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Egypt's Presidential Election: Meet the Contenders

[Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, left, and Amr Moussa stand at their podiums on Egypt's first televised presidential debate. Cairo, May 11, 2012. Image by Mahmoud Khaled, Al Masry Al Youm/AP Photo.] [Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, left, and Amr Moussa stand at their podiums on Egypt's first televised presidential debate. Cairo, May 11, 2012. Image by Mahmoud Khaled, Al Masry Al Youm/AP Photo.]

Egypt’s first presidential election after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak is scheduled to take place on 23 and 24 May 2012, with a possible run-off race on 16 and 17 June 2012. The following guide to the presidential candidates is based on a series of articles published by Egypt Independent. For more information on prominent presidential candidates, click on any of the names below.

 

Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh

Khaled Ali

Selim al-Awa

Hesham al-Bastawisi

Abul Ezz al-Hariry

Mohamed Morsy

Amr Moussa

Hamdeen Sabbahi

Ahmed Shafiq

 

 

Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh

Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh was the leader of the Cairo University Student Union when he rose up to his feet to accuse then-invincible President Anwar al-Sadat of favoring hypocrites at a public conference in the 1970s. “I am not willing to listen to this talk, because it surpasses the boundaries of politeness...Stop and behave,” responded Sadat angrily. 

Back then, this tense exchange damaged the medical school graduate’s career; he was denied the right to join Cairo University’s medical school as a professor despite his high grades, he says. Yet, yesterday's curse is today's blessing.

Sadat is gone, but the audio recording of this incident is still present on the internet, serving as a source of pride for the 60-year-old presidential hopeful. Betting on his long career of political activism, which has spanned many generations, and his incontestable reputation of standing up to an autocrat, Abouel Fotouh is competing to be the first president of post-Mubarak Egypt.  

Hailing from a religious ideological background

Abouel Fotouh is quite an iconic Islamist politician, whose outlook has drawn on different interpretations of Islam. In late 2010, he released his autobiography under the title “A Witness to the History of Egypt's Islamic Movement,” in which he poignantly expressed his ideological evolution from radical Islamism that tends to excommunicate the other to a more moderate version of Islam. The book depicts his early days as a founder of the fundamentalist student-led Jama’a al-Islamiya at the beginning of the 1970s. It also gives a thorough account of how he relinquished his extreme Salafi outlook under the guidance of Muslim Brotherhood preachers a few years later.

The text shows how Abouel Fotouh contributed immensely to reinvigorating the Muslim Brotherhood by convincing thousands of his cohorts in Jama’a al-Islamiya to join the nation’s oldest Islamist organization. Back then, Sadat had just released the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders from prison and allowed them to revive their organization in order to counter leftist forces. These Islamist leaders approached Abouel Fotouh and his peers to join the Brotherhood in order to rejuvenate the ailing organization. Eventually, they joined the group, relinquished their intransigent views and adopted the more moderate Brotherhood's outlook.

Yet, when Abouel Fotouh, a syndicate leader at the Arab Doctors Union, outdid his peers by embracing more liberal views decades later, his historic role did not give him enough influence to maintain a leading position in the Muslim Brotherhood. In late 2009, he was excluded from the organization's Guidance Bureau in an allegedly fraudulent poll. In July 2011, he was dismissed from the organization all together due to his intention to compete in the presidential poll, which defied the group’s decision not to field a presidential candidate.

Throughout his political career, Abouel Fotouh was jailed at least three times. He was among the hundreds of activists and opposition intellectuals whom Sadat sent to jail a few weeks before his assassination. Under Mubarak, he was sentenced to five years by a military court in the mid-1990s for belonging to the then-banned Muslim Brotherhood. In 2009, he was imprisoned for a few months as part of a sporadic crackdown on the group’s leadership.

Putting together a mosaic campaign

Since he launched his campaign in May, Abouel Fotouh has been adopting a distinct discourse that seeks to tone down Egypt's secular-Islamist divide. Capitalizing on his historical ties with the Islamist bloc and on his liberal views that reconcile Islam and democracy, Abouel Fotouh has been marketing himself as the missing link between Egypt’s hardcore secularists and intransigent Islamists. His campaign reflects this line of thought quite vividly as it brings together a Marxist political adviser, a professional media adviser from outside the Islamist loop and thousands of young members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Advancing “a mainstream political trend” that embraces democracy and equality for all Egyptians and, in the meantime, respects Egyptian conservative social norms is the narrative of Abouel Fotouh’s campaign.

This discourse builds on almost eight years of Abouel Fotouh’s efforts to put forth a liberal form of Islamism.

Since 2004, Abouel Fotouh has risen as a resilient opponent of Mubarak’s regime as well as a dovish voice within the Muslim Brotherhood. He positioned himself as the liaison between the Brothers and secular political factions. He co-founded the Kefaya movement along with leftists and liberals, which led a wave of anti-Mubarak protests beginning in 2005. He participated in many protests that demanded the end of Mubarak’s rule and opposed the grooming of Gamal Mubarak to inherit power. In the meantime, he expressed progressive views that sounded alien to mainstream Islamist discourse. He stated that women and Copts should have the right to run for president. He also expressed his full support of freedom of expression and faith. In the meantime, he insisted that his group should stop mixing its political activities with proselytizing. None of these views resonated with the group's hawks, who became in full control of the organization in late 2009. 

Another trait of Abouel Fotouh's discourse is his consistent support of revolutionary demands and his vehement criticism of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ performance during the transitional period. He threw his full support behind calls to shorten the transitional period and force the generals to return to the barracks. Due to such positions, his name echoed across Tahrir Square in November when many young revolutionaries suggested that he and political reformist Mohamed ElBaradei form a national salvation government to replace the military-appointed one. In recent weeks, he voiced ruthless criticism of the alleged attempts by the Brothers and the generals to put forward a presidential candidate who would serve the interest of both parties.

Facing challenges

Despite his attempts to accommodate both Islamists and secularists, Abouel Fotouh is not expected to garner the endorsement of major Islamist or secular parties. Neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor Salafi parties have yet announced who they would back but there are indicators that Abouel Fotouh will not be their choice.

The Muslim Brotherhood would not back an outcast leader. Salafis would not cast their ballots for a candidate whose views, to them, compromise “Islamic fundamentals,” especially as a Salafi nominee is set to compete in the race. As for secular parties, many of them still doubt the genuineness of his moderate discourse and remain reluctant to back a nominee with an Islamist tag. To them, voting him into the executive post would mean bringing the whole political system under Islamists’ control. Islamists already hold a sweeping majority in both houses of Parliament.

As for the larger electorate, the size of Abouel Fotouh's following remains quite enigmatic due to the dearth of reliable and scientific polling. Some recent ad-hoc online surveys suggest that competition for the presidential race will be confined to Salafi preacher Hazem Abu Ismail and Abouel Fotouh. However, earlier surveys had suggested that Abouel Fotouh had no significant following.

On 10 March, presidential hopefuls can file their candidacy with the Presidential Elections Commission. To meet eligibility conditions, a potential nominee should back his application with the endorsement of at least 30 parliamentarians or 30,000 eligible voters. According to a campaign spokesman, Ahmed Ossama, Abouel Fotouh is pursuing both tracks.

So far, Abouel Fotouh has not put forward any elaborate political platform to share his vision on the numerous political, social and economic challenges inherited from the Mubarak era. Yet, his website displays an abridged version of his outlook. Abouel Fotouh envisages a democratic system based on checks and balances between the government's three branches. He endorses a mixed-political system until the first presidential term is completed after four years. The ultimate goal shall be the establishment of a parliamentary system, reads his website. On the economy, he emphasizes human development as a means for prosperity. He also opts for increasing public resources and reducing expenditure. His site mentions the need to adopt progressive taxation, raise minimum wage and invest in public education. For some critics, this outlook lacks depth and sophistication.

As for the campaign's finances, Ossama told Egypt Independent that the campaign relies so far on the “little” support provided by people close to Abouel Fotouh and his youth supporters. Ossama added that some businessmen, whom he refused to name, have already offered to sponsor Abouel Fotouh's candidacy.

[Prepared by Noha El-Hennawy]

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Khaled Ali

At just 40 years old, Khaled Ali Omar is Egypt’s youngest presidential candidate. For well over a decade, the popularity of this labor and human rights lawyer has centered around socialist, activist and labor circles.

The fiery leftist legal activist was not quite a household name prior to his presidential nomination, but may be quickly becoming one.

Ali was a relative latecomer to the presidential race, announcing his intention to run on 27 February, just one day after he turned 40 — the minimum age requirement for presidential candidates.

Unlike most candidates, Ali’s presence was clearly felt in numerous street protests prior to and since the 25 January revolution began in 2011. He is often seen leading chants and marches.

Ali has traveled nationwide in support of the economic and social rights of Egypt’s toiling masses. He has been a pivotal figure in terms of his legal support for student protests, farmers’ struggles, workers’ strikes and factory occupations.

An outspoken critic of the Hosni Mubarak regime, Ali established the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights in 2009 and presently serves as its executive director. In 1999, he was a founding member of the independent Hisham Mubarak Law Center, where he worked to provide legal support for detained and imprisoned anti-Mubarak activists.

Accusing him of organizing illegal revolutionary activities, Mubarak’s security forces stormed the center’s office and arrested Ali for several days in early February 2011, during the dictator’s last days in office.

Ali has been at the forefront of progressive figures demanding the realization of the aims of the revolution, specifically those of the famous chant: “Bread, freedom and social justice.” His campaign team has chosen “We will fulfill our dream" as his campaigning slogan. He has been dubbed the "candidate of the poor” and “the defender of simple folk."

Ali’s actions since announcing his campaign have been unorthodox at times, as he seems happy to place principles before self-interest. On 11 April, he served as a defense lawyer for the Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Abu Ismail before Cairo’s Administrative Court, and even won a verdict in favor of the ultra-conservative candidate’s readmission into the presidential race.

Although the Presidential Elections Commission disqualified Abu Ismail three days later (along with Mubarak’s spy-chief and Vice President Omar Suleiman, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s multimillionaire candidate Khairat el-Shater), media coverage of his legal defense mentioned that Ali was the first candidate to defend another presidential candidate.

On 15 April, Ali announced that he would be willing to drop out of the presidential race if revolutionary forces were able to agree to back one specific candidate.

Ali has gained plenty of grass-roots support from Egypt’s working classes in light of his campaigns for independent trade unionism and labor rights as one of the country’s most successful labor lawyers.

This presidential hopeful has been the driving force behind numerous legal victories for the labor movement, including the annulment of rigged elections at the state-controlled Egyptian Trade Union Federation, raising the monthly minimum wage in Egypt, the lifting of 15 years of judicial sequestration imposed on the Engineers’ Syndicate, and the annulment of corrupt privatization contracts for five companies.

His struggles for the renationalization of public sector companies  which were sold for less than their market value  and his demands for public fiscal transparency have earned him the title of “anti-corruption crusader.” In 2011, he was bestowed the “Egyptian Corruption Fighter” award by the non-governmental human rights association Misriyin Ded el Fassad (Egyptians Against Corruption).

Unlike other candidates, Ali has also been a vocal critic of the military junta governing Egypt since Mubarak’s abdication. He has waged struggles against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its referral of over 12,000 civilians to military tribunals since the revolution began.

Ali’s ongoing legal struggles include imposing a maximum wage cap of not more than 15 times the minimum wage, so as to decrease the burden of state expenditures. He is also appealing against the unprecedented Law 34/2011 criminalizing strikes and protests.

In terms of his campaign platform, Ali seeks to empower Egypt’s workers, employees and farmers. His campaign calls for cooperatives to increase Egypt’s agricultural lands, to reclaim desert lands, and to realize self-sufficiency in agricultural production.

His platform also calls for progressive taxation, the equitable redistribution of land, natural resources and national wealth. He seeks to strike a just balance between the influence of the public and private sectors of the economy, with the aim of realizing social justice for the employees of both sectors. Ali has also sought to help organize the employees of the informal sector of the economy, and to provide job security for employees in all economic sectors.

Ali’s campaign calls for the provision of free education, as a key mechanism by which to eradicate illiteracy and lift tens of millions of Egyptians out of poverty and unemployment.

In terms of international diplomacy, Ali seeks a sovereign Egypt with its own independent foreign policy. He has called for the confrontation of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab lands through diplomatic and economic pressure. Ali has reiterated the necessity of lifting of Egyptian-Israel siege imposed on the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Ali’s secular and populist ambitions will likely not gain him any monetary support from the Arab Gulf or the blessing of western states, with their pro-Israel and pro-free market policies.

The campaign had difficulty collecting the 30,000 endorsements from 15 separate governorates needed to declare Ali’s official candidacy. Instead, he ended up relying on the endorsements of 30 pro-revolution members of parliament.

At the moment Ali is an underdog in the presidential race. He has slim chances of making it to the the run-offs of June 16-17  but if the revolution has taught us anything, it is: expect the unexpected.

[Prepared by Jano Charbel]

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Selim al-Awa

For a man whose political program champions moderate Islam and citizenship, it is unfortunate that Mohamed Selim al-Awa became a household name in 2010 because of comments he made about Egyptian Christians storing weapons in their churches.

“Christians hoarding weapons in churches can only mean one thing: that they intend to use them against Muslims,” Awa said during a live interview with Al-Jazeera’s Ahmed Mansour, describing the state’s “weakness in standing up to the Coptic Orthodox Church” as “extremely provocative to Muslims.”

During the fallout after the interview, the lawyer and Islamic scholar said that his comments were misinterpreted, and that he was only referring to allegations that one particular church in Port Said had been involved in smuggling weapons from Israel.

The ham-fisted damage limitation continues today. “Copts are partners in this nation; we have lived with them for 14 centuries. They have the same rights and duties as us,” a status on Awa’s official page declares. Critics suggest that the presidential candidate is in the business of a particularly insincere politicking, and that his courting of the Christian vote is indicative of political opportunism.

Awa presents himself on his campaign website as a “man of vision” and “unchanging principle” who “predicted the Arab revolutions before they happened.”

Intersecting law with Islam, at home and abroad

Sixty-nine-year-old Awa found his principles tested early on in his professional life. After graduating from the University of Alexandria in law, he worked as a district attorney from 1963–1966 but was dismissed during the trial of Muslim Brotherhood leader Sayyed Qutb on charges of being involved with the group, which at the time was subject of a crackdown by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Awa says that he has never been a member of the Brotherhood.

Awa joined the State Lawsuits Authority and migrated to Kuwait. He was, he says, dismissed from this post for the same political reasons. With doors closed in Egypt, he traveled to London where he completed a PhD in comparative law at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and went on to teach law in universities in Egypt and abroad.

Awa has pursued his interest in jurisprudence and the intersection of Islam and the law through 22 published works. He is a former head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars founded by renowned scholar Youssef al-Qaradawy, and was involved in negotiations with imprisoned Jama'a al-Islamiya militants that led to the group’s renunciation of violence following a bloody era of terrorism in Egypt which peaked in the 1990s.

Awa’s connection with the transnational Islamic movement was most recently manifested in his call for the release of the leader of the Jama'a al-Islamiya Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheikh who has been serving a life sentence in the US for involvement in terrorism.

Moreover, Awa is known for supporting the Iranian Islamist regime and for alleged relations with its leaders. One reason is that he played a mediatory role to bring back Egyptians stranded in Iran after having fought on behalf of Egypt in Iraq in the first Gulf War.

Grappling for a constituency

Awa threw his hat in the presidential elections ring at the end of June 2011. Like fellow presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, Awa sells himself as champion of a moderate Islam. Campaign manager Mohamed Mo’men (of Mo’men fast food outlets fame) told presenter Yosri Fouda during an OnTV appearance that Awa represents the “Islamist intellectual” and that citizenship is at the “heart of his outlook.”

He says that he represents “the strain of moderate Islam” practiced by the majority of Egyptians. So far his campaign — which he says is financed out of his own pocket together with supporters’ donations — has only been officially backed by the Wasat Party, for which he has been a supporting lawyer ever since the party tried to establish itself in the 1990s.

Nevertheless, he has been pledging for support from radical Islamist groups such as the Jama'a al-Islamiya's political arm, the Building and Development Party.  

While his full political manifesto has not yet been issued, his campaign website lists several pivots of his electoral program including education, health and the rather unclear “re-discovery of the Egyptian human being.”

The Brotherhood, the current stronghold of power in Egypt, has denied persistent rumors that they will back Awa, which is generally considered unlikely given Wasat Party’s support of him. The Wasat Party was founded by a group of Brotherhood defectors.

Facing criticism for stance on the military

Out on the campaign trial, Awa has been buffeted with constant allegations that he has failed to be sufficiently critical of the actions of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and has had to justify the weapons-in-churches statements that follow him around wherever he goes.

He was faced with these accusations in a recent public campaign appearance, and when pressed by a member of the audience on his position on the SCAF, angrily responded, “I am here to present my point of view, not to be held to account.”

But whether he likes it or not, Awa is being held to account for his political stances during the revolution.

During an appearance in London last month Egyptian audience members interrupted Awa with chants against the SCAF and the Brotherhood and criticized him as a SCAF lackey.

Awa’s criticism of SCAF's actions has certainly been guarded. The tone of non-opposition was set early on in the revolution, when Awa said on 30 January 2011 during an Al-Jazeera interview that Ahmed Shafiq (then appointed prime minister) and Omar Suleiman (former head of intelligence and then appointed vice-president) are “known for their patriotism and probity” and that he “doesn’t regard them as a continuation of the Mubarak regime.”

During the constitutional amendments’ referendum in March 2011, Awa said that voting is a religious duty for Muslims and they must vote "yes" in order to “escape dictatorship.” The main divergence in the referendum surrounded whether parliamentary elections should precede constitution writing, or vice-versa. Islamists staunchly wanted elections first, in what was perceived as a quest to dominate the constitution-writing process. Accordingly, campaigning for a “yes” vote in the referendum was tied to religion, as Islamists warned that a “no” vote could mean a loss of Sharia as a main reference for legislation.

Awa has repeatedly called on SCAF to speed up the handover of power, but has also explained its dragging out of the transition from a planned six months to a year and a half as due to its being “under political pressure.” In November he told Al-Masry Al-Youm that SCAF generals “are doing the best they can, but the problem is their governing capabilities. They are not politicians. They don’t have expertise in dealing with non-military civilians.”

After the killing of 27 protesters outside the Maspero state television building in October when the army attacked a Christian march, Awa said that he had submitted evidence to the public prosecution office proving that it was “thugs” who had infiltrated the protest and attacked the demonstrators.

In December 2011, Awa was quoted as saying that he “trusts in SCAF and what it has done in the past period” and that SCAF has respected its promises to the people.

More recently, commenting on the imbroglio surrounding the NGO funding trial and the lifting of a travel ban on the foreign defendants, in which SCAF was accused of interfering in the judiciary under pressure from the US, Awa placed sole blame for the episode on Abdel-Moez Ibrahim, head of the Court of Appeals who is accused of interference in the case. Opprobrium for political players was limited to his call for punishment for those found to have interfered in the case.

“Judges have to have the strength to stand up to political decision makers. We have to differentiate between political decision-making done for the interests of the country and improper behavior by the judiciary,” Awa said during a television interview.

[Prepared by Sarah Carr]

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Hesham al-Bastawisi

For decades, Hesham al-Bastawisi led the battle for the independence of the judiciary under toppled President Hosni Mubarak. For years, he labored under pressure from the former regime, bearing the brunt of government threats and coercion tactics.

But despite a blemish-free record and a struggle that has made him a widely respected judicial figure in Egypt, he has garnered little support as a presidential candidate. It seems his lack of political experience and humble attitude don’t fulfill the expectations of grandeur that many have for the country’s next president.

Battling with the regime

Bastawisi excelled right out of law school. After graduating in 1976, he was appointed as the judicial supervisor to customs police in Alexandria. After moving between courts, he was appointed to the secession court in Cairo, where he was elected to the court’s council in 1988. In 2000, Bastawisi was promoted to vice president of the secession court.

Since the start of his career, Bastawisi has been unwilling to participate in state crimes, which often depended on the implicit collusion of the judiciary.

In 1982, as a young judge overseeing the elections in the district of Menya al-Basal in Alexandria, Bastawisi canceled the elections in his district because of security intervention and rigging. He recounted in recent interviews how he got a phone call from a judicial source with a special pleading from Mubarak to reverse his decision, but he refused to comply.

In 2003, Bastawisi assisted as deputy head of the secession court in a ruling to annul the election in the district of Zaytoun, in which former Presidential Chief of Staff Zakariya Azmy, one of the most prominent figures of the old regime, had won through rigging. Again, state pressure was not able to convince Bastawisi to reverse his ruling.

During his four years on assignment as a judge in the United Arab Emirates starting 1992, Bastawisi was just as uncompromising when it came to the dignity of the judiciary.

Bastawisi reportedly received a note from a member of the UAE ruling family asking for a pardon for a defendant whose case he was seeing. Bastawisi responded with a note, writing “no intercession for anyone” — a saying with an Islamic reference stressing equality in justice.

Bastawisi also started a strike for Egyptian judges in the Emirates when two of their compatriots were suspended because of a verdict they issued that angered the ruling family. The sit-in continued despite royal pressure until the reinstatement of the two judges.

Bastawisi also suffered the consequences of confronting state intervention in the judiciary throughout his career. He was subjected to repeated travel bans, an alleged kidnap and defamation attempts. But it wasn’t until 2005 that Bastawisi had his fiercest battle with the regime.

In 2005, he was one of the leading figures of a judicial movement spearheaded by the Judges Club, demanding the independence of the judiciary ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections.

After negotiations with the state, the judges agreed to oversee the elections with promises of a modified law to ensure the independence of the judiciary.

Seeing a continuation of rigging in the elections, the Judges Club released a blacklist of the judges that took part in the rigging and Bastawisi, along with fellow Judge Mahmoud Mekky, went public with statements, announcing that the elections were not clean and questioning the independence of the Supreme Judicial Council.

As a result, the two highly respected judges were referred to a disciplinary board, a decision that angered the judges and led to a sit-in at the Judges Club.

Both judges ended up acquitted of the charges they faced, but Bastawisi’s final episode with the state was apparently too much for his heart to take. One day before his hearing, he suffered a heart attack that reportedly led his heart to stop for four minutes.

Mahmoud Abul Leil, then justice minister, admitted before his death last year that signing the papers to refer both judges to a disciplinary board was the worst moment in his life, and that he did it because of state pressure coming from Mubarak himself, who insisted that the judges be punished for publicly criticizing the judiciary.

Following this ordeal with the state, Bastawisi accepted a mission in Kuwait in 2007, only returning to Egypt after the eruption of protests in 2011.

Running on a leftist party ticket

Brought up in a house with a mother from an Islamic background and a leftist father, Bastawisi says he grew up with a critical perspective on political ideologies that allowed him to take what he believes in from each without sticking to one ideology.

After returning to Egypt in 2011 and announcing his bid for presidency, Bastawisi suspended his campaign in November and returned to Kuwait. He says that seeing the confusion in the political scene and the possibility of postponing the elections, he couldn’t afford being on an unpaid leave for much longer with a family of four to support.

Bastawisi finally returned to Cairo in March this year to present his candidacy papers.

Unable to collect the 30,000 endorsements required to run for presidency due to a shortage of time and money, Bastawisi decided to run on the ticket of the leftist Tagammu Party.

However, he says the party gave him the freedom to differ from its ideology in his platform, making him the candidate of all Egyptians, not only the political left.

Hussein Abdel Razek, Tagammu Party secretary general, said the party picked Bastawisi because, in addition to his honorable past, they felt he would represent the party’s ideology because he had been a member of the party briefly after graduation, before his judicial post forced him to disengage from politics.

Abdel Razek said the party leaders assisted Bastawisi in forming his platform, but that they adjusted the party platform in order to suit a presidential candidate running for the general public and not on a leftist agenda.

Building a state of institutions

In his platform, Bastawisi calls for a country of institutions and decentralized government, fighting the ultimate powers given to the president under the constitution. He says that his vision would lead to a mix of parliamentary and presidential systems, which would resemble the French government arrangement.

Bastawisi suggests a presidential council to be elected in place of a president with vice presidents for different specializations. He also suggests a board of assistants to the presidential council, consisting of members under 40 years old to give the new generation the political experience necessary to lead the country in the future.

He suggests a decentralized system in which every governorate has an elected local council that acts as a local legislature and decides on the use of the budget allocated for that governorate. He also calls for the rebuilding and reform of all state institutions and the development of a job description for all state employees to avoid abuse of power.

Bastawisi suggested a controversial constitutional principles bill last June that gives the military immunity against civilian oversight over its budget, an issue that has been a source of contention throughout the military-ruled transition.

According to the bill, a national security council would be the only body allowed to discuss the military budget and would only include the president, the head of the armed forces and the head of the military intelligence, among others. MPs and ministers could be included in some sessions if invited by the core members of the council, but they would have no power to vote on the council’s decisions. The council would also be shielded from media attention, and the decided budget would not be disclosed to the media until 30 years after the date of its release, per Bastawisi’s proposal.

Bastawisy said in television appearances that while he roots for a safe exit for the military from the political scene, this doesn’t mean giving the military rulers immunity against prosecution for crimes that investigations prove they have committed during their time as rulers.

Betting on low chances

Barred from politics by profession, Bastawisi is criticized as a presidential candidate for his lack of experience outside of the judicial sphere.

And he sometimes seems out of place in politics. He shuns propaganda techniques traditionally used by politicians, and has not departed from his characteristic reverence and calmness that his judicial role taught him over the years.  This has made his mission of reaching the majority of Egyptians, most of whom are not familiar with his history in the judiciary, a difficult task.

Bastawisi has also refused financing from businessmen to his campaign, relying on the limited capabilities of the Tagammu Party. The party itself, an incumbent opposition entity, has been marred with internal disputes and has not claimed a prominent position on the outbreak of the 25 January revolution.

He is competing against a field of three main left-leaning candidates, none of whom are seen to have much of a chance in winning the overall election: Nasserite journalist Hamdeen Sabbahi, labor lawyer Khaled Ali and Socialist Popular Alliance Party candidate Abul Ezz al-Hariry.

And it’s not even for sure that Bastawisi will be able to squeeze in the race for the left, many observers don’t see the liberal constituency as large enough to absorb four different candidates.

[Prepared by Heba Afify]

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Abul Ezz al-Hariry

Less than a day after Abul Ezz al-Hariry announced his candidacy for president of Egypt he filed a lawsuit calling for the High Elections Commission to halt the elections.

Throughout his political career, Hariry, who is running on behalf of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP), has insisted on playing the political game while unremittingly criticizing its limitations, whether backroom deals, discriminatory regulations or faulty rules. Having been on the national political scene since being elected to Parliament at the age of 30 in 1976, Hariry has a long history to back up his mischief-making persona.

“I’m always getting kicked out — or  fired — from  things,” Hariry said in a recent television interview. “For 13 years I was fired from work, I was twice kicked out of national associations, once out of Parliament, once out of the Socialist Union, once from the Tagammu Party.”

Somehow, Hariry manages to throw himself back in the mix and remain relevant throughout the years. He describes it as a consistent desire to put himself second and the general interest — which he fought and got fired for — first.

Leftist politicians have long claimed to be the prime defenders of laborers and peasants. In Hariry, the party can legitimately claim to have an experienced politician and man of the people.

After finishing secondary education, he worked as a laborer in the National Company for Spinning and Weaving, which also saw the beginning of his labor activism and engagement in leftist politics. In 1975 he was fired from his position as a result, and ran for Parliament the next year in his district in Alexandria, Karmouz, in a seat reserved for workers. The People’s Assembly revoked his diplomatic immunity in 1977 for his participation in labor protests. He returned to Parliament in elections in 2000 and 2011.

Hariry or his supporters will always mention, somewhat theatrically, how he once worked as a shoe shiner to put food on the table after getting fired from the weaving company. In reality, after being removed from the weaving company, Hariry was transferred to work in the phosphate mines in the Red Sea coastal city of Hurghada, and to protest the decision, he set-up a shoe shining station in front of his old company for ten days.

During Sadat’s presidency, he was arrested nine times by his own account, mostly for participation in protests. In 1981, he was detained alongside 1,531 national figures across the political spectrum during Sadat’s worst crackdown on dissidents. He claims to have also been the target of six assassination attempts, mostly by the government, and has suggested he might be targeted again while campaigning during these elections.

One of Hariry’s most notable political battles was within the leftist Tagammu Party in 2009. At the time Tagammu was the largest representative of the left in Egypt. Hariry ran against Refaat al-Saeed for leadership of the party. His main objection to al-Saeed’s clique was that they were engaging in backroom deals and political concessions with Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). Hariry called it an “existential struggle.”

Eventually, after losing the elections and criticizing the leadership of the party he had been a part of for nearly three decades, Hariry was effectively barred from membership. After the revolution he successfully managed to found SPAP along with other prominent leftists such as Abdel Ghaffar Shokr, novelist Sonallah Ibrahim, political scientist Moustafa Kamel el-Sayyed and a number of prominent youth activists.

As the leader and official candidate of SPAP, Hariry does not have to go through the initial tiring process of gathering 30,000 endorsements for his candidacy and is the second official presidential candidate in the 2012 race — second only to Ahmed al-Saidy of the National Egyptian Party.

By his own admission, his candidacy comes late, and the SPAP nomination does not mean he is guaranteed support from the left. The already small group of active leftists may be split between Hariry and Khaled Ali, an activist lawyer who is running as an independent.

While they have similar platforms, Hariry has the benefit of being able to point back to a long history of activism and political action to back up his positions. Hariry has also consistently been ready to put forth radical options and propositions. After the Camp David agreement in 1979, Hariry began a public campaign denouncing the agreement and calling it treasonous. He constantly attracted thousands to his rallies on the matter. Cancelling Camp David is on Hariry’s agenda as president.

Having been a staunch leftist his entire political career, Hariry was against the shift towards economic liberalization and alliance with the West under Sadat. “During Sadat’s time, I was an activist for national independence and during Mubarak’s, I was active against corruption,” he has said.

While in Parliament Hariry was consistently critical of the NDP. On corruption issues, he especially took on MP Ahmed Ezz for using his friendship with Gamal Mubarak to acquire steel contracts. It was also during the beginning of Ezz’s rise to prominence within the NDP.

A look into Hariry’s words and actions reveal that his campaign may not be explicitly about winning as much as it is to do what he is most known for — finding out the best way to call out a system on its faults while playing the political game.

In most of his interviews, Hariry is asked specifically what he hopes to achieve coming into the race so late for a party with minimal representation in Parliament (He is one of three SPAP members in Parliament).

“This is politics. This is what I know. It is about putting forth new ideas, paradigms and programs. This is what politics should be doing,” he recently said in a television interview when asked why he is running despite his belief in the illegitimacy of the elections.

Since Mubarak’s ouster, Hariry has been unequivocal in his criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the entire transition process. He constantly rejected motions towards reconciliation or amnesty with corrupt figures from Mubarak’s government and always lent his support to revolutionary groups and causes. Perhaps tellingly, on the same day before announcing his presidency, Hariry joined a demonstration protesting acquittal of the doctor accused of subjecting activist Samira Ibrahim and others to so-called virginity tests.

Even within Parliament and despite winning a decisive majority in his district, Hariry insists that it is an illegitimate body due to the fact that “Anything based on something wrong, is wrong.” Most recently, he lambasted Parliament’s vote on the constitutional constituent assembly, again claiming that the illegitimate Parliament cannot be in charge of deciding how the constitution will be written.

“Hariry knows that the game is rigged. He is too experienced and too smart to be fooled. His role in politics now is to expose all of that, he knows it and he knows what he’s doing,” said one prominent leftist at Hariry’s campaign launching who wished to remain unnamed. 

Whether he intends on running to expose his opponents to criticism, to highlight the left’s agenda, or to win the presidency, which he claimed would only be the result of “reaping the fruit of a lifetime of political activism,” Hariry will definitely do what he does best: unapologetically raise the issues that matter to him, whether it gets him in trouble or not.

[Prepared by Mohamed Elmeshad]

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Mohamed Morsy

Earlier this month, thousands of people rallied in the Mansoura stadium at a campaign event for the Muslim Brotherhood’s last-minute presidential nominee.

After a brief and flattering introduction by one of his campaigners, Mohamed Morsy stood up, waving his hands to the cheering audience. In the background, the campaign’s song was echoing across the stadium.

“We are all one hand against injustice and tyranny. God willing Morsy will be the winner,” chanted a campaigner and the audience repeated after him.

“We will all carry the [Muslim Brotherhood’s] project with Shater or with Morsy,” reverberated the hymn, in reference to the group’s strongman Khairat al-Shater, who sat next to Morsy on the stage covered with a cloth on embroidered with the names of both men.

This scene summarizes the controversy of Morsy’s candidacy. A few hours before the nomination period ended, the Muslim Brotherhood submitted Morsy’s papers as a back-up candidate in case Shater, its primary nominee and most influential leader, was disqualified for his unresolved criminal record.

Since then, Morsy’s nomination has been held as evidence of the group’s indecisiveness and has provoked numerous jokes. Satire popped up on social media, dubbing Morsy “the spare” presidential hopeful or “Shater’s double.”

Almost a week later, Shater was officially excluded from the race by the Presidential Elections Commission and Morsy became the group’s sole candidate. But the commission’s decision did not sideline Shater completely. He has been touring the country with his replacement and is introduced as the architect of Morsy's "Nahda" platform (the Arabic word for renaissance).

Shater’s protégé

Morsy was born in 1951 in the Delta province of Sharqiya. He studied engineering at Cairo University before he went to the University of South California to pursue a PhD. According to his resume posted on a Muslim Brotherhood’s website, Morsy worked as assistant professor at California State University Northridge in the early 1980s.

He returned to Egypt in the mid-1980s to teach at Zagazig University’s Faculty of Engineering.

Unlike many leading brothers, Morsy’s legacy does not emanate from many years of imprisonment or decades of sacrifice to the long-persecuted organization. His name began to echo within the Muslim Brotherhood only in the early 2000s after his victory in parliamentary elections.

Since then, his ascent has been related to his ties with Shater. For many insiders, Morsy’s complacent nature and unquestionable commitment to the group’s internal discipline and order gained him Shater’s support.

"For Shater, being trustworthy and obedient is the most important thing," said Abdel Rahman Ayyash, a former brother. He told Egypt Independent adding that Morsy meets the requirement.

Shater, who always preferred to remain backstage, empowered Morsy and pushed him to the organization’s forefront. With Shater’s blessing, Morsy eventually seized the group’s most crucial portfolios including the political and media divisions. In April 2011, the Shura Council, the group’s top decision-making body, chose Morsy as the president of the Freedom and Justice Party, their brand new political party.

"Shater always prefers to entrust people who are close to him with crucial positions and this is why Morsy is president of [the Muslim Brotherhood's] party," added Ayyash.

Tense relationship with youth

Morsy is considered one of the conservative voices within Egypt’s oldest Islamist organization. His power put him in confrontation with the group’s progressive youth on several occasions.

When the group issued its political platform in 2007, some young brothers had decried on the blogosphere three controversial clauses that denied women and Copts the right to run for president and stipulated that laws should be vetted by a board of religious scholars. 

In a bid to contain the outrage of the organization’s young activists, Morsy sat down with these bloggers. However, his discourse alienated them further.

According to Ayyash, a 22-year-old blogger who attended the meeting, Morsy said in a firm tone: “This is how we think and this is how we understand Islam.” After the revolution, the group dropped the three clauses.

Last year, the tension between Morsy and the group’s youths intensified as the latter became overtly defiant of the leaders’ commands.

The revolution emboldened many young brothers and prompted them to challenge the leaders’ orders on several occasions during the 18-day-uprising that culminated in Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. Young brothers had refused orders not to take to the streets on 25 January 2011 and to withdraw from the square during the Battle of the Camel.

Morsy called for a meeting with the group’s representatives in the then-vigorous Revolution Youth Coalition only a few days after Mubarak had stepped down, according to Ahmed Abdel Gawad, a 35-year old brother who was among the attendees.

“It was a strange meeting,” said Abdel Gawad. “It seemed as if he came for brainwashing purposes and to justify the mistakes made by the group during the revolution, such as why they did not take to the street on 25 January and why they agreed to hold negotiations with [intelligence chief] Omar Suleiman.” 

However, towards the end of the meeting, Morsy insinuated that the organization was not happy about the youths’ rebellious attitudes, according to Abdel Gawad.

Meanwhile, young brothers were heavily involved in further protests that demanded the sacking of the cabinet and the uprooting of the remnants of Mubarak's regime. And they became regular guests on news talk shows.

"For the Muslim Brotherhood, to see some of their followers take all that space and act outside the parameters of the group is a red line," explained Abdel Gawad. Eventually, Morsy sent his assistant to meet again with young brothers a week later, Abdel Gawad said. This assistant was assigned to convey a particular message.

“The assistant had a confrontational tone, and he said that we had already crossed the limits,” recounted Gawad.

Upset at the tone, the young brothers met with the Supreme Guide and demanded that Morsy no longer be the intermediary between them and the leadership, he said.

As soon as Morsy caught wind of this demand, a smear campaign was launched against them within the organization, said Abdel Gawad. “Morsy perceived the [demand] as an attempt to marginalize him,” he said.

Almost a month later, the stand-off between Morsy and revolutionary young brothers took a new turn when he refused to endorse the conference they held to express their views on the future of the organization. Morsy told the local media then that the organization had nothing to do with the conference. Later on, many young brothers, including Abdel Gawad, were expelled from the group on grounds of violating the leadership's decisions.

Manufacturing a hero

Since Shater’s disqualification, the Muslim Brotherhood’s official discourse has portrayed Morsy as “a politically savvy” candidate, “a symbol of the revolution,” and a sponsor of the group’s “Nahda” platform. The campaign stresses that Morsy was imprisoned twice under Mubarak.

In 2006, Morsy was detained for seven months on grounds of participating in a protest denouncing Mubarak’s interference with the judiciary. On the early morning of 28 January 2011, Morsy was arrested along with several Muslim Brotherhood leaders as part of Mubarak’s last desperate measure to preempt the sweeping protests that were set to kick off on that day.

The group’s official discourse invokes Morsy’s parliamentarian background to prove his commitment to democracy, opposition to Mubarak’s regime and defense of Sharia.

During his parliamentary tenure from 2000 to 2005, Morsy initiated several motions to expose government corruption. He also called for several political reforms including the abolition of the notorious political parties law, the empowerment of municipal councils, the lifting of the state of emergency and all restrictions on the press and student political activities. Morsy was also an outspoken critic of the Egypt-Israel gas deal.

His parliamentary record bears evidence of his social conservatism. He had criticized the government for allowing the circulation of magazines with “nude” covers and the broadcast of obscene music videos. As an MP, he had also dismissed the Miss Egypt contest as contradictory of “social norms, Islamic Sharia and the constitution.” He also had filed an information request alleging that there are pro-American forces within the government that seek to weaken Al-Azhar and religious education.

A murky future

Less than a month stands between Egyptians and the start of the presidential poll. Most observers expect no candidate to secure more than 50 percent of the votes and rise victorious from the first round, so a run-off is expected to take place on 15 and 16 June between an Islamist candidate and, most likely, secular nominee Amr Moussa.

So far, Morsy's chances to survive the first phase seem slim. The 61-year-old engineer has failed to garner the support of various Islamist factions.

His campaign was dealt a blow on Saturday when the Alexandria-based Salafi Dawah and its political wing the Nour Party announced that they would support Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, an Islamist candidate and former Muslim Brother known for his relatively moderate outlook. 

Despite his relatively liberal attitudes, Egypt’s largest Salafi bloc said it backed him because he has a better chance of defeating Moussa.

Abouel Fotouh is also expected to attract the votes of many young brothers who admire his political discourse and charisma.

Most recent polls prove that Morsy is unlikely to defeat Abouel Fotouh. A poll published last week by a local think tank showed that 54.4 percent of voters have not decided yet on their candidate. Abouel Fotouh had the support of 15.5 percent of the decided voters versus 1.5 percent for Morsy. Another poll released Monday by Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies also showed that Morsy had the support of only 3.6 percent versus 27.3 percent for Abouel Fotouh.

[Prepared by Noha El-Hennawy]

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Amr Moussa

With a strong and steady voice, and the ability to alternate at will between the image of the intimidating statesman and the approachable man of the street, Amr Moussa has managed to become the front runner in the presidential elections following a revolution that overthrew the regime he served under.

The 76-year-old veteran politician is now on a race to reinvent his image and sell himself as a revolution supporter.

It remains to be seen, though, whether he can convince the public he is a reformist before they take to the polling stations to choose their new president in May.

Kicking off a career of political and public diplomacy

Moussa started his career in the Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1958. He advanced quickly and represented Egypt in a number of countries, ending up as the permanent representative of Egypt to the United Nations in 1990.

In 1991, Moussa was appointed as minister of foreign affairs and continued to serve in this post for 10 years. During this time, Moussa’s popularity exploded, in large part due to his anti-Israel rhetoric. Moussa is also well-known for his expansion of Egypt’s European relations and his public opposition to Israel and its nuclear expansion.

In 2001, Moussa was appointed secretary general of the Arab League, where he served for another decade. Many believe former President Hosni Mubarak orchestrated his removal from national politics because he was intimidated by Moussa’s growing popularity.

In the following years, Moussa was able to maintain his public appeal without invoking Mubarak’s ire. A 2006 Wikileaks cable mentions him as a possible successor for the former president, along with Gamal Mubarak and Intelligence Chief at the time Omar Suleiman, labeling Moussa as the "dark horse" candidate.

In the league, Moussa gained most of his popularity through statements made for public consumption rather than implementation of actual policies.

His public position against Israel, an easy score of public sympathy, is a case in point.

His fiery speeches even earned him a seminal song from the popular Shaaban Abdel Rehim dubbed “I hate Israel and love Amr Moussa.”

But independent newspaper Youm7 published a letter sent by Moussa in 1993, when he was the foreign affairs minister, to the petroleum minister at the time, expressing his approval of exporting gas to Israel.

After the revolution, though, Moussa joined the public in criticizing the deal, calling it a failed economic venture.

Moussa has admitted he sent the letter in media appearances and explained his position, saying that it was necessary to export gas to Israel in order to be able to export it to the Palestinians as well.

During the Israeli war on Gaza in 2009, Moussa gave one of his landmark speeches at the Davos World Economic Forum, in which he condemned the Israeli attack on Gaza and the blockade enforced after Hamas came to power in 2006. He said he did not support an armed Palestinian resistance, but added that it was justified by the occupation of their lands and the blockade.

Moussa ended his speech by saying that the Arabs are ready on the highest official levels to “recognize Israel and normalize with Israel and have Israel as part of the family of the Middle East.” These statements were made just one day after he called the war on Gaza “carnage.”

Adjusting to the revolution

Moussa dealt with the toppling of the regime in Egypt with the same fluidity that has served him well throughout his career.

Since the start of his campaign in March, Moussa has been trying to distance himself from Mubarak’s regime, painting an image of his past as an outcast official resisting the regime he serves under.

When asked about his relationship with the former president, Moussa only mentions the differences that caused clashes.

In a television appearance last week, he described his 10 years serving in the Foreign Affairs Ministry under Mubarak as “the most difficult years of my life.”

What Moussa had to say about Mubarak before the revolution, however, is very different.

In an interview in 2010 with the satellite channel Dream TV, Moussa described his work relationship with the deposed president as “positive” and announced he would vote for Mubarak if he ran for a sixth term as president no matter who ran against him.

A gradual and carefully calculated conversion from a regime loyalist to a revolution supporter can be detected in the Moussa’s change on positions, which began when former Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali fled in January 2011.

In a speech on 19 January, days after a popular uprising succeeded in deposing Ben Ali, Moussa gave a speech at the Second Arab Economic Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, which he now references in nearly all of his media appearances as a sign of his early siding with the people.

While the speech lacked any criticism of Mubarak’s regime, Moussa spoke about the growing anger of the Arab people and the dire need for economic reforms to enhance their standards of living. At the end of the speech, he thanked Mubarak and his government for their efforts in organizing the conference.

When the 25 January protests broke out, Moussa positioned himself on the “wise men committee,” which tried to mediate between the revolutionaries and the regime, with little success.

The committee allowed Moussa to stay in the middle ground without announcing his support for either side until the situation cleared up.

Moussa has said in recent TV appearances that he joined protesters in Tahrir Square following the 2 February attack on them by former regime thugs, known as the Battle of the Camel. However, Russia Today quotes Moussa’s office at the time as saying that he was in the square to try to calm protesters.

Moussa recently said that the Battle of the Camel was the last straw that made him realize that the regime was full of lies and deception and had to go.

Interviews that he made up to 7 February however, show Moussa was content to let Mubarak finish his term and leave in September, which was staunchly rejected by protesters.

Despite his previous support for this scenario, Moussa appeared on the Saudi satellite channel of Al-Arabiya on the day following Mubarak’s resignation, announcing that it was a great opportunity for the Egyptian people.

Swinging in the transition

Just as he never criticized Mubarak’s regime while it was in power, Moussa takes the same shrewd position with the ruling military council and the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, dominates Parliament.

Having been part of a regime that outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, Moussa at first stayed true to his negative perception of the group — that is, until their win of about 43 percent in the September parliamentary elections.

In an interview with Foreign Policy in June, Moussa called for presidential elections to precede parliamentary elections, warning that otherwise, the Brotherhood would dominate Parliament “and then there will be chaos.”

Following their parliamentary win, Moussa has been referring to the Muslim Brotherhood as a “nationalist group” and expressing his willingness to cooperate with them, in what some say is an attempt to win their backing.  The group has not announced which presidential candidate it will support.

Moussa has also changed his view of the system best fit to rule Egypt in the coming period to correspond with that chosen by the Brotherhood. After initially calling for a presidential system, Moussa recently advocated convincingly for the mixed presidential and parliamentary system, which the Brotherhood has proposed.

Following the many clashes that erupted throughout the last year between security forces and protesters, which have resulted in more than a hundred civilian casualties, Moussa’s responses always demanded a speedy investigation to determine responsibility, but never included any direct criticism or condemnation of the ruling military council, which is in a position of political responsibility for the events.

Moussa also follows the military council’s example in claiming that the people attacked by the military are not revolutionaries but “anarchists” that have to be stopped.

Targeting the masses

Even in the midst of crisis, Moussa never lost track of his political ambition. On 2 February of last year, the day after Mubarak announced that he wasn’t intending to run in the next presidential elections, Moussa told Al-Arabiya news he might run for the post.

Since the official announcement of his bid for presidency in March 2011, Moussa has been relentlessly roaming villages and governorates, making contact with the critical voting mass in Egypt.

He has not tried to openly woo the revolutionary forces, which are the most resistant to Moussa’s candidacy, considering him an extension of the old regime.

Many of Moussa’s campaign events have been attacked by people calling him a remnant of the regime. But with his trademark resilience, Moussa has been able to absorb their criticism in the most diplomatic way.

In his campaign events and media appearances, Moussa rarely goes into poetic speeches glorifying the revolution like other candidates. Instead, he discusses decreasing the poverty rate in Egypt, improving education and attaining social justice.

Even though he has not offered detailed plans on how to do so, showing concern for the ordinary citizen’s problems gives Moussa more credit with many Egyptians.

For the well-to-do, Moussa sells himself as a viable secular option to the increasing Islamization of the state, albeit not positioning himself in direct opposition to Islamic forces.

Amr Moussa supporters say that with his vast political and diplomatic experience that exceeds that of all the other candidates, that he is the only one capable of running Egypt in this critical stage. Moussa’s supporters don’t consider him a part of the fallen regime and call him an inside reformer.

Moussa’s overall image is that of a strong statesman who has managed to survive a corrupting regime, but whose history with that regime acts sometimes as a daunting past. The vagueness of his stances, a by-product of a longstanding diplomatic career, had spared him from the battle of polarizing views that has waged around him.

[Prepared by Heba Afify]

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Hamdeen Sabbahi

When Gamal Abdel Nasser died in 1970, he left behind a progeny of like-minded ideologues who adhered to his form of big-government socialist economies and pan-Arab nationalism. Though they are now a rare breed in the visible spectrum of Egyptian politics, one Nasserist has survived as a prominent political force and is running for president in 2012: Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Reaping the fruits of his labor

Any conversation about Sabbahi usually begins with reference to his audacious face-to-face dress-down of then-President Anwar al-Sadat in 1977, when the latter decided to conduct a series of town hall meetings at universities to prove his openness to dialogue. Then a student of mass communications and president of the student union at Cairo University, Sabbahi criticized Sadat over his departure from Nasserism and shift towards neo-liberalism, as well as the seemingly decreasing support for the Palestinian cause.

Since 1977, Sabbahi has been an omnipresent opposition figure in Egyptian politics. In 1979, he was imprisoned along with other prominent leftist activists for being one of the instigators of the bread riots that saw widespread demonstrations against inflated prices of staple goods. It would be the first of a series of detentions, the last of which was in 2003, when Sabbahi was arrested for protesting Egypt’s support of the US invasion of Iraq.

Through his membership of the Arab Democratic Nasserist Party, Sabbahi stayed active in politics. He emerged as a leader within the Nasserist current after leaving the party in 1996 — claiming it has become obsolete — and forming the Karama party on similar ideological grounds. Until the 25 January revolution, Karama was not recognized as an official political party for espousing what the Mubarak regime considered a radical ideology. Meanwhile, Sabbahi ran for and was seated in parliament as an independent from 2000 to 2010.

Despite Karama’s unofficial party status, in 2004 Sabbahi was able to form the Karama newspaper. As a seasoned journalist, through the paper he was able to both ply his trade and push a “radical” political agenda. He still runs the paper today as its editor-in-chief.

In 2005, he joined a group of activists and intellectuals to form the Kefaya movement which led a wave of protests against the rule of Hosni Mubarak and the grooming of his son, Gamal, to take over the presidency. As a founding member of a group, which is considered one of the direct precursors to the 25 January revolution, Sabbahi, among the presidential candidates, is able to legitimately claim to have been part of a contemporary force for change. His activist history further backs that point.

A quick search of Hamdeen Sabbahi on Youtube will reveal videos of him breaking through security cordons during the first days of the 25 January revolution with throngs of supporters following his lead.

Some activists are critical of his reluctance to criticize the currently ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in the beginning of the post-Mubarak era. He was especially criticized for meeting with the military council after the Friday of Purification (26 February 2011) when military police attacked some protesters still sitting in Tahrir.

Lately, this has changed. Speaking at Alexandria University on 28 February 2012, Sabbahi said he does not support writing the constitution while the SCAF is still in charge, indicating an inherent mistrust in the military council. Many other “opposition” candidates oppose writing the constitution under SCAF rule out of fear that they might attempt to manipulate its clauses in a way that would make the military immune to oversight.

At the same Alexandria rally, he voiced criticism of the military rulers, saying he refuses a “safe exit” for them and insists they should be held accountable for deaths that occurred during the waves of violence against protesters throughout last year.  

Nasserists generally hold a tough line towards Israel. In the mid-1980s, Sabbahi was reportedly a member of a group called Egypt’s Revolution. Among other activities, one of this group’s stated aims was to assassinate Zionist activists. In 2008, Sabbahi was one of the first Egyptian parliamentarians to go to the Gaza Strip on an official visit highlighting the need for more support and to call for the end the Israeli siege of the area.

Relying on being ‘one of them’

One major problem facing Sabbahi is that he is not generating the amount of interest needed among his ideological kin. His reliance on social justice as a platform coupled with his political history should make him a prime candidate for the left. Instead, his name was not considered by prominent leftist parties to become the candidate they rally around. Despite fleetingly considering Sabbahi as a potential candidate, internal discussions among those party members were fixated on other lesser-known figures such as Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP) leader Abul Ezz al-Hariry and human rights lawyer Khaled Ali. SPAP leaders said that Sabbahi’s opposition to an immediate transfer of power to a civilian leadership and changing the SCAF-imposed timeline were partly behind his not being considered as the potential candidate of the left.

Historically, the left and Sabbahi had a good relationship vis-à-vis shared causes such as farmers’ rights. He also participated in many left-led causes célèbre, such as the fight for independent labor unionization.

Many public figures have come out in support of Sabbahi. He will also have the support of large sections of the Tagammu Party, the older pre-revolution leftist party, which many feel was co-opted by the toppled regime. As much as any of the candidates on the floor now, Sabbahi is able to garner media attention and appearances that reach millions of homes on a daily basis.

Born in 1954 to a rural family from the village of Balteem in Kafr al-Sheikh in Lower Egypt, and a recognizable face in many causes for the rural poor, Sabbahi has always fashioned himself as a man of the people. His electoral slogan is “one of us.”

Being a Nasserist is perhaps no longer a direct way to win support, given the absence of a large Nasserist popular base. Nonetheless peasants will remember Sabbahi’s support for them over the years. In 1997, he was arrested while standing with peasants who were harmed by a change in laws regulating the relationship between land owners and typically poor peasant renters. The law lifted rent-control on leased farm land, dramatically increasing rent.

Sabbahi is still able to draw a crowd wherever he goes, and is likely to gather the 30,000 signatures he needs to have at some point between 10-29 March (from 15 governorates) to be an official nominee for president. He already has over 240,000 subscribers to his Facebook page.

As an independent, fundraising for the Hamdeen Sabbahi campaign has taken on a more populist tone. In the independent Al-Shorouk daily newspaper, he said that he would fund his campaign “from the few pounds he gets from many regular Egyptians,” calling on his supporters to donate, “even if just one pound.”

Newspapers reported a revealing quote from the candidate in February 2012, when he said that he is not against the idea of running as Muslim Brotherhood defector Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh’s running mate “or the other way around.”

One thing he can claim is constancy in his core political beliefs. While his popularity might have experienced an ebb-and-flow over the past 35 years, the positions he berated Sadat for still form the bedrock of his convictions and presidential platform today.

“I would uphold Nasser’s principles on social justice while pushing for a completely democratic system that clearly defines — and limits — the role of the president, which Nasser did not do,” Sabbahi said in a January 2012 interview with the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute.

Taking the good and leaving the bad

Part of the Sabbahi campaign platform involves the immediate implementation of social welfare programs as well as a 60 percent minimum wage increase to LE1,200 per month. Perhaps aiming for Robin Hood status, his platform proposes to fund this by implementing a one-off tax on 10 percent of the entire income of anyone worth more than LE50 million.

Just like Nasser, Sabbahi aims to enhance Egypt’s position as a regional powerhouse, support the Palestinian cause with more vigor, promising to end Egypt’s role in the Gaza siege, and encourage cooperation with Iran and Turkey to decrease American influence in local politics.

As part of his current campaign, Sabbahi promises to reverse the gas deals with Israel, under which Israel benefits from very low gas prices. He, however, wasn’t as confident in about annulling the Camp David accords. At the Alexandria University rally, Sabbahi said that cancelling the accords “cannot be a unilateral decision and must be well thought out.”

Nasser was a visionary for his time. For a time, his plan worked and he gained unparalleled status as a reformer and leader in the Arab World. Sabbahi would like to take the good from that and leave the bad — mostly the one-party state system — while fashioning himself as the modern, post-revolutionary option in a post-Nasser era. His ability to get into a post-Nasser mentality may be questioned by his constant appearances with the son of the late president, Abdel Hakim, who is arguably Sabbahi’s closest ally.

The 25 January revolution attempted, among other things, to end the tradition of having an absolute ruler and quasi-deific attitudes towards them. Running on a platform based on the ideology of one such figure could be a challenge for Sabbahi.

[Prepared by Mohamed Elmeshad]

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Ahmed Shafiq

Although he was forced to resign as prime minister in the face of raging protests just one year ago because of his ties to Hosni Mubarak’s regime, Ahmed Shafiq defiantly returns to the scene to run in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential election slated for 23 and 24 May.

With a hoarse voice and the quick temper of a military man, the question is whether Egyptians will vote for Shafiq to become yet another president from the military, especially since the most prominent chant heard in the streets over the past few months has been “Down with military rule,” a sentiment Shafiq believes doesn’t represent the opinion of the majority.

Hailing from a military background

The 71-year-old Shafiq graduated from the Egyptian Air Force Academy in 1961 and joined the air force at the age of 20. Later in his career, he earned a master's degree in military science and a PhD in the national strategy of outer space.

He came from a family of government officials. His engineer father, Mohamed Shafiq, served as irrigation minister, and the father of his wife, Azza Tawfiq Abdel Fattah, was a social and labor affairs minister.

Shafiq fought in three wars, the North Yemen Civil War in 1962, the War of Attrition with Israel between 1967 and 1970, and the 1973 war with Israel, during which he served under the command of then-Commander of the Air Force Hosni Mubarak.

From 1984 to 1986, Shafiq served as the military attache in the Egyptian Embassy in Rome. In September 1991, he was appointed chief of staff of the air force, holding this position until April 1996, when he became the air force commander.

In 2002, Shafiq became the country's first civil aviation minister when Mubarak issued a decree to form the ministry, after it had been attached to other ministries for 28 years. The decision was criticized by the opposition, which accused Mubarak of tailoring the position especially for Shafiq after the latter refused a post as Egypt’s ambassador to France.

Shafiq survived a cabinet change in 2005 and thus served as the minister for ten years until 2011, when Mubarak asked him to form a new government on 29 January amid the popular uprising that erupted on 25 January. He lasted only one month in that position.

Shafiq has relied on his military background and successes in the Civil Aviation Ministry to sell himself to the public in his presidential campaign. During his ten years heading the ministry, he was one of the few ministers whose performance was praised by both the regime and some opposition figures, journalists and writers. Some voices had called for him to be appointed prime minister or even vice president in the last few years of the Mubarak regime.

In his ministry, Shafiq was known for iron-fist management and a tendency to control its different activities by himself. He frequently changed the management and was never hesitant to replace any person who fell short of expectations.

He also embarked on an ambitious restructuring plan for EgyptAir, the country’s national carrier. He was able to achieve a turnaround in the company's performance, making it the leading carrier in the Middle East and Africa, securing in 2008 a membership in the Star Alliance, the world's first and largest airline coalition.

During his office term, the lieutenant general also effectively renovated Egyptian airports, transforming Cairo International Airport into a regional hub through the inauguration of Terminal 3 in 2008 and opening Terminal 2 at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport.

However, all this glitter might not turn out to be gold. Employees at the Civil Aviation Ministry and EgyptAir Holding Company have filed more than 40 lawsuits against Shafiq since the uprising, accusing him of corruption and squandering public funds. However, the fate of these cases remains unknown, especially since the public prosecutor transferred them to the military prosecution in May, and Shafiq was never summoned for interrogation.

Some of these cases allege that after the Civil Aviation Ministry borrowed LE3.3 billion from the World Bank to construct Terminal 3, its operation has taken annual losses of more than LE500 million. They also accuse Shafiq of squandering funds by investing more than LE100 million in building two malls next to the Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh airports, projects that failed to generate any revenue. Selling vast tracts of ministry land to some businessmen at cheap prices is also among the accusations.

Shafiq has denied these allegations in several media appearances, describing them as “malicious.”

Distancing himself from the revolution

Shafiq makes it no secret that he was one of Mubarak’s men. He defended the former president to the last minute before he stepped down on 11 February 2011.

“I know him as much as I know myself,” Shafiq said of Mubarak in a TV interview on 1 February, unable to hide his tears after watching Mubarak’s last speech pledging to remain in office and announcing he would not run for another presidential term. “[The revolutionaries] took the Tunisian catalogue and are applying it here in Egypt. But we are in Egypt, not Tunis,” he said at the time.

He added: “Anyone who ever dealt with the president knows very well that he is patriotic to the bone and that if anyone swore to me that [Mubarak] will leave the country, I would never believe that. Mubarak will die on Egyptian soil.”

Shafiq didn’t exactly side with the revolutionaries during the 18-day uprising. His indifferent media statements as prime minister at the time angered many protesters. One example was when he tauntingly offered to distribute candies to protesters in Tahrir Square, a statement that could either be blamed on utter spontaneity or conceit.

He even went so far as to question their legitimacy. “The Egyptian people were not all in Tahrir, they were in their homes,” he said.

Many of Shafiq's other media appearances turned out this way. His angry statement while defending his patriotism in television appearance ― “I fought in wars, killed and was killed” ― became a running joke for months.

Shafiq refused to refer to the popular protests as a revolution or uprising during the 18 days, rather preferring to describe them as a collective expression of anger. He also blamed the protests for the country's worsening economic and security conditions. However, this appeared to change after the Battle of the Camel, when pro-regime men riding camels and horses attacked Tahrir Square on 2 February, killing eight people. This seemed to strike a particular blow to Shafiq, who had come out on television the day before promising that people in Tahrir would not be harmed.

“I swear on my life, no one will harm the Egyptians in Tahrir Square,” he had said.

Today, Shafiq completely denies any responsibility for the attack, saying he didn’t know about it until the end of the day.

“It was not under my responsibility. I didn’t have control of any of the state agencies. The president, the intelligence and the armed forces should be asked about that,” he said four days after being appointed prime minister.

Shafiq today downplays the effect on his presidential candidacy of the protests that forced him to resign on 3 March 2011.

“Maybe I was not accepted a year ago, but things change,” said Shafiq in a TV interview a week ago. He also claims that he is on good terms with the revolutionaries today.

“Half of the people in Tahrir now call me and visit me at home, while some tell me that they were deceived,” he said. “There was a plot to topple me,” he continued.

Standing alone

Although Shafiq does not have much political backing, he seems quite confident of his success. Shafiq is not very popular with the Islamist forces that dominate nearly 70 percent of the legislative branch of government. The website for the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party has the biggest number of parliamentary seats, ran a long report last month accusing Shafiq of allowing the “corrupt ministers” of Mubarak to transfer money abroad during his short term as prime minister, among other accusations of squandering state funds and favoring army generals in the Civil Aviation Ministry with disproportionate salaries.

The Nour Party, which has the second-most seats in Parliament after the FJP, has said Shafiq asked for its endorsement. Shafiq denied this. That ultra-conservative Islamists would seem to have little in common with Shafiq, and more religious candidates have already declared their intention to run, calls Shafiq's claim into question.

In a similar vein, liberal Wafd Party leader Al-Sayed al-Badawy said last week that Shafiq has a slim chance of support from his or other liberal parties. Wafd now plans to support Mansour Hassan, who has headed the military government's Advisory Council for the last few months. Similarly, Shafiq doesn’t appear to have a chance with leftist forces, especially considering his neoliberal economic outlook and ties with the toppled regime, and since leftists are gathering around their own candidates.

But Shafiq is looking for support elsewhere. “I am not dependent on a certain political bloc; I target the average Egyptian family with all its age levels,” he said on TV recently.

Shafiq’s ties to the Mubarak regime are not only institutional. Many perceive him as sharing the same authoritarian and patriarchal values of other Mubarak-era figures. These have been most manifest in his TV appearances and staunch rejection of any criticism. Many see Shafiq in the same corner as long-time diplomat Amr Moussa: strongmen hailing from the old regime and, despite this connection, acting as statists needed to restore stability. 

His campaign is described by some as schizophrenic. In one bizarre event, he rode a white horse into a campaign rally in a Luxor Governorate village. This was meant to promote him as a conservative 'man of the village' who will lead Egypt in its renaissance. His attire in this occasion sharply contrasted with his more casual appearances on television, where his wardrobe of colorful pullovers has also caused laughter nationwide.

Many accuse Shafiq of being supported by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, specifically its head, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, especially after Shafiq mentioned that he had consulted with the latter when trying to decide whether to join the presidential race. As Tantawi’s 21-year companion, Shafiq vehemently avoids talking about or criticizing the SCAF.

[Prepared by Rana Khazbak]

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1 comment for "Egypt's Presidential Election: Meet the Contenders"

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الانتخابات المصرية تشهد حراكا واسعا قبل فترة الصمت التي ايتدئيت من الان الي وقت الاقتراع ..افرزت عن وعي الشعب المصري واحدثت اثراءا فكريا وبلاغيا في النقاش بين جميع الطوائف ولنقل ان هذا الحراك ماهو الا تأثير حرية التعبير بعد القمع الذي كان حادثا ايام فترة مبارك .

طارق رشاد wrote on May 21, 2012 at 01:24 AM

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