Cairo — Only hours before Egypt learned that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi had won the presidential election, feverish rumors swept across Cairo’s more fashionable districts.
After days of delay, word on the street was that Ahmed Shafik, Morsi’s main rival and a member of Hosni Mubarak’s old guard, was poised to be declared the winner of the country’s first democratic vote.
The rumors were greeted with satisfaction among Egypt’s secular middle class, some of whom feared the Muslim Brotherhood more than they feared the bloodshed and chaos that could have resulted from the perception of a stolen election.
The chatter brought a smile to the face of one of Mubarak’s former foreign ministers, whom I was interviewing at the time about a topic unrelated to the election.
After taking a call on his cell phone, he hung up and grinned even wider.
A very well-placed friend, he explained, had just called in to inform him that the electoral commission would soon proclaim Shafik the winner.
Within a few hours, the rumors and “highly placed sources” had melted away. They were swept aside by a stunning reality: The country’s electoral commission announced that Morsi won the election. Within a few hours, the Supreme Military Council congratulated him. Later, Shafik conceded.
The next day, a prosecutor announced that corruption lawsuits naming Shafik in connection with crooked land sales during his time as a Mubarak minister would go forward.
Denying the charges, Shafik nevertheless left the country for Abu Dhabi on June 26, accompanied by his family. Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s former spy chief and the former ruling party kingmaker, had reportedly already fled to the Persian Gulf with his family.
Meanwhile, Morsi went on national television just hours after he was named president-elect. He gave a long and repetitious speech that appealed to the undeniably sentimental streak of the Egyptian people. It worked. Many Shafik supporters, who had been convinced that a Morsi victory might usher in an Islamist reign of terror, were reassured by Morsi’s words. He told them he would be president of all the people, that Egypt was one family, that everyone’s rights would be respected.