As final election returns are tallied in Egypt, the people have spoken and the resounding message is clear: “Don’t underestimate the Muslim Brotherhood!”
At least, that’s the word from my old friend Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute, who I reached by phone in Cairo in the back of a taxi cab late Friday after a night of cruising from one polling station to the next.
In the background, I could hear the car horns blaring in Cairo streets crowed with people and traffic well into the wee hours of the night. And there is no analyst with a better sense of those streets than Hamid, the Egyptian-American director of research at the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center.
With more than 20 out of 27 Egyptian voting precincts reporting, he said it is confirmed that the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi will get the most votes, although still not over the 50 percent that is required to take the presidency.
By the rules of the election, Morsi, who was not favored in polls and not widely considered a strong candidate, will face the second place candidate, who at this point appears to be Ahmed Shafiq, the former Prime Minister who served in the dying days of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, in a runoff election which is scheduled for mid June.
More from GlobalPost: Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood on cusp of upset victory
And so if the message is not to underestimate the Muslim Brotherhood, who do you think underestimated this slumbering giant of an Islamist movement more than anyone?
“Washington just doesn’t get it. They have no ear for what is going on. They are not making Egypt a priority or the Arab Spring a priority. They’ve dropped the ball,” said Hamid.
The American foreign policy establishment, he added, “has spent so many years supporting the status quo, that now that the Arab world is turning against that status quo, they don’t know what to do. It will take longer than a year and a half for them to make the turn.”
Since the very first days of the ‘January 25 Revolution’ in Egypt, Hamid has been warning those who are willing to listen that the Muslim Brotherhood would use this historic moment to capitalize on the political machine it has built.
It’s a machine built through decades of patience, discipline and endurance. The Brotherhood withstood grinding oppression, prison beatings and political insults as an outlawed political party during the 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. And now is their moment.
In parliamentary elections last year, the Muslim Brotherhood gained 40 percent of the seats. But if the movement takes the executive branch as well, it will have a decisive role in shaping the constitution and forging the future of a new Egypt in a way that surprises even Hamid.
“The Brotherhood is still an amazing machine. They ran a great campaign. They organized their ranks and brought the Salafists to their side,” he said.
“They will almost certainly take the presidency because as much as other parties might not like the Muslim Brotherhood, they dislike even more Shafiq and the way he represents the old regime,” explained Hamid.
“Egypt wants change,” said Hamid, speaking over the timeless sounds of Cairo’s chaotic streets in the background.
For more on GlobalPost's Egypt coverage, check out our Special Report "Inside the Muslim Brotherhood."