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Egypt Presidential Election 2012
Egypt Presidential Election 2012

Egypt Presidential Election: A day in the Sun for Arab Democracy

(Sami Moubayed | DP-News - atimes )

DAMASCUS- There are five serious candidates among 13 choices for Egypt's 50 million eligible voters in the presidential election that is spread over Wednesday and Thursday, with analysts saying that voting results remain impossible to predict.

Official results will be announced on May 29, when it is expected no one candidate will have gained a sufficient majority. A runoff is therefore expected, with the two candidates with the highest number of votes facing off next month on June 16-17.

This is a far cry from the days of Hosni Mubarak - thrown out of power in February 2011 after massive the protests - when his re-election was a formality after he came to power in October 1981; he often "won" 99.9% of the vote. The main characters in the current polls are:



Mohammad Morsi: He is the "substitute" yet official candidate of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. (The Brotherhood's first-choice candidate, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified for legal reasons.) Opinion polls have Morsi gaining 15% of the vote. The United States-trained politician (aged 60) lacks charisma, and is by no means a gifted orator like many of his colleagues in the Brotherhood.

Leaders in the Brotherhood had originally advised against presenting a candidate for the presidency, claiming that it was too early for them to take on parliament and the presidential office simultaneously. In Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliamentary polls late last year, Islamist parties - led by the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party - captured more than 75% of the seats in the People's Assembly (the Lower House).

Controlling parliament and the presidency would be a huge challenge for the Brotherhood, the leaders claimed, which would eventually break, rather than empower the party. Others, however, claim that now is a golden moment for the Brotherhood to rise from the ashes after decades of persecution.

They realize, though, that whoever is going to become president, he will have a very difficult path ahead, and they don't want the Brotherhood to pay the price for years of corruption, dictatorship and inequality.

It would be wiser, the leaders argue, for them to present a candidate the next time Egyptians go to the polls, in 2016, rather than get a Brotherhood president now who would most likely fail due to the magnitude of problems awaiting him.

If Morsi does make it to the presidency, several challenges need to be addressed, primarily, what to do with the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, known as the Camp David Accords, signed over 30 years ago?

The Brotherhood still views Israel as "an enemy" and is ideologically, politically and emotionally attached to resistance groups in Palestine, like Hamas.

If the Camp David Accords are unilaterally abolished, or modified, the United States would surely freeze its annual US$2.1 billion in military and development aid to Egypt, which Washington has steadily provided since 1982.

Although the Brotherhood has said it would uphold cordial relations with the US, the group remains staunchly anti-American, despite the fact that Morsi was educated at the University of Southern California and that his children are US citizens.

A Brotherhood victory would spell out a u-turn for Egypt's foreign policy, similar to the dramatic changes undergone by Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that severed relations with Israel and the US.

It would, nevertheless fit nicely with recent Islamic victories in Tunisia, Libya and Morocco, and would give a tremendous boost to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which has been at daggers-end with the Ba'athists in Syria since 1964.

For years, Mubarak worked systematically on tarnishing the Brotherhood's image, trying to tell the world that they were no different from al-Qaeda and the Taliban, which is incorrect. After almost 100 years in the underground, the Egyptian Brotherhood - like any serious and ambitious party - wants to try its hand at the presidency.

Although seculars are afraid, realists are arguing: Let the Brotherhood win, and automatically the aura that surrounded them during their long years in the underground, will vanish. Egyptian citizens will realize that the Brotherhood cannot end or even curb corruption. They also cannot provide better jobs and wages for millions of ambitious young Egyptians entering the workforce annually. Nor can they establish a theocracy in Cairo, because neither the international community nor already established theocracies like Iran or Saudi Arabia would allow it.

Realists argue that if the Brotherhood wins this election, the chances are it would be seriously challenged, if not defeated, in Egypt's next parliamentary and presidential races. Due to the Brotherhood's control of nearly half of the seats in parliament, the organized structure of their party, the massive network that its operates on the streets, and the ample funds at their disposal, Morsi cannot be eliminated that easily, regardless of his mediocre personal attributes.

Despite his 11th-hour entry into the race, Morsi's campaign rallies have drawn tens of thousands of supporters from across the country - unseen in other electoral campaigns. "Based on the numbers and enthusiasm I've seen at his campaign events, I wouldn't be surprised if he won the election in the first round of voting," a local journalist who has closely followed the Morsi campaign told Inter Press Service.

Abdul Moneim Abu al-Foutouh: He is the second strong Islamic candidate, who, like Morsi, is closely affiliated with political Islam. Opinion polls have him winning about 15% of the vote. He, too, is Islamic to the bone, having been a member of the al-Gamaa al-Islamiya (Islamic Group), a shadow organization whose name rose to fame in 1993 when one of its figures was arrested in the US for masterminding the first attack on the World Trade Center.

He parted ways with the group to cement his ties with the Egyptian Brotherhood, yet broke away just last year when the Brotherhood said they would not present a candidate for the presidency. That contradicted with his presidential ambitions so he nominated himself, campaigning for Egypt's top job as a political independent.

The Brotherhood, furious with his deviance from its strict hierarchical system, expelled him from its ranks - and because of that the man became automatically attractive to young and liberal Egyptians who greeted him as something of a "converter".

The fact that he is a former medical doctor and hospital manager adds to his "civil" credentials and so does a long career in opposing the dictatorship of Mubarak.

Others, however, doubt his sincerity in preaching a modern and liberal state, claiming that this is nothing but empty election rhetoric.

Although he has pledged to maintain good relations with the US, he nevertheless stunned world powers this month in an election debate with Amr Moussa, the ex-secretary general of the Arab League, by referring to Israel as "an enemy" that ought to be fought, rather than appeased or befriended.

Al-Foutouh is committing the grave error of trying to appeal to all Egyptians - except perhaps to the Muslim Brotherhood itself, which he wants to defeat at the polls.

He is trying to invest in relations with the Salafists (who announced their support of him last April via the al-Nour Party) and he has promising to uphold Islamic virtues, while also telling liberals and seculars that he has become "one of them".

A victory for al-Foutouh would be problematic for the world order, and certainly the chances of him being a strong president are slim because his power base is unorganized and disunited. The Brotherhood wants to see him defeated and will work hard at bringing him down. Despite that, many Egyptians consider him a Muslim Brotherhood president "in disguise".

When asked what kind of Islam he would like to see in Egypt, he has cited Turkey, failing to acknowledge that Turkey doesn't have Salafis and extremists with ambitions that know no bounds. He also fails to realize that Turkey didn't reach its current democracy overnight, and that the first free elections took place nearly 60 years ago.

The road to Turkish democracy was long and tough, and included outrageous meddling from the military, which launched four coups to hamper the democratic process.

Support for al-Foutouh cuts across the political spectrum, but it is thin and not deep-rooted, based more on admiration for his attempt at bridging the divide between Islamists and liberals than his personal attributes.

He has promised to appoint a young vice president if he makes it to the presidency, one who hails from the revolutionary youth that toppled Mubarak. He has also promised to fill 50% of top jobs in Egypt with young men and women aged below 45.



His chances of victory are high, but cracking the Brotherhood at the polls remains a task that is very difficult. It is also probable that neither Morsi nor al-Foutouh will win, as they will divide the conservative Muslim vote right in two, which ultimately plays out in favor of the secular candidates, Amr Moussa, Ahmad Shafiq and Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Amr Moussa: He is a popular secular candidate, with opinion polls predicting 32% of the vote for him. He was for years Egypt's public face to the international community, when he served as foreign minister under Mubarak.

Moussa's long career as secretary general of the Arab League and positions on the Iraq war in 2003, the Lebanon war in 2006 and the Gaza war in 2008 have all made him popular to Arab nationalists on the streets of Egypt.

Some see him as the most impeccable of all the candidates, while others immediately dismiss him for having worked with Mubarak for 10 years. They argue that nobody would have risen so high during the Mubarak era had he not been closely affiliated to the intelligence services and the Mubarak family. At one point, they argue, he was one of Mubarak's many "yes" men.

The counter-argument is that Mubarak "banished" him to the Arab League when he became a little bit too popular for the president's liking.

Moussa, it must be remembered, steered clear from criticizing Mubarak openly until it was clear to everybody that the president was about to fall in February 2011, making a grand entrance into Tahrir Square to call for downfall of the Egyptian regime of which he had once been a part.

To some that makes him a revolutionary, whereas to others it classifies him as a smart yet unashamed political opportunist.

Moussa, aged 75, is a seasoned politician with long years of experience, meaning that he is more capable of running the state than either al-Foutouh or Morsi. Seculars support him ardently, so do former members of the Mubarak regime and the business elite that longs for the stability and prosperity they once enjoyed under Mubarak.

Moussa has a strong network of friends throughout the Arab world, ranging from the king of Saudi Arabia to the emir of Qatar, and is both trusted and respected by the US, France, Russia - and Israel.

If he comes to office, it would be business as usual for Egyptian-US and Egyptian-Israeli relations. His victory would mean that the Camp David Accords would be safe - for a while.

Ahmad Shafiq: He is a former field marshal in the army and also a one-time protege of Mubarak; he served as prime minister during the president's final hour. He is tipped to win 23% of the vote.

Precisely because of his military background, most Egyptians shun him, having rallied behind a popular cry: "Downfall of the rule of Officers!" Shafiq for president, they claim, would be Mubarak all over again. Officers, they argue, think that countries can be run more or less like professional armies, through strict rules, drills and dictates.

The fact that he still defends Mubarak, who is an officer like him, adds to popular scorn towards Shafiq. He is marketing himself as "Mr Security", but his chances of victory are slim, running against powerful Islamists like Morsi and al-Foutouh, respected seculars like Moussa, and populist figures like Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Hamdeen Sabbahi: He is a secular, inspired by former president Gamal Abdul Nasser, the godfather of Arab nationalism who ruled Egypt with firebrand socialism between the years 1952-1970. Sabbahi, aged 57, is expected to win 12% of the vote, according to polls. He studied mass communications at Cairo University and built his career as a populist politician, often making reference to the fishermen and farmers with whom he grew up with as a child.

In 2000, he became an independent member of parliament under Mubarak, only to be arrested for opposing Egypt's stance on the 2003 Iraq War - in complete denial of his parliamentary immunity.

One of his greatest setbacks is his admiration for autocrats like Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. He is stirring up nostalgic memories of a bygone socialist era, which was very popular among day-to-day Egyptians but loathed by Egyptian notability and the powerful business community.

He is a pan-Arabist and believes in secularism and a classless society, two points that automatically create a divide between him and Islamists.

He is no match for Moussa's charisma, al-Foutouh's cunning or Morsi's power base.
Sabbahi has said that if voted into power, he would focus on restoring Egypt at the heart of the Arab world, as it had been under Nasser. He affirms that "peasants are the most important class in Egypt".

When asked about the Camp David Accords, he said, "I believe that it has shackled Egypt and undermined its status. I haven't been a supporter of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, but if I become president the abrogation of Camp David is not going to be my priority."

He also said, "I will cut off natural gas supplies to Israel, which is not part of the treaty. We have no obligation [to export gas to Israel]. It is a waste of national wealth and a subsidy to an enemy who is using it to kill our Palestinian brothers."
Camp David ultimately "may be subjected to amendments or cancelation if the people want".

Such loud words appeal to the heart of Arab nationalists not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world. The only chance he has of winning, however, is if one of the two other secular figures steps out of the race before the run-on elections, and gives his votes to Sabbahi.

A close race
It is highly likely that none of these figures will emerge with a strong majority of votes, making run-off elections a necessity in June.
To win, a candidate needs more than 50% of the votes. Each of these five candidates, according to most observers, will win anywhere between 10-30% of the votes.

Whoever wins the run-off would assume office on July 1, right after the powerful Military Council, which has run Egypt since February 2011, dissolves itself.

If the Islamists don't destroy each other, Morsi will likely make it to the run-offs and compete against either Moussa or Sabbahi, who is being hailed as a compromise candidate, neither affiliated with the former regime nor with the Islamists.

Other surprises might happen, when voters realize - perhaps - that they don't want to give too much power to the Brotherhood, because parliament is enough for it to monopolize.

The outcome is very difficult to predict, because each of the candidates - with the exception of Shafiq - has his pros and cons.
It must be noted that apart from an orchestrated multi-party presidential election that took place under Mubarak in 2005, this is Egypt's first real presidential election.

Ever since the monarchy was abolished in 1952, Egypt has had doctored elections - plebiscites actually - where one person ran for office uncontested.
Nine plebiscites have taken place since 1952, which resulted in only three presidents during the past 60 years of Egyptian history.
Three happened under Nasser, two under Anwar Sadat, and four under Mubarak.

This was brainchild of Nasser and his police state, which championed autocracy and one-party rule that lasted from 1952 until being forcefully dismantled by the January 25, 2011, revolution.

Regardless of who wins, it is an historic moment for Egypt and a milestone for the Arab Spring.

Sami Moubayed is a university professor, historian and editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

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