Strategic Voting in Egypt

Strategic voting is fairly common in mature democracies. A US voter might vote for the Democratic presidential nominee because they worry about the Supreme Court appointments. Or a voter might vote for a Republican Senator and a Democratic president to keep the control of government split between two parties. There is nothing really wrong with that. In fact, it is a sure sign of a mature electorate.

Egyptian voters have a chance to do just that in voting for president; and they might. Voters in Egypt are far more wily than they are given credit for. The short election cycle and the opaqueness of most candidate programs make it difficult to pick a candidate based on personal quality alone. In that environment strategic voting is a smarter option.

A vote for Amr Moussa is a relatively safe choice, given his long track record and personality. He is not likely to push charged religious issues or bumble into foreign adventures, even for all the pan-Arab rhetoric.  On the other hand, it would give the MB a strong argument that the election is rigged. The MB has never shown any inclination to participate in the political life as anything but the dominant, and perhaps exclusive, player. The election of either Moussa or Shafik would given them rhetorical ammunition.

A vote for Mursi is a vote for a long period of authoritarian Islamic rule and sectarian conflict. The MB has shown by placing him in the race that they care first and foremost about power and will use any tactics to acquire it. A vote for Mursi is a vote for domination by the MB.

A vote for Aboul Fotouh is a risk vote. He has been slippery about how far he has moved from the MB ideology. On the other hand, it would be impossible for the MB (much less the loud Salafi factions) to claim that the vote was rigged by the old regime. And with luck, Aboul Fotouh might play a role in Egyptian politics that center-left parties played in Europe 50 years ago. There the social democrats de-fanged the communists by addressing valid issues that the communists raised without the authoritarianism of Moscow fellow-travelers. Essentially they turned out to be less “useful idiots” than many had supposed. Again, emphasize with luck, since Aboul Fotouh is far from an ideal candidate. This is especially risky for Copts, but it maybe a worthwhile gamble to reverse the MB dominated Islamic current by addressing its cultural roots without bringing to power mini-Lenins, such as El-Shater. They might even enhance their identity as citizens rather than an apprehensive  “protected minority”. For Muslim seculars and liberals Aboul Fotouh might be a good chance to learn street politics and develop a credible set of followers beyond the narrow confines of Heliopolis or Zamalek. Aboul Fotouh could a transformative president for Egypt or a total disappointment, but such is the risk of transformative candidates.

Strategic voting might be the way to break the country free from the outmoded polarization of old regime vs. MB. It was disheartening today to see Tahrir square, the site of self-empowerment and idealism a year ago, become a space for intolerance and cheap political tricks. After the uplifting sight of Egyptian flags in the cool February nights, it is disappointing to see the Black Salafi flags fluttering in the Khamaseen winds of April. The happy Egyptian faces of that winter are replaced by hard angry Salafi faces encased in Saudi garb. Egypt needs to step back from that cliff.

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