More than 800 Egyptians of varied backgrounds and political orientations have officially registered their candidacies for the country’s first post- Mubarak presidential election. Although more candidates are expected to emerge before the registration process ends Apr. 8, most local analysts say the contest – slated for late May – will be dominated by a small handful of high-profile contenders.
«It’s too early to try to predict who will win,» Seif Abdel-Fattah, political science professor at Cairo University, told IPS. «We won’t know the final number of candidates until the registration period ends, and the frontrunners will certainly change over the next two months as candidates unveil their various political platforms.»
According to Egypt’s Higher Presidential Elections Commission (HPEC), candidates will have from Apr. 30 to May 21 to do all their campaigning, while polling will take place on May 23 and 24. In the event that no single candidate wins an outright majority, a runoff vote will be held Jun. 16 and 17.
Final results will be announced Jun. 21, immediately after which Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has promised to formally hand over executive authority to the new president.
Presidential hopefuls can only register candidacies if they enjoy the support of an established political party represented in Egypt’s current parliament; have the backing of 30 sitting MPs; or collect the signatures of 30,000 supporters from among the citizens.
Two high-profile political personalities hitherto touted as likely frontrunners have already been removed from the equation.
Late last year, Ayman Nour, runner-up in 2005 presidential polls and current head of the Ghad al-Thawra Party, was barred from running due to a previous conviction for electoral fraud. And in January, reform campaigner Mohamed ElBaradei, former International Atomic Energy Agency chief, bowed out of the race citing fears the elections would lack transparency.
According to Abdel-Fattah, the withdrawal of ElBaradei – long considered a major contender – has left the liberal camp without a clear frontrunner.
«ElBaradei had been the liberals’ best hope, and his departure has left the liberal camp without a preferred candidate,» he said. «The Islamist camp, meanwhile, which largely controls parliament, is currently split between three top nominees.»
The best known among these is Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, secretary-general of the Arab Doctors Union and former leading member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Aboul-Fotouh was expelled from the Brotherhood in the wake of last year’s revolution when he insisted on making a bid for the presidency despite the group’s decision not to field a candidate.
The two other Islamist frontrunners are Hazem Sallah Abu Ismail, a prominent lawyer and Muslim preacher who looks favourably on the notion of implementing Islamic Law; and Selim al-Awa, an Islamist law professor and former secretary-general of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, who stands for a civil state based on an Islamic frame of reference.
Of these three, Abdel-Fattah said, Aboul-Fotouh appears to be the most popular.
«He’s a moderate Islamist who speaks the language of modernity, and he’s well-liked for having fought Mubarak-era corruption,» said Abdel-Fattah. «If he allied himself with a viable secular candidate – with one as president and the other vice-president – he would have an extremely strong chance of winning.»
Neither of Egypt’s two main Islamist movements – the Brotherhood and the Salafists, who together control over 70 percent of the seats in parliament – have as yet thrown their support behind a particular candidate. Both groups say they will do so only once the candidacy-registration period ends next month.
As for the more secular-minded candidates, Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League (2001-2011), leads the pack.
Moussa served as foreign minister under Mubarak from 1991 to 2001, when he was kicked upstairs to the Arab League secretariat-general. Many observers attributed Moussa’s «promotion» to Mubarak’s fears that his outspoken minister was becoming too popular due to his strong public criticism of Israeli violence against the Palestinians.
Moussa promises a five-year plan for the first stage of Egypt’s political and economic renewal. «I will work to restore Egypt’s historical role as regional leader; fight corruption; and guarantee social justice – all of which can be achieved in less than ten years,» Moussa told IPS.
Other prominent non-Islamist candidates include Ahmed Shafik, a Mubarak-era civil aviation minister and the last Mubarak-appointed prime minister (Jan.29-Mar.3, 2011); and Hamadin Sabahi, a former MP (2000- 2010) and founder of the Nasserist Karama (‘Dignity’) Party. Sabahi, who actively opposed the 1979 peace treaty with Israel and the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, was arrested several times during both the Sadat and Mubarak eras for his political activity.
There are also two candidates said to enjoy the support of the ruling SCAF.
The first, Hossam Khairallah, former head of Egypt’s general-intelligence apparatus (2000-2005), strenuously denies being the military’s candidate. «I’m of a military background and I welcome the military’s support – but I’m not the SCAF’s candidate,» Khairallah told IPS. «I’m just a citizen with a plan to promote Egypt’s revival.»
The second, Mansour Hasan, head of the SCAF’s advisory council, only announced his intention to run this month following repeated denials that he planned to do so. Hasan served in several key positions under late president Anwar Sadat, and had reportedly once been considered by Sadat as a possible replacement for then vice-president Hosni Mubarak.
According to recent speculation, Hasan is the preferred candidate of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling military council. Hasan, however, has repeatedly stressed that he did not secure the support of either the Brotherhood or the SCAF before announcing his presidential bid.
Abdel-Fattah says Hasan’s eleventh-hour candidacy «could be a final attempt by the SCAF to introduce a nominee who both enjoys significant support and who, as head of the SCAF’s advisory council, knows how to deal with the top military brass.»
All these frontrunners call for promoting social justice, reforming Egypt’s moribund public health and education sectors, regaining Egypt’s regional standing, fighting corruption and employing foreign investment to bolster the national economy. They all also agree on the need to maintain Article 2 of Egypt’s current constitution, which stipulates that legislation be based on the principles of Islamic Law.
Other contenders for Egypt’s highest office include Mubarak-era intelligence chief Omar Suleiman; female activist Buthaina Kamel; and Hosni Mubarak, first cousin and namesake of the recently deposed president.