Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the influential Muslim Brotherhood – along with the latter's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which currently enjoys just shy of a parliamentary majority – are reportedly edging closer to declaring Arab League chief Nabil El-Arabi as their preferred presidential candidate, well-informed sources told Ahram Online.
The same sources said that both the SCAF and the Brotherhood have two presidential contenders whom they definitely want out of the race: Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fottouh.
The SCAF, for its part, wants to exclude former Arab League head Amr Moussa, whose approval ratings are the highest according to several independent polls. Sources say that some within the SCAF leadership are uncomfortable with what they describe as Moussa's "exaggerated sense of dignity."
Moussa and SCAF head Hussein Tantawi were fellow cabinet ministers under former president Hosni Mubarak in the 1990s, before Moussa's growing popularity prompted Mubarak to kick Moussa upstairs to the Arab League in 2001.
When the SCAF conducted an online popularity poll a few months ago, Moussa came in last, while Mohamed ElBaradei clinched first place. The results were later withdrawn, however, after it was revealed that the poll had been tampered with.
However, as one of the sources who spoke to Ahram Online said, "If the SCAF wants Moussa out, then the Muslim Brotherhood will do anything to kill Aboul-Fottouh's chances."
Aboul-Fottouh, a medical doctor by profession and long-time political activist imprisoned during the Mubarak era for his association with the Brotherhood, broke away from the group following last year's revolution to announce his own presidential campaign – against the wishes of the Brotherhood leadership.
Today, Brotherhood leaders are ferociously lobbying against the renegade politician. "Members of the Brotherhood's younger generation who see Aboul-Fottouh as a viable Islamist presidential candidate fear they might be excommunicated from the group if they express support for him," said one young Brotherhood member.
To the surprise of the Brotherhood leadership, Aboul-Fottouh, whose political program is based on a consensual national agenda, has garnered support from certain Islamist and liberal – even Christian – quarters.
The Brotherhood had initially hoped that support would go to Islamist intellectual Selim El-Awa, but this didn't pan out. "El-Awa is actually now thinking about bowing out of the race," said one source close to his campaign.
El-Awa, who has thus far maintained good relations with the SCAF, had initially hoped to be the favoured candidate of the SCAF and the Brotherhood.
Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, who resigned following mass demonstrations only weeks after Mubarak's ouster, had also hoped to secure the SCAF's backing for a possible run for the presidency. But according to a source close to the military council, Shafiq received a lukewarm reception from the SCAF, due largely to scepticism about the prospects of someone with such close associations to the deposed head of state.
Meanwhile, Mansour Hassan, head of the SCAF's Advisory Council, has turned down overtures from both the SCAF and the Brotherhood to stand as their candidate of choice. The maximum Hassan was prepared to give, according to informed sources, was to withdraw his announced public support for Moussa and give it instead to El-Arabi.
Sources close to El-Arabi say the Arab League chief is reluctant to enter the race for highest office. According to one source, he might agree to run if his term was of a transitional nature, i.e., limited to only one or two years in office.
In any case, El-Arabi is expected to announce his final decision on the matter within days.
Both Aboul-Fottouh and Moussa, meanwhile, are calling on all political players to refrain from doing anything that might unfairly influence the upcoming polls.
The official date for candidacy registration is 10 March, with elections slated for late May, according to official statements. The handover of executive authority from the SCAF to Egypt's next president is then expected to take place on 1 July.