Reports of the Muslim Brotherhood's demise were greatly exaggerated

The Brotherhood’s unmatched mobilizing capabilities suggest that, in a certain sense, it hardly matters whom they nominate for office. The gruff, uncharismatic Morsi was, after all, the Brotherhood’s “spare tire”—a reluctant understudy forced to perform after the group’s initial nominee, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified from the elections due to a technicality. Moreover, Morsi made little attempt at reaching out to the non-Islamist public, whereas the eloquent Abouel Fotouh drew support from a broad coalition that included Salafists on the far right and socialists on the far left. But in a presidential contest featuring five major candidates, Abouel Fotouh’s broad coalition was no match for the Brotherhood’s reliable legions of foot-soldiers, who could mobilize superior get-out-the-vote efforts in every Egyptian governorate.

The Brotherhood’s disciplined infrastructure has thus put Mohamed Morsi one election away from Egypt’s presidency, and—barring massive fraud—he stands an excellent chance against former prime minister Shafik. While Shafik can count on support from Egyptian Christians and many of the rural clans that previously backed Mubarak’s ruling party, Morsi is already drawing support from many non-Islamists who fear a return to the old regime more than a Brotherhood-dominated Egypt. Moreover, early reports indicate that, faced with the choice between the autocratic Shafik and theocratic Morsi, many voters will stay home—a decision that will bolster Morsi, since low turnouts benefit well organized parties.