Egypt's presidential race, before and after El-Shater

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 4 Apr 2012

While the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential runner Khairat El-Shater may not win outright in May's elections, his candidacy has changed the rules of the game for all other head of state hopefuls

Khairat El-Shater
The Brotherhood's nomination of their second-in-command, Khairat El-Shater, for Egypt's presidency has raised many questions within and without the already divided Islamist camp (Photo: AP)

"Personally, I chose the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) for parliament; I thought that this is the party of the group who is religiously aware and who had been under attack during the years of (ousted president Hosni) Mubarak. But now I am having second thoughts about this whole Islamist thing," said Hussein, a Cairo taxi driver.

According to the 26-year old university graduate-turned driver, the parameters are shifting because faith has been shaken. Hussein said he used to have faith in all groups that carry the Islamist banner in one way or the other, be they the 80-plus years old Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the FJP, or more recent Salafist groups.

"Today, honestly I feel they are betraying us like the men of Mubarak used to do ... They say, for example, 'We are not going to have a presidential candidate,' but they change their mind. And Sheikh (Hazem) Abu-Ismail (the Salafist presidential candidate) turned out to be a liar who lied about his mother's American nationality. But why? Why lie to us?" Hussein lamented.

Hussein, playing a recording of the Quran in his car, would not have minded if Abu-Ismail had said that his mother had American nationality, but he was unaware of the regulations that would thus prohibit the Salafist candidate from running in the presidential race. He also said that he would not have minded if the Muslim Brotherhood had said from the first that they would field a presidential candidate. The problem is the perceived lie.

"I just hate it that they lied to us, exactly like the Mubarak regime," Hussein reiterated.

Hussein had originally planned to vote for Abu-Ismail, but this is no longer the case. Today, this Cairo taxi driver is planning to vote for Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's intelligence chief for years and his one and only vice president for the last few days of his three-decade rule.

Why Suleiman? For Hussein, there are "so many reasons". A prominent reason is that he is not an Islamist, and an equally important reason is that he has experience in ruling, so he can deliver.

Hussein is also realistic about what to expect and what not to expect of Suleiman: he has no illusions that Suleiman would reform the country. "He would just be taking things to where they were," before the revolution, "when we had security and when the economic conditions were" slightly better, including for taxi drivers.

Suleiman has not announced any plans to run for the presidency. Despite accounts offered by volunteers for the "Omar Suleiman for President" campaign, that the retired general is planning to shortly announce his candidacy, sources close to Suleiman say he is "unlikely to run".

"Many people have been pressuring him to consider the matter but he is very reluctant. He does not think he wants to do this and he does not think he is the right man for these times in Egypt," said one source.

The source added that the announcement of the Muslim Brotherhood of their plans to field second-in-command Khairat El-Shater as a candidate had "prompted more pressure on the man." As yet, Suleiman remains reluctant.

The candidature of El-Shater, however, has not left other quarters of the presidential race unmoved. Most if not all Islamist runners appear frustrated over the decision. And while some campaigners consider El-Shater's candidacy a devastating blow to the campaign of Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, others suggest that it is harmful to all Islamist runners equally in that it divides the Islamic vote.

In the assessment of Dia Rashwan, director of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, "Before El-Shater, Abul-Fotouh had a wider support base from within the Muslim Brotherhood despite the announced position of of the Brotherhood leadership against Abul-Fotouh."

Now, the main three Islamist runners, El-Shater, Abul-Fotouh and Selim El-Awa, will share the same constituency of votes, Rashwan argued. As for Abu-Ismail, he has a constituency of his own. "Those who vote for Abu-Ismail are essentially, even if not fully, different from those who would vote for the other three Islamist candidates," Rashwan said.

According to Rashwan, whose centre just issued a poll pegging presidential hopeful Amr Moussa with the highest approval rate, one of the Islamists will make it to the second round with Moussa. "If Abu-Ismail stays in the race, despite allegations of violations of the strict legal requirements on the nationality status of the candidate, his wife and parents, then most likely Abu-Ismail would go into the runoff round of the presidential elections with Amr Moussa. If Ismail is forced out, it would be El-Shater going forward with Moussa."

According to well-informed official sources, it is only a matter of time before Abu-Ismail is obliged to quit the race due to complications with the nationality status of his mother. Meanwhile, the assessment in several campaigns is that the candidature of El-Shater has killed the chances of Abul-Fotouh reaching the runoff round. The same goes for El-Awa, who is frustrated, according to sources close to his campaign, over the decision of the Muslim Brotherhood to deny him the support earlier promised — something Muslim Bortherhood figures say is due to the failure of El-Awa to garner sufficient public support or promote himself as a candidate worthy of the support of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's long-time civil aviation minister and his last prime minister during the 25 January Revolution, has also, according to the same sources, been failing to pick up the kind of support that could keep him going. According to one resigning member of his campaign, Shafiq might end up withdrawing before elections day.

"Especially if a key retired military figure decided to join the race, then there is a good probability that [Shafiq] would quit," said his associate.

According to the same source, Shafiq is not planning to run for a vice presidency position with another leading candidate. Hamdeen Sabbahi, the Nasserist candidate, was said to be considering running as vice president possibly with Abul-Fotouh.

Also considering running as a vice presidency, again possibly with Abul-Fotouh, is Ayman Nour who joined the race at a very late hour after receiving a green light from SCAF, given that he was earlier imprisoned, under the Mubarak regime.

The question now is whether or not Abul-Fotouh, who is well aware of the harm that landed upon him in the wake of El-Shater's candidacy, will stay in the race as he had announced Monday evening at the official inauguration of his campaign or will choose to join another candidate, possibly as vice president.

According to the announced official schedule, elections are due 23 and 24 May. The second round — if necessary — would follow in early June. SCAF is scheduled to transfer power to a new president tentatively at the end of June.

Short link: