The September 11 attacks remain the most shocking spectacle I have seen till this moment. It’s not because nothing of the same atrocity level has happened in the world in my lifetime, but because I was watching it as it happened and this is not usually the case with such catastrophes. Despite the fact that each and every single detail in the whole thing was more horrendous than the other, there is one thing that I found most alarming at the time. People were fleeing the crumbling towers ─ jumping from top-floors only to delay their death a few seconds.

I assumed that in such situations people are not capable of thinking and therefore their reactions cannot be seen in the light of rational reasoning, but on a second thought I found out I was quite wrong. Those people who jumped were, in fact, exercising their mental skills in the best way possible given the circumstances. They were escaping immediate death to the slightest possibility of survival and that made perfect sense. True, there were no mattresses waiting to receive them as they landed on the ground or a Spiderman to catch them midway, but there remained a faint glimpse of hope that some miraculous power might interfere in the last moment and it was definitely worth giving it a shot. The outcome is often equally tragic, but the fewer your options, the more forced you are to determine the lesser of the two evils and go for it before the greater one robs you of the last straw you might be able to hang on to before it’s too late.

Although the case of victims who run from a certain to an almost certain death is one purely based in the self-preservation instinct, which endows you with that power to cling to life for the longest time possible and through whatever means available, political choices are taken to a more conscious level where extensive deliberation precedes the acknowledgment and subsequent selection of the less damaging of two almost equally bad options. “Better the Sultan’s turban than the Pope’s mitre” is one of the earliest and most illuminating epigrams on this issue. It describes how the Orthodox Christians of the Balkans saw an Ottoman conquest better than a Roman Catholic one because in the first scenario they would be allowed to keep their faith while becoming second-class citizens whereas in the second they would be forced to convert. This in no way makes the turban a choice they would make voluntarily, but it would not look that repulsive when the alternative is the mitre.

In a modern context, this concept is best illustrated in elections where voters are stuck between two unfavorable candidates and instead of looking for the merits of each, they count who has less drawbacks. There is no need to mention cases like Al Gore and George W. Bush in the 2004 U.S. elections or Jacques Chirac and Jean-Marie le Pen when Egypt is offering the marvelous duo of Ahmed Shafiq and Mohammed Mursi.

The results of the first round of Egyptian presidential elections left voters in all sorts of dilemmas that evolved over time from the turban-mitre metaphor and that includes the devil and the deep blue sea, the rock and the hard place… etc.

Let us first note that the problem with the two candidates does not start with the ideology each of them represents or how unfit any of them is to rule Egypt at this critical stage like many would assume. The real crisis stems from the fact that none of the two constitutes from near or far can show an achievement of even one of the revolution’s goals. In fact, the rise of any of them to power would mean an outright elimination of the revolution, both the actual action and the abstract concept.

While the Shafiq was an integral part of the regime the revolution erupted to topple, Mursi is the arch foe of the civil state the revolution erupted to establish and between the two types of tyranny, Egyptians are left wondering which choice would leave them less guilty of undermining the revolution and dragging the country to the point of no return.

Both candidates are not a problem for what they are as much as what they represent, what kind of institution they are supported by and the way those two factors shape the future of Egypt, at least for the next four years, in the bleakest manner possible.

However, examining the background of the two candidates or nursing grudges over how each of them betrayed the revolution in a certain way is not what Egyptians are interested in at the moment. They are only focusing on acquiring the skills necessary to determine which evil is lesser or just waiting for some last minute twist of fate that would rid them of a burden under which their backs are bound to break even if with various degrees of damage.

There are a few reasons why Shafiq is the lesser of the two evils. He was part of a regime that has already been toppled and is therefore no longer as powerful as he used to be especially since his staunch supporter, former president Hosni Mubarak, is now serving a life sentence and that other remnants of the past era that remain at large are too weak to regroup in a similar entity. Even the Higher Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which is said to support him, has not been capable of intimidating the revolutionaries and there is no reason why Shafiq should be any different. Plus, the man is just a tool to guarantee safe exist for the former regime’s top officials, including SCAF members, who would have been in real trouble had a revolutionary candidate came to power. When this mission is accomplished, he will be faster than you can imagine in packing up, running away, and never looking back. Plus, if Shafiq becomes president, he (and whoever is supporting him) will be fully aware that this is not in any way the result of the trust people put in him, but that he is just the only escape from an anticipated theocracy in case the rival wins. He will then be made aware of how at the first blunder, people will be quicker that he can ever imagine to rise against him and it will take much less than 18 days to lose the job.

There are few reasons why Mursi is the lesser evil. He is the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood that has, for the longest time, been regarded as the most dangerous threat to Egypt’s stability ─ not only because of the religious state it aims to establish, but its frightening attempts at monopolizing power. But with a lousy performance in parliament and a subsequent drop in popular support, this is no longer the case. In a few months, the Brotherhood has managed to sustain a variety of self-inflicted damages that would make it very hard for the group to impose its will on the people or establish a system of governance they are not going to accept. The Brotherhood will also not have the guts to try to turn Egypt into another Iran not only because of how impossible it is to erase a centuries-long history of religious moderation and cultural diversity, but also because many of the tricks they used to play to emotionally manipulate the poor and the simple-minded are not longer working. Plus, if Mursi becomes president, he and the Brotherhood will be fully aware that this is not in any way the result of the trust people have imposed in them, but the only way to escape a much-feared return of the former regime. He will, therefore, also be aware that at his first blunder, people will be quicker that he could ever imagine to rise against him and it will take much less than 18 days to lose the job.

There are a lot of reasons why going to the polling station and placing a cross in front of both names while writing the words “the revolution continues” is the most ethical choice any conscientious Egyptian will make. It is not only the option that will make you sleep much better at night and spare you the agony of holding yourself partly accountable for any disaster that befalls the country, but also the one that will create a third scenario that the authorities did not offer but that the people have decided to create. Nullifying the vote is not a passive action as people claim it to be, but choosing a candidate only because he is less bad is the worst form of passivity.

At times, it seems like you either have to perish on the rooftop or jump to your death on the ground, but there might be more ways out than anyone can imagine. Let us first be thankful that we are not in the die now or a second later situation and we still have the clarity of mind to look for unexplored emergency exists.