The Parallels Between the US and Egyptian Presidential Elections End Here
Cairo - Donald Trump flipped out after the election results: a man who supports the conservative policy of preserving the status quo called for a revolution. That was probably the only similarity between the US and Egyptian election processes that struck home with me here in Cairo. The faltering jokes that filled my timeline all seemed contrived and forced.
The early morning tweeps and Facebook users in Egypt saw the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Barack Obama, and Ahmed Shafik, the other presidential runoff contender, in Mitt Romney. President Mohammed Mursi’s victory speech, given before the completion of the vote count, was likened to Obama’s. “It’s accepted worldwide,” wrote social media users, trying to convince pundits that Mursi’s action was not a violation of electoral procedure, a repeated accusation.
This analogy was solidified by the support Romney was getting from some anti-Brotherhood Egyptians. The Republican candidate was particularly popular among Shafik supporters and campaigners who blamed Obama for the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. They repeated a statement accusing Obama of giving the MB US$1.3 billion – the money actually goes to the military in annual aid – supported allegation. Robert Mackey explains the development of the Obama-MB conspiracy theory here.
Drawing these parallels between the Egyptian and US elections wasn’t just a case of conservative politicians extending arms of support across the Atlantic, but a naïve understanding of the rigid American foreign policy that favors support of whoever is in power, as long as the prospect of stability and preserving its interest is guaranteed. The support of Mubarak during the early days of the uprising embarrassed US leaders into adopting a more pro-democratic approach, but such impact remains insignificant in the bigger picture.
In essence, the US foreign policy hasn’t changed much under Obama. His Cairo speech in 2009 offered many promises that failed to find reality or staggered on the way.
Neither the Brotherhood nor the Shafik camps can be compared to the Democrats; they claim identities within a map that they can only see in black and white. In fact, both are different variations of the conservative Republicans, whether in proclaimed ideologies or political and media practices. Both are concerned with curbing personal rights and freedoms. Both prefer the exclusion of enemies or other “different” partners. Both adopt policies that favor the rich over the poor in varying degrees. They both resort to hysteria and false allegations in confronting their rivals.
When the conservative Trump called for a revolution, he reminded me of friends and celebrities who remained consistently anti-revolution and considered any act of protest as disturbing the peace. That of course was the case until Shafik’s presidential bid was in jeopardy. Revolution became part of their daily jargon after the Mursi’s election.
To be fair, there is another spot-on analogy: the choice between the lesser of two evils. This is how Egyptians saw the US election in the context of unchanging foreign policy. Obama is less prone to war and military intervention than his predecessor and his competitor. And this is what got the Democratic president waves of cautious support across political and religious affiliations in Egypt – among both anti and pro MB camps – despite their criticism of US influence in the region. Obama represented the lesser evil. And making the choice between the lesser of two evils is something a lot of Egyptians know how to do; they had to make that choice between two nightmarish candidates last May: Mursi and Shafik.
And there are many Egyptians who reject both evils and see no difference between the Egyptian versions of Obama and Romney. Back in June during the runoff, this camp boycotted the vote altogether.
Many of the parallels made only hold for the second it takes to read them, fitting only a narrow circumstantial comparison that lacks context. The Mursi-Shafik comparisons specifically ignored the array of affiliations and arguments coloring the political map in both countries, more so in Egypt.