At the strangest of times when I am in London, I remember Egypt – and vice versa. I am sitting in anticipation, like millions of people around the globe, awaiting the announcement of the presidential elections. I am irritated that instead of thinking of what everyone else is thinking, I an entertaining silly thoughts, like, for instance, how the English love to bet on everything and that walking past Paddy Power shop windows, I would, no doubt, be seeing “Morsi vs. Shafiq” signs. It’s different in Egypt though; not just because betting is prohibited (at least in public), but also because when you bet, one thing happens and not the other. And, as any politically aware person will tell you, the two candidate’s running this presidential race are not set to “win” anything. Whoever is announced, as being 50.9% in the lead and the people who are inclined one way or the other, will not “win”. This is the first election between two runners up where someone entirely out of the competition is in the lead.
Hysteria is gripping anyone who is thinking politics. Normality and apathy are the lived experience of anyone whose life in Egypt is a daily struggle to put food on the table that they have forgotten what day of the week it is. Many are bored and just as many are angry without really understanding what the results will actually mean. What do I think? I think that the results will mean nothing at all in terms of political relevance. Either president, who will be doing the victory dance for going down in history as the 5th President of Egypt, will really be celebrating becoming the new mask for those who really are in power – the mask for the next few months (yes, I do not think that this one will last the four year term).
People have turned an eye from the Constitutional Declaration issued by SCAF recently and are concentrating on which area (Nasr City) or (Tahrir) will be pulling at the fireworks (a lucrative business this time of year). This is the same mistake we are guilty of repeating for the last 18 months. We are a bunch of people easily distracted – rumors, shootouts, parliament (yes, even parliament turned out to be a distraction too) and we are not focusing on the real game. We were even recently distracted by how Mrs. Morsi chooses to dress – this highlighted the acute inconsistency we suffer. It is important to note that Khalid Saeed’s mother, who the very same people look to with the utmost pride, wears the same attire. It was also a shame to see that the liberals fighting for civil freedoms were the same ones poking fun at her.
The rat race – oh sorry, the presidential race – is not entirely political. It has been an opportunity to highlight the social differences people are battling with in Egypt. While there are no official records of the election results, indications show that Morsi won the vast majority of Upper Egypt’s votes (mainly impoverished areas) and Shafiq won most the Delta’s large constituencies (the urbanized affluent who have material things to protect). While people are occupied with legitimacy, it is these differences and the underlying fears and motivations that interest me and should interest all those who care for the long term welfare of this country; because, even if the results are non representative, the incentive behind voting for one candidate over the other is more than relevant.
The position taken by the activists was confusing. The race saw the Social Revolutionaries back Morsi – they would have backed the devil if he was the only opponent to any one at all connected to the old regime, but later changed position once Morsi refused to withdraw his candidacy after Parliament got dissolved. Some supported Morsi out of principles and others were accused of selling out their revolutionary spirit because their hatred and mistrust for the Brotherhood blinded them, so much so, that they began seeing ex air force commander Ahmed Shafiq (with SCAF behind him) will be the guardian of a ‘civilian’ state.
So we sit here with the same feeling you have when you are in a hospital waiting room knowing that you will get bad news shortly, just not knowing how bad. The only thing that’s keeping my spirits up is Egypt’s history of having a “brush your self off and get up” culture. I’m betting today, not on the politics of Egypt, but on the people who’s kindness, generosity and humor are mentioned in every book I have ever picked up that has been written on this magical land.
** Nelly Ai is an anthropologist who teaches at the Institute of Education, University of London and Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. She is currently in Cairo for her PhD research and is an active observer and commentator on Egypt and the Arab World.