Friday, March 9, 2012

The Long and Winding Road for Democracy in Egypt Part 6

Part 6: Dark Comedy of Egyptian Presidential Race

It’s been believed by some analysts that the current Republican race for the Presidential candidate in 2012 is quite filled with satire and jokes due to the candidates inability to attract the masses or provide any viable solutions for the current American economic crisis or provide a vision for America’s future. All of those analysts would have thought twice before professing their thoughts if they have been following the current race for presidency in Egypt. The race for presidency has turned from political race into a dark comedy possibly of the worst type.

Since 1954 and the establishment of the Republic in Egypt by Gamal Abdel Nasser only 4 presidents ever took power of Middle East biggest and oldest country. They are General Mohamed Naguib, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Mohamed Anwar El Sadat and Hosni Mubarak respectively. The Duration for presidency varied from each president starting from only one and half year for President Naguib to approximately 30 years for Mubarak.
The Egyptian political system never allowed contesting for the presidential elections but it was an authoritarian system based on the president who is always of military background. The coup d’état of 1952 that ousted the King Farouk (Last king of Egypt) made sure that the upcoming rulers will be of military backgrounds. The only change happened after the ousted president Mubarak declaration in 2005 for the first multi-candidates elections which Mubarak unsurprisingly won by a landslide against other contestants 2 of them were well known like Dr. Ayman Nour of El Ghad party and Dr. Numan Gomaa of the WAFD party both who didn’t achieve a fraction of the percentage of Mubarak 88% landslide win. Of course like almost all elections post 1952 the rigging of the votes was prevalent in the 2005. But in 2012 the scene is completely different and here are the most prominent candidates in the upcoming election.

Dr. Mohamed El Baradei (Now Withdrawn) 

Former UN Nuclear watchdog and Peace Nobel Prize Laureate and Egypt’s most prominent former diplomat were the front runner of all presidential polls post the revolution. However his Boy Scout attitude and declarations never really impressed the majority of Egyptians among them even his most ardent fans and supporters. Dr. El Baradei, since day one was close to the revolutionaries but never close enough to make the necessary impact for change in the Egyptian politics and Egyptian society. Dr. El Baradei always wanted the people to move first and then he would move but he failed to understand that the revolutionaries needed him as a leader and not a follower. His Boy Scout attitude and sometimes distancing himself from the actual work on the ground was a factor in fueling criticism against him.
Even worse, he was falsely accused of all forms of accusations and being involved in conspiracies against Egypt mostly false by his closest associates. It is a fact that most of the Islamists and socialists who were competing to shake his hands and take group photographs with him backstabbed him badly at the first chance and also a significant number of Liberals were alienated from his programs and started to act as staunch opponents for his views which led to his early withdrawal from the race. Dr. El Baradei claimed that the conditions and the bad management of the transitional point by SCAF as well as the unclear conditions and regulations of the presidential race are the real reasons behind his surprising withdrawal.

It remains to be said, that the viable plan presented by El Baradei in the early days post the revolution was the most convenient and practical than anything proposed by all the factions in the Egyptian political spectrum.
However, the Supreme council of Armed Forces (SCAF) ignored that plan and enforced their own road map based mainly on articles actually proposed by former President Mubarak. The days have proven that El Baradei was right on most of the issues he stood for and should SCAF generals have listened to what he said earlier, situation in Egypt would have been completely different and possibly much better.
Dr. El Baradei may have helped ignite the revolution by his homecoming from Austria in 2009 and was part of the initial movement of the 18 day revolution but his performance lacked severely in the days after the revolution and a lot of his statements were incoherent and out of touch from the pace of the events. Despite the above Dr. El Baradei still he represents a true and an immaculate icon of the revolution and if it wasn’t for him and people like him the Egyptian revolution won’t have taken place.

Dr. Mohamed Selim Al Awa

Originally a prominent Islamic thinker and writer who became famous in the past decade being deputy to Egyptian/Qatari Sheikh prominent Youssef Al Qardawi. El Qardawi who became household name in the Arab world through his weekly TV show on Al Jazeerah News Network, helped El Awa of becoming a better known name in the media. Dr. Al Awa and Qardawi founded the International association for Islamic scholars which they founded in an attempt to spread the belief and the moderate Islamic values across the world according to their views.
Mr. Al Awa was not a very prominent name in the political scene but in the Islamic scholars scene and that is prevalent in his statements which usually seem very uncalculated and sometimes preposterous   like the time he called upon Egyptian authorities to search all the churches for presumed illegal weapons and accused the church institution of arming up to protect their own Coptic interests. That statement stirred the anger of the Copts and even most Muslims in Egypt as well as his continuous attempts to appease SCAF generals at the expense of the rebels and activists, never really helped with his popularity. All these attempts didn’t earn him much respect on the broad spectrum. His only chance now was to get an endorsement from the Muslim Brotherhood who mentioned that they will not support any candidate with Islamic affiliation but as we have seen before that can be just a test balloon to show that they are unbiased towards their own ideology but that is yet to be seen in reality.

Dr. Abdel Moneim Abou El Fottoh

An Ex Muslim Brotherhood leader who has been a prominent figure within the ranks of the once Muslim Brotherhood which is still in fact banned by Egyptian law however, they managed to construct their first political party Freedom and Justice Party. Abou El Fottoh lied already about leaving the Muslim Brotherhood and admitted recently that he never left the group and only distanced himself from them to avoid embarrassing the group leaders who vowed not to present any presidential candidate in the early days post the revolution or support an Islamist candidate in the upcoming elections.
Despite his relatively moderate stance on most issues especially social issues unlike most other Islamists which appealed to a broader spectrum of Egyptians including liberals, it’s safe to assert that Egyptian liberals who think that they are saving the revolution by voting for Abou El Fottoh are actually writing the revolution obituary. Since this will only mean that the Muslim brotherhood group will have the final say in any political decision on the long term future and thus ending the revolutionary ideals that thousands have paid their lives and thousands others injured to uphold.

Voting for Dr. Abou El Fottouh or any other Islamist candidate will mean that Muslim Brotherhood will be equal to AIPAC in USA; they will control whoever is in charge in the future. Liberals cannot allow this to happen because what will result in the upcoming elections and constitution writing is likely to rule the Egyptian political spectrum for decades to come. This doesn’t only apply on him but also as a general rule against any candidate that will be introduced by the Political Islam prominent group. Their influence and power will only grow further in case they manage to successfully push a candidate to the presidency seat.

Mr. Hamdeen Sabahy

Head and founder of the Karama party and a hard-core leftist Nasserite, Sabahy has been involved in the Egyptian political movement since his youth in the 1970s and till now. He was one of the staunchest adversaries of the Mubarak’s regime and his newspaper “El Karama” which stands for “The Dignity” was a strong opposition newspaper during Mubarak’s reign.

Sabahy may appeal to a certain sector of the Egyptian community but his hard-core socialist and anti-American/Israeli rhetoric which seems to be synonymous of the same rhetoric used by late President Abdel Nasser in the 1950’s and 60’s. He and apparently many of the Socialists in Egypt can’t seem to break out of that ancient rhetoric or find a more modern message for the Egyptian public other than the holy quests to liberate Jerusalem or what they call the Zionist/American conspiracy against Egypt.

The prevailing message of Sabahy’s is composed of conspiracies and how he will protect Egypt from the vultures who want to ruin, divide and destroy the Egyptian nation. While that rhetoric may still appealing to some pan-Arab nationalists and few others, Mr. Sabahy rhetoric if not toned down and matured a bit might lead Egypt to conflicts if not wars with its neighbors in any given day , if he is ever to be president. He maybe an honest and good willed politician but certainly his radical socialist and pan-Arab rhetoric is becoming less appealing to the masses recently especially it’s the year 2012 and not 1962!!

Mrs. Bothaina Kamel 

She is the only female presidential candidate and for the first time in modern Egyptian history a women actually is a contender for this post. Mrs.Kamel is a former prominent Radio and TV host and one of the true revolutionary figures amongst the current candidates. She has been very active before and past the January 25th revolution and also a staunch supporter of women rights and the total reform of Egypt. Her chances to win are not great judging by the current conservative sentiment in Egypt but still have more chances in the future and this current presidential campaign might make her a better known name for Egyptians in future presidential races. Mrs. Kamel staunch support for the Tahrir rebels might alienate some Egyptians who are still conservative or reject the actions of those rebels and that might not work in her favour in any upcoming elections. Yet she is a very open minded and cultured lady who will remain one of the icons of the January revolution despite the outcome of the elections.

Dr. Ahmed Shafiq

Tainted by his older friendship and relationship with the former president Mubarak, Lieutenant General Ahmed Shafiq former 3 weeks Prime Minister and former Minister of Civil Aviation represents a dilemma in the eyes of the political analysts. He was the first Prime minister to submit his resignation since 1952 and he did that just after 3 weeks of his appointment by Mubarak during the first few days of the revolution and who was ousted by the time her turned his resignation. Yet that appointment by Mubarak and some miscalculated statements have turned him into the rebels’ enemy Number 1.

The fact he was a former minister under Mubarak’s regime cannot take the man’s achievement in the field of Civil Aviation and the complete overhaul to the national Airline Egypt Air and the airports in Egypt after decades of neglect and transforming them within a few years to meet international standards for both the airline and Egyptian airports. His managerial skills are impeccable and though his opponents have accused him of corruption but none of the accusations actually were proven as much as many others against former regime figures.

The man chances to be a president exists especially he received a nationwide sympathy being harshly criticized by famous Egyptian novelist Dr. Alaa Al Aswany on air while being in office and as a result to the man who remained calm against all of the accusations despite being a successful minister and a war hero, he quit his job next day. Dr. Al Aswany criticism and demand for the resignation of Shafiq may have worked but it backfired when Dr. Shafiq received a nationwide sympathy for his respectful attitude, despite what Dr. Al Aswany did would have been completely normal in a democratic country. Dr. Shafiq remains to be an important contender in the upcoming elections in spite of all odds because many in Egypt believe that he unjustly paid the price for things he didn’t do himself.

Mr. Amr Moussa

In a similar manner to Lieutenant General Dr. Ahmed Shafiq, former top diplomat and former Secretary General of the Arab league Amr Moussa years working as a Foreign Affairs Minister in the 1990’s still stains his record among many rebels and Egyptians in general . Yet, the man strong character during his time in office still leaves a good memory in the minds of most Egyptians. The withdrawal of Dr. El Baradei certainly boosts his chances in the upcoming elections. Mr. Moussa eloquent speeches and confidence as well as a moderate stance provide him of a stronger edge over the rest. Also he is an Egyptian household name and well known for being a serious politician and diplomat despite lacking decisiveness on many international and domestic issues. However, the man’s capability of talking himself out of most sticky situations as well as his vast array of international connections and good relations with world renowned politicians which might help him to achieve both domestic approval as well as international one. That quality in Moussa may be the key to his success in next elections and not forgetting his cordial relationships with SCAF as well as all the powers that be in Egypt and the region. There are a lot of drawbacks in Moussa being the man in power in Egypt among them. He is old school, a former Nasserite though not a radical in any way and also was part of the former regime even in small way. However, he is still a front runner in this race despite all of the above.

Mr. Hisham El Bastaweesy

Honourabe Judge Mr. Hisham El Bastaweesy became a household name in the judiciary system being a staunch opponent against the Mubarak regime continuous interference and influence on the judiciary system. He and Judge Ahmed Mekky led a campaign within the Egyptian judges for the complete separation of authorities and the complete independence of the Egyptian judiciary system from the influence of the executive authority. His attempts failed but mustered a huge support for his cause and he is still pressing heavily for that noble goal to be achieved. His decision to run for President is still unclear at the moment since he declared his willingness to do that , yet there is no official campaign or declaration to back that fact. His chances are not exceptionally great judging by the short period remaining for the upcoming election but he can be allying himself with one of the candidates to become a vice president who might receive a good approval from the Egyptians who perceive the judge in high esteem due to his noble deeds before and after the revolution.
Mr. Hazem Abou Ismail

Also known as “Bikini Hunter”, “Al Qaida Candidate” and “Evil Santa” the radical Salafi missionary and cleric presidential candidate reflects a lot of what’s happening in the Egyptian political spectrum. His sudden rise from obscurity to a controversial ultra-conservative political figure in the political scene comes as a surprise to a man who almost literally spent his entire life in the boundaries of his mosque. Despite being an engineer, his political, economical and social knowledge seems to be severely lacking for a man who wishes to be a politician let alone the president of the biggest and oldest country in the Middle East. Unlike most of the other candidates who have their pros and cons, it’s hard to be to find any advantages in this particular candidate. His extremist views even led him to support Osama Bin Laden blatantly in his many speeches.
Even more surprising, he seems to be getting more airtime on TV shows and talk shows than almost all of the other candidates combined which seems to be quite bizarre just by the fact he is shown in the same channels that criticizes his ideology and ideas. He is becoming a more figure of controversy and till the moment he is declaring some of the most preposterous statements about minorities, liberals and everyone. The man seems to be ranting and insists on forcing head veil (Hijab) on women, even going further saying that any woman not accepting should leave the faith as if the faith is his own private property whereby he lets people in and out. The man keeps his continuous insanity spree by going to the former terrorist organization The Islamic Group “EL Gamaa Al Islamiya” and started to make emotional speeches and cried about what happened to the members of the terrorist group in regard of their ill treatment in prisons during Mubarak Era. The man who promises to increase Egypt’s GDP to 200 Trillion ( Approximately 13 times the national GDP of USA) represents a clear and present danger on the Egyptian democracy movement should he finds himself by some miracle in the presidential seat there is no political analyst that can really predict the far of Egypt on his hands. Luckily that is still highly unlikely but not entirely impossible.
Other Notable and rumoured candidates:
  1.  Dr. Ayman Nour : Head of New Ghad Party
  2. General Hosam Khairallah : Former Egyptian Intelligence officer and deputy chief to Egypt’s top spy Mr. Omar Soliman ex chief of EGID
  3. Dr. Mohamed Fawzy : Former police officer and lawyer
  4. Dr. Nabil Al Arabi: Current secretary general of Arab league
  5. Dr. Mansour Hassan: Former Sadat era minister and head of the political council formed by SCAF
  6. Mr. Khaled Ali: Youngest candidate and socialist activist
  7. Dr. Abdel Allah El Ashaal : former diplomat and political analyst
  8. Mr. Mamdouh Kotb: Former head of Egyptian Intelligence who just announced his candidacy very recently
It’s noteworthy that a significant number of average Egyptians are hardly convinced entirely about any of the candidates due to the obvious weaknesses and mostly lack of experience manifested in all of the candidates.
Democracy is a truly tricky game that unfortunately still many Egyptians fail to grasp. One can’t blame them since 1952 no clear form of democracy has been actually established. But it’s a learning process and the longer Egyptian get involved in the political life the more experienced and better candidates will appear and will be voted for in the upcoming years. Still many Egyptians fail to understand that the next presidents will also the High commander of the army and all Egypt’s political and strategic moves will be on his shoulders. It’s not enough that someone might like a certain candidate but he has to imagine them to be in the place of power. Th is a country and not sports club elections.
Voting for a presidential candidate of Muslim Brotherhood or even supported by them gives the group an everlasting power and legitimacy over the political spectrum for years to come.
For Islamists, they are on a mission to accomplish the complete overtaking of Egypt after huge successes in both lower and upper house elections. The latter most liberal parties boycotted already since they claim that it’s not important despite the fact that both houses of parliament will be part of the constitutional writing committee and surrendering the upper house seats to Islamist will prove to be another fatal mistake for the liberals among the long list of mistakes post the revolution.

Unfortunately, liberals’ best hope in the upcoming elections might be voting for an older regime figure but one who is not too stained with corruption or tyranny like Amr Moussa or Ahmed Shafiq. Liberals are still scattered and still adopting sometimes trivial causes and leaving the scene entirely for Islamists and their allies to take a grip on the future of Egypt.

They now should be in a mission for damage control and from there they should build the future elections and presence. The liberal camp need a good reshuffle and to lick their own wounds and start preparing for the future elections with more capable candidates. There are few Egyptian Liberals that can see beyond the shining objects and admit that there is no serious contender that represents the liberal values in Egypt at this stage. However, that is not an excuse for them to vote for any candidate that represents the opposing side just because he/she doesn’t seem too extremist.

Most importantly for liberals to remember that if you can’t find the food you like you can’t starve yourself to death. The same applies to the presidential elections!

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