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The Calculus of Egypt's Presidential Race

By       Message Esam Al-Amin     Permalink
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At that time it was not clear what candidate SCAF might support. Before the dispute with SCAF was made public, many observers thought that a deal might have been struck with the military to support El-Shater in exchange for the secure exit guarantees SCAF was seeking. But within days, rumors started circulating that former vice president Suleiman was about to run for president as the military's response to El-Shater's candidacy. On April 4 Suleiman issued a statement announcing that he would not be a candidate. Yet, within 48 hours he reversed himself and submitted 43,000 signatures to the Elections Committee twenty minutes before the closing of the nominations. Not since the success of the revolution have the fulool felt empowered and the revolutionaries became dispirited and divided.

Egyptians across the political spectrum were shocked and outraged that Mubarak's intelligence chief and most loyal underling would have the audacity to run for president in order to "fulfill the objectives of the revolution" as he shamelessly declared. They felt insulted and appalled. Many asserted that as pro-revolution groups were divided along ideological lines, the fulool (former regime remnants) and SCAF were now regrouping and organizing themselves to mount a counter-revolution. The signatures in support of Suleiman's candidacy were collected within 48 hours, an impossible task if it was not for many government agencies and officials pressuring public employees and army recruits, and mobilizing their resources to facilitate it.

Within days the parliament passed a law barring former Mubarak senior officials from running in any elections for 10 years due to their role in corrupting politics during the former regime. If signed by SCAF, this law would effectively ban not only Suleiman but another official candidate who was Mubarak's last Prime Minister, Ahmad Shafiq, also a former military general. In order to play for time, SCAF sent the law to the Constitutional Supreme Court asking for an advisory opinion hoping to delay the decision until it would be too late to disqualify the fulool candidates. But the court immediately ruled that it had no jurisdiction on the matter. SCAF is now forced to show its cards, it could no longer hide behind any political group or the courts.

As they sensed the grave threat Suleiman's candidacy paused against the revolution, all political parties and groups called for massive demonstrations in the two successive Fridays against the fulool candidates represented not only by Suleiman and Shafiq but also by two former intelligence officers and former foreign minister Amr Mousa. Hundreds of thousands flocked to Tahrir Square and across the country in a show of unity reminiscent of the early days of the revolution. The protesters rejected the fulool candidates and called for the end of military rule.

Meanwhile, the Presidential Committee evaluated the applications of the candidates and disqualified 10 candidates out of the declared 23. Most surprisingly, it disqualified El-Shater, Suleiman, Ayman Noor, a liberal and a former presidential contender that ran against Mubarak in the 2005 elections, as well as the charismatic Salafi candidate, fiery preacher and civil rights attorney Hazem Salah Abu Ismail. The committee reasoned that each candidate was disqualified because they lacked one or more conditions. Abu Ismail was disqualified because his mother attained U.S. citizenship before she died in 2010. The candidate claimed that the U.S. forged the citizenship documents and thus it was opposed to his candidacy because he called for the implementation of Shari'a law and took a hard stand against the peace treaty with Israel and American foreign policy in the Muslim world. Although the U.S. as well as many secular Egyptians were indeed concerned about his candidacy and popularity, it was clear that his mother had indeed obtained American citizenship in 2006, acquired a U.S. passport, as well as registered to vote in Los Angeles County.

The committee also disqualified the candidacy of El-Shater and Noor on the pretext that they were convicted of crimes during the Mubarak regime, though in widely condemned political show trials. According to Egyptian law, a convict loses his political rights unless restored through full presidential pardon or by the courts. Although SCAF issued pardons to both candidates the committee claimed that they still lacked the requirement of restoring their political rights that could only be obtained by the courts six years after the pardon is issued or by the invalidation of the charges. Perhaps most surprisingly, the committee also disqualified Suleiman by charging that some of the signatures submitted by him were forgeries. The other six disqualifications were minor candidates, including two former intelligence generals. They were excluded for violating one or more conditions. Although the committee allowed the candidates to appeal its decisions, it eventually rejected all appeals and reaffirmed its disqualification of their candidacies.

Naturally the MB and El-Shater were outraged and charged that the Suleiman's candidacy was a ruse, a farce, and a clumsy attempt by SCAF to disqualify the MB official candidate without causing public outrage since the public would feel relief after the disqualification of Suleiman. They also charged that the real SCAF candidates were now revealed. They are Prime Minister Shafiq and former foreign minister Amr Mousa; both allowed to contest the elections. Not to be out-maneuvered, the MB feared that their official candidate, El-Shater, might be disqualified so on the last day of the nominations it too fielded a back-up candidate, FJP chairman, Dr. Muhammad Mursi. The new MB candidate received a Ph.D. in 1982 in engineering from southern California, and worked as an academic in the U.S. and later in Egypt for decades before being elected to parliament in the 2005 elections.

So who are the final official candidates?

 One can classify the remaining 13 candidates that might appear on the ballot into different groupings as follows:

 a) The Islamically-oriented candidates: There are three candidates that belong to this group.

1)    Dr. Abdulmoneim Abol Fotouh, 60, a medical doctor by training, and the head of the Arab Medical Union, a pan-Arab medical association focused on relief work. He is also a former MB leader who broke away from the group last year after announcing his candidacy. Abol Fotouh was qualified as an independent candidate after collecting over 43,000 notarized signatures. He is well known to the public since his days as a former student leader who challenged former president Anwar Sadat in 1977. In that confrontation, which aired on live television at the time, Abol Fotouh accused Sadat's advisers of being hypocrites and corrupt. The former president, not accustomed to public criticism became angry and tried to intimidate and silence him but Abol Fotouh stood his ground, gaining many admirers. He later spent several years in prison for his political activism during the Sadat and Mubarak regimes. He is not only popular within the Islamic circles, but also among many segments of Egyptian society including liberals, leftists, and Copts. He is also known for his moderate views. With the elimination of Abu Ismail, it is expected that he would get a substantial vote from that conservative constituency as well as from many other revolutionary and anti-Mubarak regime constituents.

2)    Dr. Muhammad Mursi, 60, is the low-key and uncharismatic back-up MB candidate. He was qualified as the official FJP candidate in lieu of being the head of the party. Mursi would most likely garner the majority of the MB vote but it is not clear how much support he would attract outside that constituency in light of the controversial decision by the MB to reverse its decision and field a candidate, as well as their mishandling of the appointment of the constitutional assembly. Many observers believe that if Mursi wins he would share power with El-Shater as Prime Minister similar to the arrangement in recent years in Russia between Medvedev and Putin, with the latter being the power behind the throne.

3)    Dr. Muhammad Salim Al-Awwa, 71, a well-known constitutional scholar and Islamic intellectual. He was qualified by collecting 30 signatures from members of parliament. Although Al-Awwa is well respected by many Egyptian intellectuals and elites, he does not have large following among the grass roots revolutionaries or common Egyptians to have a realistic chance of getting enough support to go to the second round.

b) The fulool-supported candidates: There are two candidates that fit this group.

1)    Ahmad Shafiq, 71, is the former Prime Minister appointed by Mubarak just twelve days before he was ousted. He is considered a Mubarak loyalist and likely has the support of the fulool business class and the counter-revolutionary forces within the security apparatus as well as many segments within the government, still largely run by former Mubarak loyalists.

2)    Amr Mousa, 76, served as foreign minister under Mubarak for over a decade. He also served for another decade as Secretary General of the Arab League. He is considered very popular among common Egyptians because at times he was critical of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians while Mubarak was following the dictates of the U.S. and Israel. His critics charge that he was an integral part of the Mubarak regime and was on record in 2010 of supporting the deposed president for another term.

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.

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