A quick reading of Egypt's presidential vote

Analysis, posted 06.02.2012, from Egypt, in:
A quick reading of Egypt's presidential vote (Photo: Reuters)

For many Egyptians it is the worst case scenario. Coming to work this morning my cab driver is seething: "They're as bad as each other, I won't be voting," he pledged, referring to the final runoff election between the two front-runners, due to take place in mid-June. He lamented the relatively slim-margin defeat of leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, "he got Cairo and Alexandria and, God bless the Prophet, Port Said."

The as yet unofficial vote count of the first round has put the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi and the state-backed Ahmed Shafiq at the head of the pack, with nearly a quarter of the vote each. Sabbahi came third with a little over 20 per cent, with Islamist/liberal Abul-Fotouh trailing fairly closely behind, also within the 20 per cent range. As expected, no candidate was able to secure the 50 per cent-plus needed to win in the first round.

The meteoric rise of Sabbahi to the position of a serious contender for the presidency has been the most surprising feature of a surprise-laden election. The final unofficial count gives Sabbahi 21.6 per cent of the vote compared to second-placed Shafiq, with 23.7 per cent.

Moreover, Sabbahi easily won the nation's two great urban centres, Cairo and Alexandria. In Egypt's second capital, founded over two millennia ago by Alexander the Great, Sabbahi got a whopping 34.2 per cent of the vote, followed by Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh at 22 per cent, with moderate candidate Amr Moussa running third at 16.5 per cent. Alexandria, long perceived as a major Muslim Brotherhood/Salafist hotbed gave the Brotherhood's Mursi a mere 15.3 per cent, placing him in fourth place.

The spectacular Alexandria vote not only proclaimed it the nation's foremost revolutionary city (on Twitter, euphoric activists were sardonically calling for making Alexandria an independent republic), but also seemed to give rather solid credence to the anti-Brotherhood, anti-Salafist backlash, which political analysts no less than activists had noticed increasing during the past few months.

In Cairo, Sabbahi again came first by a wide margin, winning 34.6 per cent of the vote, followed by Shafiq (25.9 per cent), Mursi (21.1 per cent) and finally Abul-Fotouh (19.2 per cent).

Egypt's first free presidential election has been one huge bag of surprises. It ran almost diametrically counter to all the opinion polls that had been declaring results on a regular basis up to the very eve of the polling. Not to boast, but neither I, nor most of my colleagues here at Ahram Online, gave much credence to these polls, though we were professionally bound to publish their results. (See Yasmine Wali's: Opinion polls: do they reflect – or manipulate – Egyptian public opinion?)

I said so on TV on the first day of voting in the presidential election, only to receive a phone call from a friend who works in one of the organisations conducting these polls, congratulating me. Basically, he told me, the polls were wholly unreliable because the organisations had "no control over the sample." As it came out, the samples used by the various pollsters were provided by the government's statistics body, CAMPAS.

One pollster, the Cabinet Decision Support Centre, was honest enough to reveal that some 21 per cent of their sample was drawn from the "very wealthy", and another 20-odd per cent from the "moderately wealthy" – which to put it mildly is rather unrepresentative of the general population in Egypt; maybe in Switzerland, commented our business editor, chuckling.

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By Hani Shukrallah

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