A popular conference originally called for by presidential contender Hazem Salah Abou Ismail to discuss the referral of civilians to military prosecution in the end became an opportunity for the Islamist lawyer’s supporters to campaign — arguably illegally — amid hundreds of attendees.
Saturday’s conference, held at Asad Ibn Al-Furat Mosque in Cairo where Abou Ismail periodically preaches and delivers sermons, was planned after 12 revolutionary figures were reportedly referred last week to the military prosecution for allegedly inciting hatred against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
“After it was confirmed by [the general] prosecution that only complaints were referred to the military prosecution, and that these people were not summoned for an actual questioning, the number of attendees at our forum decreased,” Hany Hafez, one of Abu-Ismail’s presidential campaign managers, told Ahram Online.
“Not many political groups showed up as initially planned either.”
After the legal confusion was clarified, Abu-Ismail, during his speech, touched on the presidential elections more than once.
His campaigners were evidently plying their trade during the three-hour conference. Campaigning in any way before the allocated period — 30 April to 20 May — is illegal and punishable under law.
On the pavement of Tahrir Street, where Asad Ibn Al-Furat Mosque is situated, stood tens of Abou Ismail’s cohorts, most of them bearded and wearing galabyas while holding banners and placards bearing photos of the preacher-cum-presidential candidate, as well as slogans hailing him as the most suitable person to be the next president.
Other campaigners were leafleting, with some distributing handouts asking Abou Ismail’s supporters to submit petitions to the authorities to help him qualify for a presidential bid.
Each presidential candidate must secure the support of 30 elected MPs or the recommendations of 30,000 voters from at least 15 governorates (or provinces) with no less than 1000 recommendations per governorate.
Abou Ismail, who spoke inside the mosque despite that Minister of Endowments Mohamed Abdel-Fadil had earlier prohibited the use of houses of worship for electoral campaigning, stated that he has already secured recommendations from many more than 30 MPs. He stressed, nonetheless, that his enemies have been trying to dissuade these MPs from supporting him. His campaign, subsequently, is still seeking to get recommendations from 30,000 constituents as a fail-safe measure.
Using mosques for electoral purposes has been one of the oft repeated electoral breaches since March 2011, when the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists were accused of taking advantage of their control of mosques to coax people into voting for the constitutional amendments that were introduced by SCAF, and ratified by 77.2 per cent of voting Egyptians.
Campaigning in and from mosques by Islamist political forces was once again evident during November's parliamentary polls, mainly thanks to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the Salafist Nour Party, the eventual two biggest winners respectively.
Now, as presidential elections loom and a handful of Islamist presidential candidates are planning to run, including Abu-Ismail, Mohamed Selim El-Awa and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, the same breach is expected to be repeated frequently.
As Abu-Ismail started his speech, Asad Ibn Al-Furat Mosque was fully packed as hundreds more were gathering in the surrounding yard. The majority of attendees had the same Islamist appearance: long beards, galabyas and taqiyahs (a short rounded cap worn by some observant Muslim men).
With people standing and others sitting on carpets inside and outside the mosque, Abou Ismail’s words came out as usual in standard, preacher style Arabic. The scene seemed to be more or less similar to a pre-Friday prayer sermon.
As he frequently does, Abu-Ismail used some strong-worded statements, saying, “The military judiciary is not constitutionally accredited. I studied law and I know that it cannot be even called a judiciary in the first place.
“When a civil judge takes an oath, he would vow to seek justice, but a military judge would pledge to follow his superior’s orders, and that’s another reason military trials are unacceptable,” he explained.
On the presidential elections, Abu-Ismail sounded dissatisfaction over the nomination of some old regime figures, without mentioning names. “The people have to choose their president and not let our enemies regain power should an old regime figure assume power,” Abu-Ismail stated.
Former Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and foreign minister Amr Moussa have been so far the most prominent presidential hopefuls from the overthrown regime.
Abu-Ismail also voiced disgruntlement with the decision of the judicial committee that will supervise the presidential poll to allow candidates to wage their electoral campaigns only from 30 April to 20 May. “Three weeks is definitely not enough for candidates to campaign,” he bemoaned.