Marc Lynch had, on the whole, a pretty good post over at FP the other day. While I disagree with a few of his points, I thought this was well said:

The results are mainly surprising given popular ideas about the elections in advance.  Polling was indeed almost completely useless, radically exaggerating Amr Moussa’s share of the vote and missing the appeal of the actual front-runners.   Shafik was likely underestimated because people (on all sides) assumed that Moussa was the real candidate of the SCAF and that the fix was in on his behalf.  Morsi was dismissed because many observers confused the individual with the movement;  in fact, helped by the relatively low turnout, the Brotherhood’s electoral machine probably performed just as well for him as it would have for the disqualified Khairet el-Shater.  Democratic elections often fail to produce desirable results — it’s the nature of the beast.  

He also points out that the US was quietly hoping that Amr, with whom they feel comfortable they could work, would win. This is true, though it is debatable how quiet they were. The Intelligence Community and policymakers did the same thing over Saif al-Islam in Libya, hoping beyond hope that he would be a reformer that would keep things in line but allow enough democratic and economic reform that we could stop worrying about the sorts of terrible people we tend to support. This sort of deus ex machina faith also led the US to place bets on Bashar al-Assad, Nuri al-Maliki, and even Saddam Hussein once.

But beyond that, I disagree with Marc that a Moursi win would lack credibility in the eyes of the Egyptian public; in the eyes of the secular liberals, sure, but they are a small, discombobulated minority. I also think he takes the clarity of hindsight too far in thinking that Shafiq’s electoral standing was inevitable.

The real fault in this piece, however, stems from a basic assumption that many make in assuming that electoral politics in the US (or the West more generally) is universal; that politics in Egypt can be analyzed with the same sort of jaded and blasé attitude to which we are accustomed by pundits here. Frankly, those pundits are often wrong in the case of US politics, so there is little reason to assume that such thinking should be accurate in a society that is only now developing a political logic. However politics in Egypt will work, we  just don’t yet know.

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