Egypt Presidential Elections: 5 Leading Candidates
By Daniel Tovrov | April 10, 2012 6:53 AM EST
The candidates for Egypt's first free presidential elections in decades are set, the deadline having expired at 2 p.m. Cairo time on Sunday, and the final list is a microcosm of the current political and social divisions in post-revolution Egypt.
The field has narrowed from some 1,500 applicants to a final 10 candidates and, as in Egypt as a whole, the election will be a battle between reformists and ideologues, conservatives and revolutionaries.
Below are the five candidates currently leading the pack ahead of the vote on May 23 and 24.
Amr (or Amre) Moussa is the current frontrunner in race. A former foreign minister under ex-President Hosni Mubarak and a former secretary-general of the Arab League, Moussa has impressive name recognition at home and abroad thanks to years as a diplomat to countries like the United States and Switzerland.
Although he is a holdover from the previous regime, rumors that Moussa had been challenging Mubarak internally, as well as his historic support of the Palestinian cause and antagonism toward Israel, have made him a popular contemporary figure, according to Egypt's Al-Ahram newspaper.
Notably, one of Moussa's greatest strengths is that he can play both sides. He is associated with Mubarak and the relative calm of that era, but he also publicly supported the Tahrir Square protests in January and February 2011. He was briefly a member of the widely hated Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which currently runs the country, but stepped down in the same of progress and security.
Moussa has the most political and foreign relations experience of any candidate, and has strong support from the Arab League and regional powers. While, at 75, he isn't likely to garner much of the youth vote, he is significantly more liberal on social issues than most other candidates and could take a high percentage of the minority votes, especially from Egypt's 8 million Coptic Christians.
As soon as the Freedom and Justice Party selected Khairat al-Shater to run as its representative in the elections, the onetime political prisoner captured international attention, although he currently trails in the polls, according to Bloomberg.
Nonetheless, FJP and the Muslim Brotherhood behind it stand a good chance. The group commands broad popular support and has the organizational skills, name recognition and infrastructure to win the most votes.
The announcement of Shater's candidacy has angered some in Egypt, especially the secular activists fiercely involved in Tahrir, because with it the Brotherhood has broken its promise not to run in the presidential elections. The group wouldn't have done so if it didn't feel it could win or if it wasn't beneficial to Egypt, but it hurts the Brotherhood's reputation and dissolves any pretense that the Freedom and Justice Party and Muslim Brotherhood were autonomous entities.
Regardless, Shater is a qualified leader who has been deeply involved in Brotherhood operations for more than a decade.
"He's used to running the Brotherhood, but not in political circles," said Washington-based Middle East analyst Zack Gold. "He's the brains behind the movement. It's the first time that he's coming out in front. Shater's been a very good behind the scenes guy, and was running the Brotherhood from prison."
Shater is also the wallet behind the movement. A millionaire businessman, Shater is one of the Brotherhood's largest backers, and he believes he has the experience to bring Egypt's stalled economy back on track.
In the diverse ideological spectrum that currently makes up the Muslim Brotherhood, Shater leans toward the conservative, and his religious beliefs will not win back many of the people already upset by the Brotherhood's broken promise.
There is also significant fear of the Muslim Brotherhood abroad because of their history of Islamic dogmatism and extremism. While the organization is still in favor of sharia law, Shater has made it clear that sharia is not an immediate goal, and when it is instituted it will be sharia compatible with a capitalist democracy.
Additionally, the Brotherhood is making inroads in the United States and unlike more militant movements it wants to have a relationship with the West based on mutual respect. Shater's ideal would be an Egypt that is a beacon of Islamic capitalism and a model for the rest of the region.
Suleiman's candidacy was another surprise; like the Muslim Brotherhood, he promised not to run but changed his mind. Mubarak's former intelligence chief and the vice president of Egypt for the final days of that regime, Suleiman collected 72,000 signatures in one day and his stance on increasing security while working on the economy has made him a popular candidate.
His decision is seen by some as a reaction against Shater and the Brotherhood, who are moving away from the SCAF, Reuters reported. His candidacy is also seen by reformists as counter-revolutionary, but Suleiman responded on Monday by attesting that he is not and never was backed by the army and that he is ready to listen to the "legitimate demands" of the youth.
"The Supreme Council has no relation, neither negatively nor positively, with my decision to join the race for the presidency," Suleiman told the Al-Akhbar newspaper.
"I have told the Egyptian youth and many others with whom I have met during the revolution period that I am in favor of their legitimate demands," he said, adding that he would not interfere in the criminal trials against Mubarak and other members of the old regime.
In what may eventually betray his message of reform, Suleiman said that he would only accept the presidency if the parliament was given minimal power by the constitutional committee, suggesting that he would like to be the dominating force over the new Egypt's politics.
"I would never agree to be just an image. The head of state has to have real power, and I think that the country is in need of a strong president who would bring stability and security," he stated on Monday.
Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail
Although he's been declared a "liberal Islmaist" by media organizations like Ahram Online, Salafist candidate Abu-Ismail represents, in part, the politics that some American critics fear when they think of the Muslim Brotherhood.
An Egypt under Abu-Ismail could look something like Saudi Arabia, where women are required to cover their heads and are not allowed to drive. Abu-Ismail has said that women should be allowed to attend schools and universities, and can join the workforce, provided that they are not married and have no other means to support themselves.
"Motherhood is an honorable profession and the state must provide for housewives. Women must not be obliged to work outside the home," he said in a speech, according to Aswat Masriya.
Abu-Ismail also wants to end Egypt's relationship with the United States -- a move that would cost the country an annual $1.7 billion in aid -- and create a more insular economy based on agriculture and religiously informed tourism. He is also cold toward the Coptic Christians, saying on occasion that discrimination charges are drastically exaggerated.
"The Copts have more chances than Muslims who live, for instance, in the U.S. [Muslims] over there cannot call for prayers out loud. However, Christians in Egypt can ring the bells of the churches," he said after the revolution.
However, after an ironic discovery last week, Abu-Ismail may be expelled from the presidential ballot because it was supposedly revealed that his mother was an American citizen. The candidate has denied the allegations that his mother owned and used a U.S. passport as a "malicious plot" by the military and has filed suit to stay in the race, but in the meantime he has had to limit the size of his campaign. Before the controversy, Abu-Ismail was drawing crowds of tens of thousands of supporters.
If Abu-Ismail does run, a Brotherhood candidate like Shater, who is also socially conservative, could pull religious votes away from the Salafist and hurt his chances of winning.
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh:
As a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Fotouh is in an interesting position. He was kicked out of the party in May after announcing his candidacy because it broke with the Brotherhood's pledge not to run. But since the Brotherhood changed its mind and nominated Shater, Fotouh has remained shunned by the party.
Some suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood expelled him because Fotouh had become too progressive. Although a reformist in the party could win back some of the voters it lost by running Shater, Fotouh's stance on gender and religious equality has made him somewhat of a pariah.
"[Should I win the presidential elections], I could appoint a woman or a Copt as vice-president based on competence, and not for propaganda purposes," he said in a speech.
Fotouh is running as an independent and could take FJP and Brotherhood votes away from Shater and liberal votes from Moussa, and his active involvement in the revolution could win him support from the activist community.
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