The Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, has vowed to impose broader application of Islamic law. Ahmed Shafiq, who served as prime minister before Hosni Mubarak was toppled from the presidency in the 2011 revolution, campaigned as a secular leader who will thwart the rise of political Islam and restore security.
The choice leaves a large section of Egyptian society feeling disenfranchised and stunned, particularly because neither finalist was regarded as a champion of last year’s popular revolt.
“You’ll have a lot of people staying away from the polls. It’s a potential fiasco and a possible confrontation,” said Hani Shukrallah, editor of the English-language Web site of the state-run newspaper al-Ahram
While none of the leading candidates was considered ideal for U.S. interests, the two finalists are in many ways the worst, said Marina Ottaway, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Shafiq would spell trouble because there might be another upheaval. It would be seen by many as a return to the old regime, and the country would be very divided,” Ottaway said. “Morsi would also be seen as a problem in Washington — too much power for the Muslim Brotherhood, and again the country would be divided.”
The Muslim Brotherhood urged the nation on Friday to unite behind its candidate to defeat Shafiq, calling on other presidential candidates to endorse Morsi. A leading member of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, Essam el-Erian, said in a news conference that Egypt’s revolution was in “danger.”
During the campaign, Morsi appealed to the legion of pious voters who have come to depend on the Brotherhood’s extensive charity network and appreciate its religious outreach. Although Morsi is an uncharismatic candidate, the group’s prodigious electoral machinery propelled him to first place in the voting.
A win for Morsi in the second round — which was triggered because no candidate reached 50 percent — would give the Brotherhood a near-monopoly on the country’s newly democratic government, following its sweep of parliamentary elections late last year. Many Egyptians fear that an empowered Brotherhood would turn the nation into a hard-line Islamist state modeled on Saudi Arabia, and they express misgivings about the group’s commitment to democratic ideals.
One major question for Washington if Morsi wins is how the Brotherhood — which has existed as an opposition force for decades — will choose to govern.
“The entire strategic relationship with the U.S. is something the Brotherhood has spoken against for years,” said Steven Cook, a Middle East fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. That strategic cooperation has encompassed military exchanges, intelligence sharing, Suez Canal access and airspace.