The results of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections this past May were to many Egyptians shocking, puzzling and to the youth who began the uprising in a year ago in January 2011, utterly disappointing.
In the runoff elections, those who aren’t boycotting it have to choose between Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood backed candidate, and Ahmed Shafiq, the last Prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
It can be easy to deduce from these results that a large number of Egyptians do actually support Islamist government under the Muslim Brotherhood, or that they simply are not ready for democracy, with the other front-runner being a leader of the former regime.
However, these are all incorrect assumptions to make, and dangerously generalize Egyptian public opinion.
It is pertinent that we look at how both these candidates attained their votes. Several independent news outlets in Egypt allege Shafiq’s campaign to get votes was corrupt, in that his campaign gathered many votes from members of the military and police force members – essentially civil servants who are prohibited form voting in national elections.
With Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood has been providing for the urban poor by giving them necessities. As a result bags of rice, flour, oil and sugar have been given in mass quantities to the poverty stricken population for free. One could call this a form of bribery.
Of course, given that nearly 40 percent of the population in Egypt is living close to or under the poverty line, many who work low wage jobs are taking this support from the Brotherhood, regardless of whether they support them.
Even long before the January uprising, the Brotherhood had a history of providing food, education, and jobs to Egypt’s poor. This has given them an upper hand when it came to gathering a support base with voters.
Of course, there were a significant portion of those who are in fact, supporters of the Brotherhood’s politics and ideals.
An equally significant, or even greater portion of those voters are simply those who were in need, and found the Brotherhood helping them.
Their significant support base of intellectuals and professionals who believed in their cause, from the beginnings of authoritarian rule in Egypt under Nasser, is waning.
When looking at the actions Brotherhood’s leadership, as well as the decreasing number of votes through the past months, it is clear that the Brotherhood is increasingly lacking in support for their political agenda, and religious ideology.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s reputation especially has suffered among the youth who first began the uprising last year from their gradual shift to supporting the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, the current executive power in Egypt.
Last November, as thousands of youth went back to Tahrir to protest against military trials against civilians and other grievances against the SCAF, the Brotherhood did not support the youth as they had in January.
They even called those who went to Tahrir, baltageyaor thugs, a term that was once used to describe Mubarak’s cronies.
When one considers the highly publicized images of women being beaten and stripped in public by the military during the November protests, and the Brotherhood’s silence, it erases any remnant of support that the pro-democracy supporters had for the Brotherhood.
In nearly all-subsequent protests in Tahrir since, protesters have been unwelcoming to members for the Brotherhood, raising their shoes at them.
According to the polls, the Muslim Brotherhood won a total of 11 million votes in the parliamentary elections back in November, right when the Brotherhood’s loyalty to the SCAF became evident.
In this recent presidential election, the Brotherhood candidate, Morsi received a mere five million votes. Their support cut by more than half than it was a few months ago clearly shows how a significant portion of the Egyptian population is unsupportive, and arguably, resentful towards the Muslim Brotherhood.
We should not place arbitrary judgments on Egyptian public opinion, or accuse them of favoring the Brotherhood based on the results of this election.
Even the results of the upcoming run-off should not be judged without a proper understanding of the current political climate.
These results are not an indicator that Egyptians are not ready for democracy. Rather, they show the level of organization among the Muslim Brotherhood’s political leaders, and the lengths that the pro-democracy youth must go to reach out to the wider population.