Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Egyptian Copts and Muslims: Single Issue Voters

History has many examples of voters who vote for a candidate or against another based on a single issue. Single issue voting is more common than we think. For example, in the U.S. voters did that in the past to abolish slavery and grant civil rights for women. More recently issues such as immigration, abortion, gay marriage, Iran or Israel became “hot button” issues. In Europe, we saw some voters determine their votes based on a single issue such as immigration or anti-war positions. So to cut a long story short, this kind of voting is not new and is not something unique to only a few voters. 

In Egypt if we remove all the noise and fog most Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, are voting based on a single issue: sharia. All other issues are secondary. The main issue is whether a candidate is pro or anti sharia. 

If the perfect candidate was running on a pragmatic program to fix Egypt but dared to say that he does not support sharia and prefers having it removed from the constitution he will not get most of the Muslim vote. Worse he will be considered anti-God and his career as a mainstream politician will be over. Even so-called liberals will throw him under the bus to save their "liberal" brand from being tarnished. That's why you have a candidate like Moussa keeping the fig leaf of sharia "principles" which is a code for "I'm not really pro sharia but I have to say this to remain relevant". 

Let’s take another real life example, Ahmed Shafiq is being heavily promoted and supported by many Egyptian Christians, abroad and in Egypt. On almost every level he is an embarrassment and is not fit to run the country or even a governorate. Even worse, if elected, the country will continue the vicious cycle of demonstrations and bloodshed given his ties to Mubarak and the army. Saying all that, many Christians will vote for him because they believe he will protect them from the Islamists and the implementation of sharia. If Shafiq tomorrow went on air and supported the full application of sharia, all Christians will shift to Moussa. 

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph single issue voting is not unique but when coupled with a perceived existential crisis it tends to, understandably, fully drive the decision process. Also, having a disappointing, and in some cases scary, set of presidential candidates makes the single issue decision process easier for most Christians in Egypt (“they are all bad but at least Shafiq will protect us” is almost the unifying theme by many of my Christian friends).

The sad part Egyptians are not voting as Egyptians but as Egyptian Muslims and Egyptian Christians. We do not think of our country as a whole but through the sharia prism and the fear of having or not having it. 

Image: From Twitter. An Egyptian Christian in Algeria sharing a picture of his ballot.