Egypt today was a country divided, nearly as neatly down the middle as the votes- 51% versus 49%- that elected Islamist Morsi over his rival for the presidency, the military-backed Shafiq. On the one hand, in Egypt today, there was celebration, horns tooting, flags flying; on the other hand there were tears, lamentation, fear of what the future might bring. Cairo alone was an ominous demonstration of national divisiveness: Tahrir Square was dedicated to the supporters of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, while Nasr City was the gathering ground for the supporters of the former general and Mubarak loyalist Shafiq.
It was the culmination of an escalation of events that began with the coup d’etat, by legislative decree, staged by the Generals on Thursday. For a few surreal days, Egyptians were in limbo: supporters of Morsi were happy their candidate won, but then so were supporters of Shafiq, who also declared he had won; those who wanted Mubarak dead were told he was clinically dead, and those who wanted him alive were reassured he was merely in a coma.
Now the suspense is over. On Sunday afternoon the head of the Egyptian Election Committee appeared on television, carried live by half the television stations around the world, and- as if determined to stretch his fifteen minutes of fame into fifty- launched into an agonizingly detailed accounting of the results of each precinct; at the end of which he finally pronounced the verdict the world was waiting to hear: Mohamed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, carried the day.
Tahrir erupted in cheers. It was not only Muslim Brotherhood supporters camped out in the square; there were secular liberals, as well, who were standing up for the sanctity of free and fair democratic elections and refused to see the revolution annulled and the clock turned back to Mubarak-era military rule. For those liberals, including Wael Ghonim of Face Book fame, the principle of democracy trumped ideological differences, however bitter the pill was to swallow.
But for many others in Egypt, it felt like the end of the world. For many of my friends who are distrustful of the military but outright terrified by the Muslim Brotherhood, the devil they know would have been better than the devil they don’t. One woman I know was choked up with tears, speaking on the phone from Egypt. Yet I remember a conversation with her, a year or so before the revolution, in which she’d dismissed my misgivings about the outcome of a hypothetical Brotherhood accession to power. “So what? They’ll make us wear a headscarf for a couple of years, that’s all, and then they’ll forget about it,” she shrugged at the time. Today she is in tears.
But this being Egypt, the air is thick with conspiracy theories. Morsi and the Generals must have reached an agreement, it is believed, hence the delay in announcing the results. The election of Morsi would avert the threat of massive unrest on the part of his cheated supporters; but with all powers concentrated in the hands of the military, he would be a toothless president reduced to a ceremonial role. Moreover, another, counter-intuitive conspiracy theory maintains, the election of an Islamist would further the secret plan of the United States to see Egypt broken up into two states, like the Sudan, Iraq and potentially Libya.
And there are yet others in Egypt who will go to bed tonight weary of conspiracy theory, suffering from revolutionary fatigue, longing for a return to ‘normal’- with only the vaguest of notions of what normal might look like today.