This article was written in 2012
With days to go before Egypt head to the polls in the country's first credible multi-candidate presidential elections, I went on a short visit to Cairo. Having followed Egypt’s news in various Egyptian and Arabic news channels, I expected to see a country in chaos; an economy on the robes, absence of security, wide spread crime, and recurrent strikes and demonstrations that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces repeatedly blames for the deterioration of the country’s economy. But I saw something else; I saw a nation in collective awakening.
My first encounter with real people, other than the outspoken percentage of the population we see on television, was the taxi driver who drove me home from the airport. The 45 years old Moustapha expressed distrust in the Muslim Brother Hood and their political arm the Freedom and Justice Party. “They said we want 30% of the parliament, they took 70%. They said they are against pulling trust of the Egyptian government, now they want to form the government. They said we will not run for presidency, now they have a presidential candidate”, Moustapha said.
I wondered whether the majority of Egyptians who voted for the Islamists in the last parliamentary elections think the same way. I found the answer to my question shortly afterwards, when I witnessed a heated debate at the Cairo underground between a bearded* man who appeared in his 50s and another young man who had a beard as well. The two were talking about the presidential elections and while the young man defended the Islamists, the older man expressed his disappointment in the Islamic parties referring to what he saw as a very poor performance in the parliament.
It seems this is a wide-spread attitude. According to recent Gallup polls, Egypt's Islamist parties appear to have lost popularity since parliamentary elections late last year. The popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), for example, have fallen considerably in recent months, while the Salafists have witnessed a similar – if less dramatic – decline, according to recent opinion surveys.
A poll conducted in April showed that while 63 per cent of Egyptians in February said they supported the Muslim Brotherhood, only 42 per cent claimed to support them in April. The popularity of the group's FJP also fell considerably, from 67 to 43 percent over the same two-month period, according to the poll.
The popularity of the more conservative Salafist movement, meanwhile, fell from 37 per cent in February to 25 per cent in April. The Salafist Nour Party, in particular, fell from 40 to 30 per cent for the same period.
If the Islamic movement is changing, Egyptian society is changing too. It’s a normal scene now to find traditional Egyptian government employees, who have never been part of any political movement, head to the streets to speak out about their demands, no matter how unrealistic those demands are, and express their dissatisfaction with their managers.
How would that affect the results of the upcoming presidential elections? It’s still not clear. People have decided consciously to eliminate candidates related to the ousted Mubarak regime. They also feel they have given Islamists a chance, but they failed them. Who would they choose then? That’s the question most Egyptians are asking themselves now. But, does it really matter?
Well, I don’t believe it does, because who ever will be chosen by those people as a president now knows as people know that he can’t fool them anymore and that Egyptians are now ready to take action to defend their rights, no matter what it takes.
*Growing a beard is considered by some Muslims as a sign of religious devotion in Islam.