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Egypt's presidential race: Who's voting for who – and why?
With only one month left before Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential poll, debate rages over who is best fit to lead the Arab world's most populous nation after the January 25 revolution
Dina Ezzat, Sunday 15 Apr 2012
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Egypt's parliamentary elections 2011 - 2012(Photo: Al-Ahram)

"They just announced on [television channel] Al-Hayat that Omar Suleiman has been disqualified from the presidential race," the young man cried in unmistakable joy.

Sitting in an upscale Cairo café on Saturday evening, he wasn't just speaking to his friends at his table, but to all the café's patrons. The euphoria was palpable. Customers who did not know one another were now exchanging words of joy and congratulations.

"Mabrouk! (congratulations)," they shouted to one another.

Waiters, too, joined in the jubilation, forgetting the beverages and meals they were supposed to serve. "Turn on Al Jazeera Mubasher – they must have the news," said one young garcon.

"Egypt's Supreme Committee for Presidential Elections has disqualified Suleiman, along with ten [out of 23] other candidates," read the news-bar on the television screen.

A minute or two later, SMS alert tunes erupted from patrons' mobile phones as news broke of the Suleiman's disqualification from the race.

For 20 years, Suleiman had served as chief spy for ousted president Hosni Mubarak, and had briefly served as vice president during last year's Tahrir Square uprising. Last week, Suleiman had announced his candidacy in Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential poll, following earlier assurances that he has no plans to vie for the nation's top post.

Notably, less attention was given to the fact that two key Islamist candidates – Salafist preacher Hazem Abu-Ismail and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Khairat El-Shater – were also tentatively disqualified from the race.

Talk at the café was confined to Suleiman's disqualification due to a lack of sufficient citizens' signatures in support of his nomination, along with speculation over whether his subsequent appeal of the decision would be accepted.

Suleiman's nomination had already caused considerable anger in revolutionary and Islamists quarters. It had also prompted a sense of unease among many citizens, who felt that the nomination of the ousted president's right hand would inevitably lead to political confrontation.

That said, Suleiman's bid for the presidency was not without its supporters, who had been galvanised by one chief concern: fear of Islamist political ascendancy.

Salem, Fawziya, Ali and Adel – two Muslims and two Christians from different areas of Cairo –all told Ahram Online that they see Suleiman as the best choice for president. "Only he can counter the rise of Islamist groups," they all asserted, which will undermine tourism and discriminate against Christians if they ever came to power.

However, Suleiman was never considered a frontrunner on par with Salafist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa or former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh.

Tayeb, a 42-year-old Cairo resident who lives with his wife and six children in a low-income neighbourhood in Cairo's Dokki district, meanwhile, is a fervent supporter of Abu-Ismail.

This week, Tayeb eagerly followed the news as Abu-Ismail attempted to save his candidacy by proving that his mother did not have US citizenship, which, if confirmed, would immediately disqualify him from the presidential race.

"I wanted to vote for Abu-Ismail because he's a man who carries the banner of religion," Tayeb said. "Today, we need religion so much to end all the the unfairness and injustice."

If Abu-Ismail is ultimately disqualified – a move Tayeb says would represent "a blow to the call of religion" – then Tayeb says he would vote for Moussa. For Tayeb, Moussa would not bring Islam-inspired social justice, but might deliver the kind of economic welfare and stability that "a man like him with his experience and expertise could provide."

Along with serving as Arab League chief for ten years, Moussa also served as foreign minister from 1991 to 2001.

Fadiya, a retired Coptic civil servant and Heliopolis resident, for her part, would not vote for either Abu-Ismail or Moussa. Moussa, she said, "is too old – he's 75 – to lead a country in such bad shape," while Abu-Ismail is "too radical, and makes no secret of his discriminatory attitude to Egypt's Copts."

Notably, Fadiya plans to vote for ex-Brotherhood figure Abul-Fotouh. "I know that he comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, but so what?" she said. "He's against them now, and actually has very moderate views and has a number of women and Copts as assistants."

Speaking under a huge pro-Abul-Fotouh banner on Heliopolis' Baghdad Street, Fadya added: "Of all the candidates, he's the only one the right age [60 years old] – not too young and not too old. He's the only one who has both political and humanitarian experience, and, at the end of the day, Egypt will have a Muslim president – this is inevitable."

Ahmed, a lawyer from the Lower Egyptian Tanta governorate, meanwhile, questioned Abul-Fotouh's qualifications. "What does this man know about running a nation?" he asked. "I don’t think he knows anything. Would this man know what to do if Egypt went to war? Does he know how to deal with foreign countries?"

In his mid-thirties, Ahmed believes that what Egypt needs today is "not a good man." "I'm looking for a president, not for a friend," he said.

Ahmed has no doubt that Moussa represents the best man for the job. "He's a statesman who knows the country inside out, and – more importantly – we know him," he said. "We know both the good things and bad things about him."

Unlike Fadya, Ahmed isn't sure whether to trust the reported breach between Abul-Fotouh and the Muslim Brotherhood. Nor does he care. For him, "the point is to have a president who can do the job and who is decent enough."

Ahmed is also convinced that, unlike Abul-Fotouh or Ismail, Moussa is "the only one who could beat Suleiman if they both go to a runoff vote."

A final list of approved presidential candidates will be announced on 26 April. Most of the ten candidates to have been tentatively disqualified have already appealed the decision, and will know whether their appeals have been accepted or rejected by the end of this week.

Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential elections will take place on 23 and 24 May, with a runoff round – if necessary – slated for 16 and 17 June. The new president will be officially named on 21 June.





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