Presidential candidates keep Egyptians riveted

Dina Ezzat , Monday 9 Apr 2012

Who will run and who will be disqualified, and what is the fate of Egypt, is keeping Egyptians on the edge of their seats ahead of presidential elections in May

Egyptians crowd across from a poster for presidential candidate Abul-Fotouh, in a campaign event held in a traditional tent on 9 March, 2012 photo (Photo: AP)

"Please put a news channel on," a client of a café-bistro in the middle class neighbourhood of Dokki asked the waiter. He explained with his Blackberry at hand, "Abu-Ismail is going to give a press conference now; we really need to see it."

At a nearby table another client shared in the conversation. "He already entered Assab Ben Fourat," a mosque only 10 minutes away by car.

As the waiter tuned the TV to Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr, Abu-Ismail's supporters were already chanting slogans of support of the charismatic and popular Salafist lawyer whose candidature for the presidency is at stake following revelations that his mother was an American national.

According to constitutional rules, Egyptians who have dual nationality, or whose parents or spouses carry or have ever carried dual citizenship, are not allowed to join the presidential race.

During the close to 90-minute smooth-running speech that thousands of supporters followed in the Ben Fourat Mosque, Abu-Ismail categorically denied that his mother had American citizenship and said it was only a Green Card that she carried.

As they ordered their skimmed milk coffee, soups and pastas, the clients of the Dokki café — none of whom carried any indication of being an Abu-Ismail follower, were tweeting remarks and sharing incoming Facebook status updates posted by friends through their iPhones and Blackberrys.

The bottom line was basic: Abu-Ismail knows that he is about to quit the race, whether he likes it or not, and he was calling on his followers, directly or indirectly, to protest the matter.

But on Saturday evening, less than 24 hours before the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission was due to close its doors for presidential hopefuls to register, Abu-Ismail was far from being the only source of entertainment for the audience of this Dokki café.

Omar Suleiman, the former vice president of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, who literally joined the presidential race at the 11th hour and after many statements suggesting the opposite, was also keeping people alert and talking.

Incoming mails and text messages were being shared by café clients, who appeared to have no previous acquaintance, agog at news that the tough and mysterious Suleiman might or might not show up on Sunday, before 2pm, to officially register his candidature.

"He might not show up after all," suggested one client as he chewed his dinner, followed his Facebook through his iPhone and watched Ismail criticising the candidature of Suleiman, Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, and Amr Moussa, the former Arab League secretary general who served during the 1990s as Mubarak's foreign minister.

"But Moussa is not like Suleiman and Shafiq; he was not in office when Mubarak was rounding up opponents during the last 10 years of his rule and he certainly was not in office when demonstrators were being killed during the January 25 Revolution," said yet another client as she sipped her carrot juice. "He is not a face of the revolution for sure, but he is not foloul (an Arabic word meaning a remnant of the former regime) either," she added before announcing that she would not vote for Moussa but for Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh.

Fotouh is an expelled member of the Muslim Brotherhood who dared to challenge the iron-tight rules of the oldest political Islamist organisation when he announced his candidature for the presidency some months ago (at the time, Brotherhood leaders were saying that they would not field a candidate for the presidency).

On Saturday evening the fate of Fotouh was also a subject of anticipation as café clients expressed shock over the news that Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, would also run for the presidency as a backup to the Brotherhood's deputy supreme guide, Khairat Al-Shater, who registered his candidature a couple of days ago but who feared to be disqualified due to the short interval between his release from prison — to which he was sent by Mubarak — and his application to join the presidential race.

"Ah, it looks like Al-Shater would be out because Ayman Nour was disqualified; Nour is like Al-Shater, almost," said another client upon information incoming through SMS.

Nour, the former MP who challenged Mubarak during supposed multi-candidate presidential elections in 2005, has similar background to that of Al-Shater, though he is liberal and not Islamist.

Al-Shater and Morsi are supposed to undermine the support Fotouh had managed to master within the ranks of the Brotherhood, especially the younger generation, despite the otherwise compelling orders of the Brotherhood leadership.

"It is such a pity that Fotouh has very limited chances; he is a good man, even though he comes from an Islamist background," said the client who had announced the news on Morsi's plans to run as a backup for Al-Shater.

Before he had another bite of his cake, he had to open another incoming SMS: "Khaled Ali, the activist lawyer, is not running; he is not getting the sufficient and required support."

According to presidential elections regulations, a candidate has to have the support of either 30 MPs or 30,000 citizens across 15 governorates.

By Saturday evening Ali, a leftist who is a firm January 25 Revolution figure, was still haggling to secure the required registrations, which he did by Sunday morning.

But the SMS that really got the café clients laughing was that announcing the plans of both retired ambassador Abdallah Al-Ashaal and Islamic preacher Safwat Hegazi to run on behalf of two radical Islamist parties.

By that point, the long speech of Abu-Ismail was getting less and less attention as around 20 cafe clients were wondering over the fate of the country rather than that of the presidential candidates.

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