From former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa to a previously unheard-of construction worker, dozens of Egyptian presidential hopefuls on 10 March began collecting supporters' official endorsements in advance of launching their respective campaigns.
Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential poll is slated to be held on 23 and 24 May, with a runoff vote to be held in the event that no single candidate wins an outright majority. Final results will be announced by 21 June.
So far, eight frontrunners have been identified. Moussa has been projected by several independent polls as the most favoured candidate – at least so far.
There are also three candidates of Islamist backgrounds: Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a former member of the influential Muslim Brotherhood, who is running under a nationalist rather than an Islamist banner; Selim El-Awa, a lawyer and Islamist intellectual closely associated with the Muslim Brotherhood; and the Salafist Hazem Abou-Ismail.
Most surveys, including those conducted on a monthly basis by certain Western embassies in Cairo, put the latter of these ahead of the first two – despite steadily rising approval rates for Aboul-Fotouh, who has gained ground even among certain Christian quarters.
There is also Nasserist-oriented former MP Hamdin Sabahi; Ahmed Shafiq, an ex-military official who served as the last Mubarak-appointed prime minister; and Mansour Hassan, a Sadat-era information minister and current head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF)'s advisory council.
Hassan, who had earlier expressed reluctance to enter the race, abruptly announced his presidential bid late last week with the backing of the SCAF and the liberal Wafd Party (although the latter subsequently backtracked).
Speculation is rife that an additional candidate – possibly a judge, according to several political sources – might also join the race in coming days as the preferred candidate of both the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist parties.
Meanwhile, several presidential candidates are openly talking about cutting deals with their rivals.
Some Islamist sources, for example, say that Aboul-Fotouh has offered to either abandon the race in favour of El-Awa or join the latter's campaign as vice-president. Aboul-Fottouh has also reportedly offered to run as Sabahi's vice-president, or vice versa.
Some observers also raise the possibility – albeit a remote one – of a Moussa/Aboul-Fotouh partnership, with the former running for president and the latter for vice-president. According to sources within the Aboul-Fotouh campaign, however, the former paediatrician with a long history of Islamist political activism is definitely running for the country's highest office.
There is also speculation about the re-introduction of former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who pulled out of the contest last January amid low public approval ratings. "Dr. Mohamed himself is not interested [in running], but his supporters still hope he will change his mind and rejoin the race," said one source close to the former candidate.
However, according to members of several presidential campaigns, the issue now isn't just about popular support, but about whether upcoming elections will be fair or not.
"We have very serious concerns about attempts by the SCAF to push a particular candidate so as to keep a yes-man in charge of the executive branch," said one campaigner.
Almost every key presidential contender – including Shafiq, who had openly admitted to consulting with the SCAF before announcing his presidential bid – has expressed a degree of concern over possible interference by the military in the upcoming polls.
According to Egyptian human rights activist Ghada Chahbandare, there are valid reasons for such concerns. A key reason for worry, Chahbandare said, is the fact that the list of ineligible Egyptian voters has never been revised by an independent civil body after having been initially put together by the interior ministry.
Chahbandare also voices concern about voting regulations that could leave the door open to deliberate manipulation, as well as the fact that verdicts issued by the SCAF-appointed Higher Committee for Presidential Elections cannot be appealed.
"The real question today is whether the next president will in fact be elected by the public," the activist said.