Egyptians vote for return to familiar

Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq paid tribute Saturday to the “glorious revolution” that toppled Hosni Mubarak.

CAIRO, Egypt — The battle scars of the revolution that led to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime continue to define the Egyptian landscape. The sides of buildings are adorned with graffiti mourning the nearly 1,000 civilians killed during the uprising. Protesters keep a stockpile of rocks in Tahrir Square, just in case they have to defend themselves while encamped there. The dated pictures of the 30-year ruler that once peppered the capital have been replaced with campaign posters for what was Egypt’s first democratic election.

And yet during elections last week, just 15 months after Mubarak was forced out, many Egyptians voted for someone who has pledged to reinstate the very system they seemingly risked their lives to end.

How could that be? While revolutionaries struggled Saturday to answer that question, there were clues that a rift between revolutionaries and the ordinary Egyptians had always existed and has been deepening since Mubarak left office. State media, the main source of information for most Egyptians, routinely blamed the state’s growing instability on the revolutionaries, and in a nation where many voters had never met a revolutionary, they said they trusted state media more.

In addition, over the past year, the revolutionary effort was diluted by a splintered message, growing employment, worsened security and parliamentary elections that yielded little change.

By Election Day, the once politically passive group of Egyptians known as the Couch Party for sitting out of the revolution spoke up at the polls.

Ahmed Shafik, a former air force general and a known figure, is in the runoff election. He offered something immediate — stability and leadership. The revolution, it seems, offered too much choice to a nation mired in uncertainty. In response Egyptians voted for something familiar — the government candidate.

“The lesson of the elections in Egypt in that people are not voting for a moral position, about how Egypt should be governed,” said Zaid Akl, a political analyst at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies. “It is about what voters feel they will gain immediately if they vote for a particular candidate.

Shafik, who garnered 23 percent of the vote in the first round, will go against Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi, who although uncharismatic, had the backing of Egypt most organized political machine behind him, earning 25 percent of the total votes cast. The difference between them was roughly 342,000 votes of the results released so far in 27 of 28 governorates. Like the government candidate, the Brotherhood also represented a familiar choice, experts said.

“The only pattern of this election is the voters said we want what we are used to,” Akl said.

By Saturday morning, both Shafik and Morsi were vying for the now disenfranchised revolutionary vote.

Where a Shafik staffer said in a television appearance just days ago that the “revolution had ended,” the candidate Saturday said at a press conference “there is no way we will create the old regime. Egypt has changed and there is no way it will go back.”

Meanwhile, Morsi met with various party leaders.

On Saturday, some revolutionaries defended the decision to not coalesce around one candidate and instead had three on the 13-candidate ballot. Results suggested that together the three candidates garnered a majority of the vote. They said they were trying to embrace the democratic spirit, giving people as much choice as possible. Instead they blamed their loss on the challenge of going up against the two established organizations — Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood and the NDP have political experience, where the revolutionaries were new to politics, said Ahmed Maher, a founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, a leading force in the uprising.

“Shafik backers woke up and understood they had to win this battle or they were gone forever,” Maher said. “The revolutionaries were divided. ...This was our fault. Had we stood together we would have made it to easily” the run off.

Maher his party was debating whether to support Morsi or call for a boycott. Voting for Shafik was not an option, he said.

The world may refer to the revolution here as driven by Twitter, yet most Egyptians don’t own a computer. Instead they have come to depend on — and trust — state media.

And early on, the government cast the revolution as a fight between itself and the unknown elements on the streets.