable to stop my tears from flowing.
Not only had the issue of who would be Egypt’s first post-revolution president finally been resolved but it also seemed that the street violence the media had warned about in recent days had now been averted. But most of all, I was relieved that Morsi –and not Shafiq- had claimed the top job—not because he was my ‘ideal candidate’ but because, like many of the Tahrir activists, I considered him the lesser of two evils. Unlike those who had given Morsi their vote, I had opted to stay away from the ballot box.
I invalidated my vote because I was unconvinced that either candidate represented the 25 January revolution. The pro-reform activists in Tahrir had aspired for a secular, civil, democratic state. Shafiq, a former air force commander was a military man and had he won, would have been an extension of the old autocratic regime. Moreover, he neither supported nor believed in the revolution.
Morsi, on the other hand, was no secularist. On the contrary, he was a conservative Islamist but still, he would be a civil president– the country’s first ever and his presidency would spell the end of sixty years of military rule. That was reason enough for me to celebrate.
Don’t think me naïve: I do not believe the military’s pledges of going back to the barracks and ceding power. I remain skeptical of the military’s motives. The generals ruling the country in the transitional phase had in the 11th hour introduced controversial constitutional amendments that gave them control of legislative and financial powers.
As self-proclaimed “guardians of the secular, democratic state”, they gave themselves veto rights over articles of the new constitution and set a deadline for the constituent assembly to” make progress or else, be replaced by a new constituent panel”—one that would be handpicked by the generals themselves. To add insult to injury, the military council had re-imposed martial law with the declared intention of “enforcing law and order.” The amendments clearly meant that the new president would be granted limited powers which include the day to day running of the state and the appointment of ambassadors.
Yet, the appointment of a civil president was, in my humble view, a victory for the revolution and a step forward in what has otherwise been , a very messy democratic transition. As a secularist however, I am concerned about the rights of minorities and women under a president who had initially opposed the running of both a Copt and a woman in the presidential race.
The fact that Mr. Morsi later changed his position vowing to be “a president for all Egyptians –Muslims and Christians, to end his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood and to protect minority rights has done little to allay my fears.
I have reason to doubt his intentions as the Muslim Brotherhood has, on several occasions broken its promises including reneging on an earlier pledge not to field a presidential candidate. And yet, I was prepared to give Mr. Morsi the benefit of the doubt. This was a new beginning and the man deserved to be given a fair chance.
He knows he is being closely watched and realises that the power has shifted and was now in the hands of the masses rather than the ruling authority. Mr. Morsi has already made reassuring noises that women would not be forced to wear the Islamic headscarf and would be encouraged to work outside the home.
The MPs who called for lowering the age of marriage for girls to 12 and for allowing the practice of female genital mutilation to continue ,no longer had a voice. The political process can now begin with the writing of a new constitution after which, free and fair legislative elections can take place. Hopefully, this time round we shall have a parliament that is truly representative of all factions of Egyptian society (including women who make up half the society) unlike the disbanded parliament which only had 11 female lawmakers. Most importantly, I’m hoping that political forces have learned from past mistakes and will now put behind them past divisions and unify their ranks.
Morsi may or may not be the president we had wished for when we took to the streets to topple the autocratic regime, but it is only through solidarity and the support of all political movements that the newly elected president can gain the clout he needs to implement the much-needed political, social and economic reforms.