With the registration period for presidential candidates due to open on 10 March, the issue of who may or may not run is being endlessly debated throughout Egypt.
However, a so-called “consensus president” controversey is also garnering attention.
Many non-Islamist forces suspect there was a deal between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the Muslim Brotherhood, in which the SCAF helped the Brotherhood take control of parliament and in return the Brotherhood will back a presidential candidate selected by the SCAF.
Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie has denied that any such "scheme" exists. On Monday, he stated that the Brotherhood would look for broad consensus amongst the different political groups over a range of possible candidates, not one in particular.
On 16 February, Arab League chief Nabil El-Arabi was proposed by unnamed sources as a possible consensus candidate endorsed by the SCAF and the Brotherhood. El-Arabi denied the reports on Saturday, stating that he had no intention of running for president.
Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s ex-intelligence chief who also served as vice-president during the last days of the former regime, has also been suggested as a possible consensus candidate. This possibility remains unconfirmed.
An alleged SCAF-Brotherhood deal is seen as a slap in the face by those hoping for an open democratic system in post-revolutionary Egypt. It also adds to fears that the SCAF plans to influence the political arena even after the end of direct military rule.
The deal would also disappoint some presidential hopefuls, such as Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq, who were depending on the SCAF’s backing to improve their chances of victory.
The notion of a “consensus candidate” has been opposed by a number of possible presidential hopefuls.
Hamdeen Sabahi, former head of the Arab nationalist Karama Party who announced his candidacy in March 2011, rejects the idea. Speaking at a conference in Assiut on Monday he said, “A candidate who nominates himself through a deal between any parties, or is imposed on the will of the Egyptian people, should be rejected in advance.”
He also stated that the term “consensus” should mean that more than one force or political movement agrees on a candidate, as opposed to an agreement between one political force (the Brotherhood) and the SCAF.
Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister and an ex-military commander who joined the race in October 2011, also rejected the plan. A presidential candidate “should not be chosen behind closed doors” as he would be held “hostage” by those who choose him, he said.
Amr Moussa, former head of the Arab League who revealed his candidacy in February 2011, said on Sunday that it was a “provocative” term, but added that “there is no problem with the Brotherhood and the SCAF choosing a candidate as long as the final decision is dictated by the elections.”
Hazem Salah Abou-Ismail, a Salafist presidential candidate, on Saturday said that the suspected deal would be a “great danger to the country and will lead to a loss in the revolution's achievements.” He further added that it was part of a “foreign plot” to influence Egypt’s internal affairs."
Nabil Abdel Fattah, a political analyst at the Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said the suspected deal revealed “a crisis of the more conservative forces, like the Muslim Brotherhood, which want to avoid any revolutionary or structural changes.”
He described the alleged deal as an attempt, mainly by the SCAF, to continue its influence on politics from behind the scenes.
The deal was an attempt to produce a “politically weak president” who is outside the “revolutionary process” in Egypt, said Abdel Fattah. The Brotherhood and the Salafists want to be able to play a role that exceeds the limitations of their power within parliament by having a weak president who they can control. It can be seen as a scheme to “reformulate” the political framework according to their interests.
Mohamed El-Said Idris, a Nasserist Karama Party MP and head of the Arab Affairs Committee in Parliament, stated that “this idea of a consensus president is wrong.”
“What we are lacking at the moment is a “presidential project” similar to the “parliamentary project” where a real consensus was developed by the different political forces, i.e. the formation of alliances.
While opposing a deal between the SCAF and the Brotherhood, Idris said "the revolutionary forces should form a consensus behind a candidate, but not in consultation with the SCAF."
The Karama Party was part of the Muslim Brotherhood-led Democratic Alliance in the recent parliamentary election.
Idris said the Brotherhood did not nominate an Islamist presidential candidate in order to avoid dominating both the parliament and the presidency in what would be seen as “two blows to the head.” The Brotherhood sees a “parliamentary majority as sufficient,” he added.
Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh broke away from the Brotherhood in order to stand as an Islamist in the presidential election.
On Saturday, he weighed into the debate over whether the presidential election should take place before or after a new constitution is drafted.
He stated that the presidential elections would probably take place under the rules of the constitutional declaration; whereby a committee will begin drafting the constitution in mid-March. If the constitution is completed before the elections, Egypt will have "half-boiled constitution," he added.
The Brotherhood has delayed its endorsement of a candidate until April when the registration period for presidential candidates is complete. However, Saber Abdel Sadeq, a spokesman for the Brotherhood has said, “Our candidate will be a true Muslim. We will not support a candidate who believes in secularism.”