Egypt's 97.7 Per Cent: If Everyone Votes Yes, Is It Democracy?

Peter Hessler in The New Yorker hits on an important truth about Egyptian politics - its fickleness: 

Hassan was smoking a shisha pipe at a coffee shop near the polling station, and he told me that he planned to vote yes. He had voted for Morsi in 2012. “He was a good man, but there was so much corruption around him,” Hassan said. I asked him if the Brothers are really terrorists.

 

“Yes,” he said, without hesitating. “I see what is happening on television, the things in Sinai, and I can see that they are terrorists.”

I had heard similar comments from many others. But Hassan surprised me when I asked about Sisi. “I’m telling you, if Sisi runs and wins, then the people will hate him,” he said. “Right now everybody loves him. But, once he gets the chair, then it will all change.”

This is hard to recognize in the 97.7 per cent: beneath the surface, there’s an incredible volatility to the Egyptian majority. Outsiders tend to see two entrenched sides, the security forces and the Islamists, but in fact most Egyptians occupy a much less partisan and less predictable political space. And they still have power, whether it comes through the vote or through public protests.

Thus far, everybody who has tried to run the country in the post-Tahrir era has failed to understand how quickly things can change. Until the bitter end, Morsi and the other Brotherhood leaders truly believed that they remained popular, simply because they had won elections in the past. But, at the polls this week, I met many people who had voted yes on both constitutions, and it was common to talk to a former Morsi supporter who was now an enthusiastic fan of Sisi. Nagat Abdel Latif, a middle-aged woman who worked at the Ministry of Aviation, told me that she came to the polls not because of the constitution but because she wanted to show her support for Sisi. A year and a half earlier, she had voted for Morsi, even though her ministry had been led by Ahmed Shafik, Morsi’s opponent in the Presidential election. “I worked there, so I knew about Shafik,” she told me. “I liked him, too. Still, many of us there voted for Morsi. We just thought it was time for a change. But we were wrong; Morsi was terrible.” She told me that she was certain Sisi would be better.

I suspect that we were to draw a Venn diagram of Egyptians who voted for Morsi in 2012, voted for the 2012 constitution, voted for the 2013 constitution and intend to vote for Sisi in 2014, the overlap would be significant.