Egypt's long awaited and much anticipated presidential elections—the first of their kind to take place in the nation's 7,000 year history—are here. As we await the final results—and as the Western mainstream media fixate on images of purple-stained fingers—it is well to remember that there is much more at stake in Egypt's elections than the mere "right" to vote.
While some Egyptians are certainly voting according to their convictions, the fundamental divide revolves around religion—how much or how little the candidates in question are in favor of Islamic Sharia law. In other words, Islamists are voting for Islamists—Abdel Mon'im Abul Futuh and Muhammad Mursi—whereas non-Islamists (secularists, liberals, and non-Muslims) are voting for non-Islamists, such as Amr Musa and Ahmed Shafiq.
Bear in mind that this is not the same thing as American voters being divided between "liberal" Democrats and "conservative" Republicans; rather, this election is much more existential in nature—possibly cataclysmic for Egyptian society. For, whereas both American Republicans and Democrats operate under the selfsame U.S. Constitution, in Egypt, an Islamist president will usher in Sharia law, which will fundamentally transform the nation.
One veiled woman interviewed yesterday at the voting polls put it best: "We came to elect the man who implements Sharia (Islamic law). But I am afraid of liberals, secularists, Christians. I am afraid of their reaction if an Islamist wins. They won't let it go easily. But God be with us."
Interestingly, while she sums up the ultimate purpose Islamists like herself are voting—to empower "the man who implements Sharia"—she also projects her own Islamist mentality onto non-Islamists, implying that if a Sharia-friendly president is fairly elected, non-Islamists will rebel. In fact, it is the Islamists who are on record warning that if a secularist emerges as president, that itself will be proof positive that the elections were rigged, and an armed jihad will be proclaimed.
None of this is surprising, considering that Islamists have not hid their abhorrence for democracy as an infidel heresy to be exploited as a gateway to a Sharia-enforcing theocracy which will, ironically, eliminate democracy. Some have gone so far as to insist that cheating in elections to empower Sharia is an obligation. And, rather than encourage Egyptians to vote for whom they think is best suited for Egypt, days prior to these elections, various authoritative Muslim clerics and institutions decreed that Egypt's Muslims are "obligated" to vote for Sharia-supporting Islamists, while voters are "forbidden" to vote for non-Islamists—a proclamation with threats of hellfire.
One of the blocs not voting for the Islamists consists of Christian Copts, who make for some 12-15 million people. Not only does an AFP report capture their mood well, but it demonstrates how Egypt's Christians are so convinced that any Islamist president, including the oxymoronic "liberal Islamists" like Abul Futuh, will lead to even more religous intolerance for them—a reminder of reality from those non-Muslims on the ground:
[V]oting lines were long, and the worry and tension felt by many Christians was palpable. "I don't want the Islamists. If they come to power and I oppose them, they will say I am criticizing their religion and who knows what they'll do to me? We can't talk to them," said 57-year-old Sanaa Rateb after casting her ballot…. Nassim Ghaly, a young man with a cross tattooed on his wrist in the distinctive manner of Egyptian Christians, interjected: "God protect us if the Islamists come to power and they control the parliament and the presidency at the same time."…. "What we want is a non-religious state," which would guarantee the rights of all religious groups, Sanaa Halim, in her sixties, said. "The Islamist trends are worrying," one of her friends added, declining to give her name. "And what have they done in parliament? Nothing, except talk about women and female circumcision."
Indeed, above and beyond the recent clash between Egypt's Islamists and the military—where the former exposed their jihadi face, losing some popular support—the elected Islamist-majority parliament is increasingly seen as a disappointment, more interested in banning toys that "humiliate Islam" and legalizing "death-sex," rather than addressing the country's economic woes. As another voter put it, "I voted for the Brotherhood in parliament elections. Now they want to control religious tourism, this is what I got from them. The parliament has failed."
Likewise, Ryan Mauro reports that "the secularists have benefited from a sharp fall in Islamist popularity. In February, 43% of Egyptians supported the Muslim Brotherhood, 40% supported the Salafist Nour Party and 62% felt that it is positive to have a strong Brotherhood presence in parliament. A Gallup poll in April found that the statistics fell to 26%, 30% and 47% respectively."
Notwithstanding all this, perhaps the most decisive voting bloc consists of those tens of millions of impoverished Egyptians who care little about voting, who care little about Sharia or secularism, and are more than happy to exchange their vote for a temporal boon. These, the well-organized Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis—funded by Saudi petro dollars—have been busy buying, including with food and drink.
The outcome of the elections remains uncertain. While Egypt is home to the modern day Islamist movement—giving the world several headaches, including the Muslim Brotherhood, the "godfather of jihad" Sayyid Qutb, and al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri—up until recently it was also home to one of the Islamic world's most secular and "fun-loving" societies (it's not called the "Hollywood of the Middle East" for nothing). Yet, based on the spectacular advance of political Islam in the last few decades, one remains pessimistic.
Raymond Ibrahim is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.