As we write, the votes are still being counted. David Kenner breaks down the leading candidates:
Preliminary vote counts first suggested that the country was heading to a run-off between Hosni Mubarak's former prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi. That's the ultimate "out with the new, in with the old" scenario — a reprise of the same battle that has been going on in Egyptian politics for generations, and the recipe for a serious moral dilemma among Egypt's self-styled revolutionaries. But there's a twist to this story. Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi is vying to replace Ahmed Shafiq in second place, according to the state-owned newspaper Ahram Online's preliminary results. Sabbahi gained steam in recent days as the only candidate who could credibly claim to represent leftist, non-Islamist voters while not being connected to the former regime.
Sabahi's surge notwithstanding, the run-off as of mid-afternoon still looks like it will be between the Brothers' Mohammed Mursi and ex-Mubarak prime minister Ahmed Shafiq. If Hamdeen repeats his Alex performance in Cairo this may change…People lost confidence in the Brothers. But the Brothers' excellent organization means that they still managed to produce enough pluralities where it counts.
Julian Lindley-French sets the stakes:
The fact of Egyptian democracy represents a victory for the idea of democracy and should help put to bed the ridiculous notion that Arabs neither ‘get’ nor aspire to democracy. And yet the outcome might lead to an uncomfortable reality for the West – a legitimate and legitimized Islamist regime leading the largest Arab state. That government may make choices the West will find hard to swallow. The choices the new Cairo makes could well decide the fate of the Middle East and the Mediterranean basin at least as much as Iran’s nuclear ambitions or, indeed, the Euro crisis. Peace itself could be at stake in the choices Egyptians are now making.
Joseph Farag wonders what the point of the revolution was:
In many ways, the elections will result in some inevitable disappointments, as do all elections in the imperfect world of electoral democratic politics. Not least of these potential disappointments is the fact that two of the favourites to win – Amr Moussa and Ahmad Shafik – are Mubarak regime cronies, felool as they’re known in Egypt. Should either of these candidates succeed in their presidential race, many will be left wondering what all the bloodshed over the last fifteen months was for. But more deeply entrenched obstacles to fulfilling the revolution’s aspirations exist, the most intransigent of which is the economic and political stranglehold that no one expects the military to relinquish following the transition to civilian rule. Indeed, so long as the military’s budget is not subject to civilian oversight and military-owned corporations control up to 40% of the Egyptian economy, how meaningful will that transition be?
Egyptian voters in a Mursi-Sabahi match-up would have a real choice between a pluralistic system and a return to virtually one-party rule. They’d have a choice between Muslim Brotherhood emphasis on private property/Turkish-style Neoliberalism and a more socialist policy (a la Hollande in France, perhaps). And in any case, both candidates would have a claim on opposition to the old Mubarak regime, and so an extreme polarization and “a further revolution”, as promised by the New Left, could be avoided.
In a rare confluence, Elliott Abrams also has some kind words for a Morsi win:
If Shafik wins, many Egyptians will believe the elections were stolen by the Army and the old regime's machine, and in any event power will be divided between the [Muslim Brotherhood] on one side and the Army and president on the other. There will be no clear lesson to learn if conditions in the country then continue to deteriorate. If Morsi wins, the MB will be in charge–and have to deliver. And when they fail, as I expect they will, it will absolutely clear whom to blame.
Paul Bonicelli is just thrilled that there's voting:
In short, with this vote, even if the Brotherhood candidate wins it all, Egypt seems to have changed from a society that was under the sway and "tutelage" of despots to one that is awakening to the rights of citizens to choose their leaders from among many options and to hold those leaders accountable for good governance. The path forward will surely be rough at times — probably often — but the path forward appears to be one of Egyptians continuing to demand that government be more their servant than their master, as it has been for 5000 years.
Michael Walid Hanna reminds us not to forget about the Army:
[T]he Egyptian military is still the most potent political force in Egypt. The struggle to bound military power and to assert civilian supremacy will take years and is by no means assured. The presidential election is an historic milestone and a necessary prerequisite in that transition, establishing an additional center of elected authority. Following the hand over, [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces] will be forced to operate in more discreet fashion and its ambitions will be challenged by other political actors. But its approach to the presidential election should serve as an indication that SCAF will continue to exercise power selectively from behind the scenes and that limiting its political role and influence will be among the key tests for whether Egypt’s multi-year transition will be deemed a success.
Michael Totten thinks this means the stakes aren't as high as Lindley-French and others would have us believe:
Either way, it’s not terribly likely that Egypt’s foreign policy is going to change much more than it already has. The army is master of Egypt right now and will likely retain some of that power regardless.
Tarek Massoud zooms out:
We’ll know the winner of Egypt’s election in a matter of days. It will take far longer than that to know the true result of the election—that is, whether Egypt’s first popularly elected president will be able to resurrect its economy, pacify its increasingly restive population, return its Army to the barracks, and tame its feral security services. In the face of this uncertainty—about who will win and about what he’ll be able to do once in office—most of us who write about Egypt have been reduced to platitudinous celebrations of Egypt’s first free presidential contest, lamentations of the hard road that Egypt’s future president has before him, and shopworn declarations of how Egyptian politics has changed utterly. Sometimes, the best we can do is just watch.
(Photo: 'Revolution once again' reads over graffiti depicting a chained ballot box being controlled by Egypt's ruling military council at Tahrir Square in Cairo on May 25, 2012. Egyptians reacted nervously to the first results of their presidential vote, some celebrating the successful election, and others horrified by the strength of Muslim Brotherhood and ex-regime candidates. By Mahmud Hams/AFP/GettyImages.)