The race for Egypt’s presidency—presidential elections are scheduled for next May and the military have promised to hand over power to the new president next June—has again
The race for Egypt’s presidency—presidential elections are scheduled for next May and the military have promised to hand over power to the new president next June—has again confirmed the polarisation of Egypt along two sets of lines. First is the Islamist as opposed to non-Islamist affiliation, and second is the polarisation based on intolerance of anything related to the Mubarak regime as opposed to the endorsement thereof.
The situation became very obvious once the electoral committee announced earlier this month the names of the presidential candidates who were disqualified from running for the presidency. From among 23 candidates, 10 were disqualified for various reasons that, according to the election law, invalidated their candidacy. The disqualification of three particular candidates, however, threw the country into what promises to be political turmoil the result of which is at best very uncertain. At worst, it threatens a renewal of violent street protests, and could spark a major confrontation between the Islamists and the ruling Military Council.
The three disqualified candidates are the former intelligence chief and Mubarak’s vice president, Omar Suleiman, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) candidate Khairat al-Shater, and the candidate of the hardline Islamist Salafis Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail.
Shater was ruled out on the grounds that he had been sentenced to seven years in prison which would end in 2014—he was released from prison by the military rulers in March 2011 in the wake of the revolution—and the law bans him from running for public office for another six years. The MB circulated that the Military Council had granted Shater a pardon, but the military never confirmed that. The MB has registered a back-up candidate, Mohamed Mursi, who heads the group’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Mursi, however, is widely seen to lack the charisma it takes to win the presidency.
Abu-Ismail, known for his fervent anti-US rhetoric, has been disqualified under a provision banning any candidate whose parents held foreign citizenship from running for the presidency. Abu-Ismail’s mother, who died some three years ago, held a US citizenship.
The two Islamist candidates declared their disqualification unacceptable, and threatened that their supporters would take to the streets.
Suleiman, who suspended his campaign once he was declared disqualified, was rejected on very narrow procedural grounds: just 30 of the 30,000 endorsements needed to get him on the ballot paper were missing from his Assiut supporters. This despite the fact that Suleiman had presented in all some 60,000 endorsements.
The electoral commission has until 26 April to produce a final list of candidates.
Once Suleiman had declared his candidacy earlier this month, Egypt’s parliament swiftly approved a law that would ban members of former president Hosni Mubarak’s regime from standing for public office. The law, which still has to be approved by the Military council, could see former officials including Egypt’s first post-Revolution Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq disqualified from standing in the presidential election.
The amendment to the political activity law “bars any president, vice president, prime minister or leader or (senior member) of the now-dissolved National Democratic Party from exercising political rights for 10 years”. The law still needs to be ratified by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Constitutional law expert Ibrahim Darwish told Watani that the disqualification of all three candidates should calm down the political field, since it has worked a balance between the different political streams. There should also, he said, be no rush now that Suleiman is out to pass the law banning members of the former regime from running for public office. The SCAF, he said, would not be ratifying the law unless it is declared constitutional by either a commission of legal and constitutional experts formed specifically for the purpose or by the Supreme Constitutional Court. In either case, the procedure would have taken time and would never have been accomplished prior to 26 April.
According to Cairo University’s Political Science Professor Hassan Nafaa, it is the mismanagement of the critical interim period Egypt is undergoing, as well as the “political feeble-mindedness” of the MB and their insistence on monopolising the political field that has brought us to the quagmire we are in today.
Many political analysts, among whom Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr of the People’s Socialist Alliance and the journalist Saad Hagras talked to Watani, they believe that the race is now mainly between former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and former MB member Abdel-Moniem Abul-Fotouh.
Shukr and Hagras believe Moussa has sizeable popular support and is backed by sufficient political and diplomatic savvy to carry the vote, yet they see Abul-Fotouh as coming close behind.
Political Science Professor Saad Bedeir told Watani that the FJP’s Mursi stood a good chance if all the Islamist forces decide to stand behind him. Otherwise, Bedeir said, both the leftist Hamdein Sabahi and another Islamist candidate, Selim al-Awwa, cannot be easily discounted.
Even though the Gamaa Islamiya has declared, through its spokesman Tareq al-Zomor, that it was willing to give up its condition of “a State with an Islamic reference point” for the sake of rescuing the nation, the Salafis insist upon this condition. According to the spokesman of the Salafi Front Khaled Said, the Salafis will support neither Moussa nor Shafiq since they are remnants of the Mubarak regime, nor will they support Sabahi who is a leftist. This, Said said, leaves Abul Fotouh and Awwa, but the Salafis prefer Mr Abul-Fotouh.
For its part, the Coptic Church has announced it stands at equal distance from all candidates, and is endorsing no specific candidate for the presidency. According to acting patriarch Anba Pachomeus, every Copt is free to make his or her own decision as he or she sees best. Coptic youth, he said, are now politically active, which is both their right and their duty. They are free to endorse whatever they see right; the Church imposes no custodianship over them, he insisted.
The Church, Anba Pachomeus said, closes its doors before no one. “We have received Abul-Fotouh, Moussa, Sabahi, Awwa, and Suleiman who came to offer their condolences for the passing away of Pope Shenouda III or to wish us a happy Easter.”
“For its part, the Church,” Anba Pachomeus said last Saturday at the St Mark’s Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, “calls upon presidential candidates to work for the good of Egypt and her children. We ask the Lord to grant Egypt a president who would achieve equality, justice, and stability, and would tackle the problems related to poverty, unemployment, health and education. Egyptians should have dignity and their full rights.
“We call for a civil constitution drafted by all the various sectors of the Egyptian community; including the disabled who make some 12 per cent of the population; regardless of religion, race, gender, or colour; that would secure equality and full citizenship rights to all.”
18 April 2012