TOPICS > World

What a Muslim Brotherhood Win in Egypt Could Mean for U.S.

May 25, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Two of the most-polarizing candidates for Egypt's presidency might face off in a runoff after a partial vote count Friday in the country's first free presidential election. Jeffrey Brown and McClatchy reporter Nancy Youssef discuss the candidates, Ahmed Shafiq of the Mubarak regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi.
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: Reporter Nancy Youssef is covering the elections for McClatchy Newspapers in Cairo. I spoke to her a short time ago.

Nancy, thanks for joining us.

So what’s its reaction there? Is this seen as a surprising result?

NANCY YOUSSEF, McClatchy Newspapers: Yes, people are really stunned here.

The news started trickling in around 4:00 in the morning. And many people woke up and were shocked at the results. And if you were a revolutionary, you were particularly shocked because none of the revolutionary candidates appeared to make the runoff, which means, rather than sort of creating the great reform that they had hoped for, people are really voting for some of the past ideas, whether it was the 80-year-old Muslim Brotherhood or a regime candidate.

So there’s really been a state of shock throughout the country about the outcome of the elections and really in what areas each candidate did very well in.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell us a little bit about what looks to be the two finalists and how they are polarizing figures, Mohammed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, Ahmed Shafiq was Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister in the final days before he was deposed.

He’s a former air force general, a colleague of Mubarak’s, and has really been unapologetic about his ties to the regime. He has promised to restore order in this country and security at a time where people are suffering from more crimes since the revolutionary — from more unemployment and higher food prices.

And he is really unapologetically a face of the past. And one could argue his base is what they called the couch party, those who stayed home during the revolution. Mohammed Morsi was a name that sort of emerged pretty late in the campaign after the Brotherhood’s first candidate dropped out.

And he’s by everyone’s estimation a rather uncharismatic leader, but has the backing of a huge organized machine here, the best organized political machine in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, which really galvanized the vote on his behalf.

And he has promised to bring back — bring Egypt the kind of Islamic state that the Brotherhood has talked about for years and years, for decades in exile, and recently since the revolution in open areas.

JEFFREY BROWN: So the more secular forces that you were talking about earlier who pushed for the revolution to oust Mubarak, they’re feeling confused, angry. What happened to them?

NANCY YOUSSEF: They will tell you the mistake that they made was that they had three revolutionary candidates on the ballot. Had they just had one, they would have had someone.

And so the leading of the three, Hamdeen Sabahi, got 20 percent of the vote, compared to 26 and 24 percent from Morsi and Shafiq respectively. The other thing that they will tell you is that they were poorly organized, that they were too decentralized, and that they didn’t really get behind a person.

And we’re already starting to hear threats of boycotting in the general election. We’re hearing threats of violence. We’re even hearing people saying that they will vote for Mohammed Morsi despite the fact they don’t agree with anything he stands for, because it’s better than putting someone in from the regime back in power. To do so would really essentially kill the revolution.

You can hear the sort of rumblings here about, is the revolution over now that these two are the candidates? And I think, for some people, today, it is.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you mean the potential for unrest again is very real precisely because of these potential two candidates?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Absolutely.

 I mean, in the days up until the revolution, I ran into people who said, I’m voting for Shafiq even though I know this will lead to war, you know, because for — he’s such a polarizing figure in a way, more than Morsi, because he is the face of the very thing that people died for to get rid of.

And so there is an expectation here that, at the minimum, people will go back to Tahrir Square. Conversely, if Morsi ends up losing in the runoff election, we could see Islamists going to the street and not accepting the results of the election. And so there is a real possibility of instability here in the days and weeks to come.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, of course, Nancy, there are wider stakes beyond Egypt. You have a lot of people watching. You have other Arab countries, you have Israel, and of course the U.S.

What are the stakes for the U.S. in this?

NANCY YOUSSEF: Well, I think, primarily, the stakes are the potential of either having relatively similar relations to Egypt that they had under the Mubarak regime, and fundamentally different relations.

Remember, that for years, the Muslim Brotherhood was shunned by the United States. And the Brotherhood hasn’t forgotten that and has sort of promised to the public that they will distance themselves from the United States.

So this portends of a weakened relationship, not only for the United States, but by extension for Israel, and even puts the peace accords in jeopardy. So it is as much at stake in a way for the United States as it is for voters here in terms of the kind of outcome that could come from this election.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Nancy Youssef in Cairo for us, thanks so much.

NANCY YOUSSEF: Thank you.