All eyes are on Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential race that will conclude next week, 23-24 May. Not only because it's the first presidential poll since the January 25 Revolution, but because it's the first real presidential vote ever in Egypt's history. Most therefore find it hard to predict who is likely to win or even reach the run-offs. However, a few names are agreed upon to have a greater chance than others.
There are currently 12 presidential candidates, after the withdrawal of candidate Mohamed Eissa on Wednesday.
In the past month, certain candidates were popular, such as Salafist Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat El-Shater, and Mubarak's chief of intelligence Omar Suleiman. However, all three were disqualified by the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission (SPEC) for different reasons.
In the past few weeks, other names — also popular previously — managed to take the attention, including: Amr Moussa, former minister of foreign affairs and secretary general of the Arab League; Ahmed Shafiq, former civil aviation minister and prime minister during the Egyptian revolution in 2011; ex-Muslim Brotherhood member and activist Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, and veteran Nasserist and long life political activist Hamdeen Sabbahi.
In addition, there is the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi, who is the head of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and was chosen by the Brotherhood as a substitute candidate for El-Shater. When El-Shater was disqualified, Morsi entered the race as the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, gaining popularity and focus.
Those names are probably the most known and most appealing to Egyptians according to various polls conducted online, on TV, in various newspapers, and also according to many political analysts.
Political science professor at Cairo University Hassan Nafaa has said that predicting who will win is impossible, especially given the fact that most candidates are independent and not part of a major political party. “Which makes it harder to predict a certain scenario.” A few outlines are possible to estimate, however.
Nafaa said that one of the scenarios — and probably the most appealing to many — is that the run-off occurs between Aboul-Fotouh and Moussa, and in that case Nafaa believes that Moussa is most likely to win since he probably has a wider popularity among non-Islamists. However, regarding that scenario, it might still be a 50-50 situation, with Abul-Fotouh's appeal to many liberals as well.
A second scenario is between the two most popular Islamist candidates, Abul-Fotouh and Morsi. Nafaa said in that case, Abul-Fotouh is most likely to win, since Morsi — despite having the most active and professional presidential campaign — could only win the Brotherhood's votes (with the exception of the Brotherhood youth, who are more likely to vote for Abul-Fotouh).
Since 90 per cent of voters in the elections will be of the "silent majority," Morsi might not be able to make it to the run-off round, especially with the Brotherhood losing popularity after the parliamentary elections and becoming less appealing to the public.
"Morsi lacks charisma, not like El-Shater. I believe that the Brotherhood should've entered the race with a stronger candidate," Nafaa said.
On Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq, Nafaa believes that Moussa definitely has a much greater chance than Shafiq, being less associated with, and tainted by, the Mubarak regime, which could make him more appealing to voters who would prefer a non-Islamist candidate.
Nafaa believes that the prospects vary, but thinks that the candidates with most chance are Moussa, followed by Abul-Fotouh, then Morsi and Shafiq.
Nafaa said that Sabbahi's popularity, that increased in the past two weeks specifically, might raise his chances, but still will not get him to the final round.
Diaa Rashwan, head of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said that he depends mainly on the polls the centre conducts on a weekly basis since they are the only possible estimation for what people might want, though no poll can be completely accurate in a major country like Egypt.
According to these polls, Amr Moussa always takes first place whereas Abul-Fotouh and Shafiq switch places in second and third, while Sabbahi and Morsi switch places in fourth and fifth.
Rashwan added that in the polls, the percentage of those who are still undecided is usually within the range of 20 per cent, which means that the final outcome might be totally different from what is predicted. That's why the day of the elections is crucial, and how active and organised the campaigns are will affect the outcome in a significant way.
Analyst at Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Amr Hashem agrees with Rashwan that polls might be the only possible way to predict scenarios, adding that every day public opinion changes and certain candidates get more or less supporters according to when they last spoke or issued statements.
Hashem believes that the media is what limited the competition to three or four candidates, due to its focus on Abul-Fotouh, Moussa, Shafiq and Morsi, ignoring the other candidates.
Nesma El-Batreeq, professor in the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University, believes that the coming president will be one of three: Moussa, Abul-Fotouh, or Sabbahi. She previously thought the third would be Shafiq, but he failed to impress the public, she says.
Those who find Shafiq appealing say he has good ties with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and that the army will help him "control the country." But for El-Batreeq, this is "nonsense," since "he (Shafiq) never said anything that would give the public enough reasons to elect him as president."
El-Batreeq explained that in the past couple of weeks, Sabbahi managed to gain the support of many of Abul-Fotouh's followers and other leftists who were uncertain about who to choose, explaining that after Sabbahi became more seen and known by the people, due to using media tools and appearances, and also after announcing his programme, he became a favourite for many.
El-Batreeq believes that Morsi doesn't have a great chance since he only appeals to a certain segment of society, which may not be enough to reach the run-offs.