Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 November 2011
Issue No. 1071
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Battle of the posters

What lies behind the campaign to promote the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces as a presidential candidate, wonders Mohamed Abdel-Baky

Posters have appeared in the streets of Cairo, Giza and Alexandria bearing the photograph of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and Egypt's de facto ruler, and emblazoned with the legend "a popular demand that Tantawi run for president".

The posters are the work of the newly formed Stability First Coalition, which posted a statement on its Facebook page insisting "it is time to confess that Tantawi is the only fit candidate for president, the only one who can steer us to stability."

Egypt, the statement continued, "needs someone who has long experience in politics and in the army to establish a democratic state". It did not explain how experience in Egypt's profoundly non-democratic politics of the last three decades, or of the army, which no one has ever claimed to be democratic, constitutes valid qualifications to nurture a political plural state.

"We believe Tantawi is the best candidate" said the coalition's general coordinator, lawyer Mahmoud Attia. He said the campaign was due to be in September but was postponed due to various violent clashes such as those on 9 October in which 27 Egyptian Copts were killed.

"Tantawi is the best choice among the candidates backed by the United States and Europe," says Attia, who claims Tantawi and the military council have protected the revolution against counter-revolutionary forces.

He added that all other candidates have a foreign agenda and have no experience or history to qualify them for the job.

The coalition's championing of Tantawi's "qualifications" has provoked a storm of protest in cyberspace. A few hours after the launch of the Stability First Coalition's Facebook page another page appeared under the heading Tantawi will be President Over my Dead Body. The page, which attracted 30,000 friends in less than three days, was filled with posts opposed to SCAF policies.

One poster pointed out that Egyptians are already trying out Tantawi as president and all they have seen so far are "high food prices, the collapse of the economy and violence against Copts".

The SCAF has denied any connection with the campaign. The military, it says, has not, and will not have, any presidential candidate.

"We are in a transitional period and we will hand over power to a civil authority after parliamentary, Shura Council and presidential elections," a source close to the SCAF told Al-Ahram daily.

"Those who are saying 'down with the military council' are asking for the fall of Egypt. The people respect us and know how loyal we are."

In mid-October Tantawi said neither he nor anyone else from the military council would stand for the presidency.

Speculation about Tantawi's intentions surfaced last month when the Field Marshal was seen strolling in downtown Cairo out of uniform and apparently without security guards. Official sources said his appearance in a civilian suit in Qasr Al-Nil Street was intended to reassure the public about security. Many of the youth movements that spearheaded January's uprising, however, feared it was an attempt to test the waters ahead of a possible presidential run.

Presidential hopeful Mohamed Selim El-Awwa is the only potential presidential candidate to have commented on the pro-Tantawi campaign. The people behind it, he said, are seeking to divide the army and the Egyptian people.

"The military council must set a date for presidential elections before the parliamentary elections begin," El-Awwa said at a symposium on Sunday. "I would take part in another revolution if that is the only way to press this demand."

The pro-Tantawi campaign has appeared as tensions are growing between activists and the SCAF over the continued failure of the latter to set a firm date for its relinquishing of power. There are growing suspicions among political groups and activists that the military's claim that it will not be fielding a presidential candidate should not be taken at face value.

A street vendor sitting next to one of the posters in Doqqi said that Tantawi and the army had protected the public from thieves and thugs. It provoked a heated reply from his student customer. "But the military have ruled the country for 60 years and done nothing," he said. "The people have had enough of them."

A majority of the posters put up in Mohandessin are already defaced with a thick black X and the words, "enough of the military, thanks for your service but remember, you are 79 now, it is time to retire".

The campaign in support of Tantawi says it is planning to collect a million signatures to support a presidential run.

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