The rise of the ‘man in the pullover’

All of a sudden, “the man in the pullover,” or Ahmed Shafiq — who is satirically described as such due to his initial media appearance in casual attire — has come back into the spotlight. Once disdained by friends and foes alike, Shafiq is now widely acclaimed as the country’s savior from the ludicrousness of “traders of religion” and the frivolity of the “immature revolutionaries.” How did Omar Suleiman's "substitute" and Amr Moussa's "distorted replica" become the right man for the current stage?

Counterrevolutionary reporters have the right to conjure up the legend of a strong and cunning Shafiq, and he too has every right to market himself as the misunderstood revolutionary. However, the plain truth is that, for the counterrevolution, Shafiq is a necessity, and probably also a the result of a dilemma for counterrevolutionary powers striving to carve out a space for themselves in Egypt’s future.

The search for an icon

Over the past six months, the revolution has been searching for a leader or an icon, one who would be able to unify the fragmented revolutionaries. On the other hand, the counterrevolution was born in the arms of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which was crowned to be the protector of former regime remnants.

Paradoxically, however, the counterrevolutionary camp, happy to dwell in the shelter of the SCAF, had to break ties with the junta in order to participate in shaping the future. Indeed, the SCAF served as their kind-hearted guardian, but the it would not take part in the parliamentary or presidential elections, enter the presidential palace or participate in legislation.

The rules of the democratic game imposed by the 25 January revolution have obligated former regime remnants, or the feloul camp, to search for representatives in the germinal political sphere.

At the beginning, the counterrevolutionary camp was weak. The alternative for barefaced engagement in political life was for them to stealthily creep their way into the political sphere through institutions or figures that are not considered part of the former regime.

This explains how some former regime remnants ran on the Wafd and Free Egyptians parties' liss in the parliamentary elections. And it also explains how the idea of a consensus president was first brought up to reach a compromise between the demands of the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary camps.

The idea of a consensual president was, however, shot down despite its appeal to the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood; its failure being attributable to the steadfastness of the revolution, rather than the stubbornness of the SCAF and the Brotherhood.

After it became clear that the revolutionary camp could present strong candidates — Mohamed ElBaradei, then Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh and Hazem Salah Abu Ismail — capable of ruining plans for a consensual president, the Brotherhood discovered that backing a candidate who had the support of the SCAF, particularly if he was non-Islamist, could destroy their organization and cause their popularity to wane. 

As such, plans for a consensual president were aborted and the SCAF announced that they do not back up any specific candidate in the presidential election, embarking instead on a plan to oust the unruly runners and splinter votes.

Suleiman and Shafiq

Following a failed call for civil disobedience on 11 February 2012, the counterrevolutionary  camp grew bolder and relations between the Brotherhood and the SCAF largely broke down. At this point, the most repellant face of the counterrevolution unveiled its disciples, the scum of the bourgeoisie.

Also at this point, Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s former intelligence head, decided to run for president. The man who remained silent for more than one year, believing that his appearance could reveal how divided the counterrevolutionary camp is, finally decided not only to speak but to declare himself an icon for the feloul camp — and here lies the significance of his nomination.

The counterrevolution is cunning. Suleiman, notorious as the former regime’s Dracula, was marketed as the savior of the petite bourgeoisie who felt threatened by the “recklessness” of the unruly revolutionary democratic camp.

Enemies of the revolution used the "need for stability" bait to lure more of the hungry bourgeoisie into their camp. 

People who work on a daily wage basis and members of the middle class who have a yearning for the easy, safe lives they led before the “damned” revolution broke out, began to relish the idea of having Suleiman as president — "And why not?"

Their acceptance of the idea suggested that an important sector of the petite bourgeoisie had altogether lost hope in the revolution.

The reason why Suleiman appeared and disappeared so quickly is not important. Suleiman's brief appearance on the political scene helped the feloul camp discover that their strength lies not in their love of the counterrevolution, but rather in their fear of revolutionary chaos. Also, Suleiman's withdrawal left the counterrevolutionary camp with no choice other than Shafiq.

As such, a ridiculous man came to embody the hopes of a class eager to support any imbecile that could help them abort the revolution.

The hype

Shafiq was hyped by the deep state and feloul camp as a savior in order to score a win. Unlike the remaining candidates, Shafiq got many of his votes through bribery, rigging and directed voting.

Admittedly, Shafiq did not distribute oil and sugar to win voters, like others did, but the dissolved National Democratic Party's local networks of corruption — which are financed by businessmen from the party's policies committee and which were not dismantled by the revolution — rallied voters for him.

The heads of families in Upper and Lower Egypt, who have for long been toadying up to the regime to protect their local influence and share in power, also rallied voters for Shafiq.

Shafiq made it to the runoff after the regime's various corruption networks started working again, following a temporary breakdown during the parliamentary elections.

Still, nobody can claim they can fully understand the intricacies of the so-called counterrevolutionary camp and their modus operandi. It is most likely, however, that they hope that Shafiq's qualification for the runoff to face off with the Muslim Brotherhood candidate would garner the additional support from anti-Brotherhood voters.

Who will rise to power?

The counterrevolutionary camp viciously dreams to reach power through elections, the democratic mechanism established by the revolution itself.

Shafiq's victory in the elections will be a serious blow to the revolution because it will earn him ballot-box legitimacy and demonstrate that the counterrevolution is alive and kicking, bestowing renewed legitimacy on old ways of rule.

But we should not forget that many more Egyptians voted for the revolution. In addition, it is the social and political significance of the votes, rather than their count, that makes the difference.

The votes of the counterrevolutionary camp are only figures on paper, for none of the poor who were rallied to vote for Shafiq or even those who freely chose him to protect their livelihoods are ready to fight for him or for the counterrevolution. The pro-revolution votes, meanwhile, were cast by people willing to fight for a better future — workers who lead social movements, hardcore football fans and the more progressive-thinking petite bourgeoisie.

We must fight to prevent Shafiq from becoming the president. If he still takes office, then the revolutionaries will pour onto the streets to bring him down.

Translated from Al-Masry Al-Youm by Dina Zafer

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