Amid a frenzied atmosphere of celebration, several thousand supporters of presidential contender Hazem Salah Abu Ismail flexed their muscles by organising imposing motorcades and marches, which accompanied the Islamist lawyer on his way to the headquarters of the Higher Presidential Election Commission (HPEC), where he submitted the requisite requirements to run for presidency on Friday.
The massive car parades and marches set off after the Friday prayers at Asad Ibn Al-Furat Mosque in Cairo, where Abu Ismail was praying along with hundreds of his supporters before hitting the streets. “Human chains” marked the course of the motorcades all the way to the HPEC’s HQ, where thousands of additional supporters were enthusiastically waiting for his arrival.
Abu Ismail’s disciples were rallying while the prayers were still on, and started to move once he was out – protected by his official campaigners. The parades consisted of hundreds of private cars, motorcycles, cabs, pickups, and buses of different sizes that had earlier transported supporters from other cities, including Suez and Fayoum.
Numberless were posters and banners of all sizes bearing Abu Ismail’s photos and slogans hailing him as the next president, whether with marchers or on vehicles. Some private cars even had his photos emblazoned across their windshields, in a way that enables drivers to see through the glass.
Many drivers used their car sound systems with amplifiers to play newly-released chants supporting the 50-year-old, while other kept repeating slogans such as “Watch, Obama; this is Hazem the scholar” and “The people want Hazem Abu Ismail.” The more Islamist devotees repeated religious phrases, such as “There is no God but Allah” and “God is great.”
The parades passed by the Sheraton Hotel, Al-Galaa Square, the 6 October Bridge, Abbasiya and Salah Salem Road en route to its final destination in Misr Al-Gadida, where the HPEC is situated. Drivers and marchers moved slowly, causing traffic jams in all these areas. Policemen and organisers tried to alleviate the problem but to no avail.
Most of the male supporters were characteristically bearded and the female ones either head or face veiled. However, quite a few other participants seemed to be non-Islamist, with men putting on casual wear and women bareheaded. One of Abu Ismail’s non-Islamist supporters was Ahmed Hussein, a university assistant professor.
Minutes before the parades set off he told Ahram Online: “I’m not an Islamist; I used to support [Mohamed] ElBaradei before he withdrew from the race. But now I believe Abu Ismail is the only candidate with the ability to realise genuine change. I think he has the tools and capabilities required to bring about transformation.
“He was one of the revolutionaries who featured on every occasion in Tahrir Square whether during the uprising or after,” Hussein went on. “No other candidate has the ability to gather all these people around him; he is undisputed as far as I can see.”
Asked about fears that Abu Ismail might implement ultraconservative religious measures and curb freedoms, Hussein said, “I believe Abu-Ismail will not have the time or the means to enact ultraconservative religious laws, such as imposing the veil on women. Rather, I think he will be busy with much more important issues, including economic and political reforms … He will not repeat the mistakes of parliament.”
After the parades arrived, zealous supporters of Abu Ismail formed huge lines on the three pavements of the Salah Salem Road, where the traffic all but ground to a halt for a few hours as a result. Chanting and celebrating, the participants waited for Abu Ismail who showed up later to enter the HPEC office and hand over his recommendations.
The ultra-active Abu Ismail, who in the past two days gave speeches in Mansoura and Damietta respectively, has at least amassed some 150,000 signatures and the support of 58 MPs, according to his central campaign. Notably, the lawyer-cum-presidential candidate says he has secured tens of thousands of signatures from Copts.
To be nominated, candidates must enjoy the support of 30 elected MPs, collect the signatures of 30,000 Egyptian citizens from at least 15 Egyptian governorates or secure the backing of a political party that holds at least one seat in parliament.
Mahmoud Mohamed from the voluntary Hazem for All campaign, whose members are a mix of Islamists and non-Islamists, told Ahram Online that the recommendations had been transported to the HPEC in 150 boxes.
“Today’s gathering proves that Abu Ismail is the frontrunner; the only way to see him lose would be through rigging the elections,” he said. “This is a message to everyone telling them how popular he is, and that this should reflect on the results of the elections,” the bearded Mohamed added, with other supporters concurrently chanting, “One word, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, don’t you think about rigging.”
Mohamed, 28, went on, “over the past few months, Abu Ismail proved that he is a leader. He managed to gather the people around him more than once, and piled up pressure on the ruling military council to bring forward the presidential elections [due in June].”
Late on Friday, Abu Ismail appeared at a press conference at the Shams Club, Misr Al-Gadida.
To date, only two presidential candidacy applications have been officially approved by the HPEC: that of former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, and that of ex-Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh. The deadline for presenting candidacy applications has been set by the HPEC on 8 April.