Waiting for Mr President
There are more questions than answers on when and how the presidential elections will be held, reports Dina Ezzat
This week the Higher Committee for Presidential Elections (HCPE) failed to announce a date, as it had promised, for presidential elections. The press conference that was scheduled on Sunday offered no new information on the timing of the poll. The only date confirmed was that the registration period for presidential candidates would open on 10 March.
The delay in fixing a date for the vote, said HCPE, was due to delayed notification from the Foreign Ministry of a larger than expected number of Egyptian expatriates registered to vote in the presidential elections. The HCPE offered no tentative date for its next press conference, let alone the election of Egypt's first post-25 January Revolution president.
The continued state of suspense over the date of presidential elections was compounded this week by speculation over the emergence of a so-called "consensus candidate", capable of attracting the kind of broad-based support that would see him beat presidential hopefuls Amr Moussa, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, Ahmed Shafik, Mohamed Selim El-Awwa, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and Hamdeen Sabahi.
Confirmation of negotiations over such a candidate was offered to Al-Ahram Weekly by sources from both the Muslim Brotherhood, whose political wing the Freedom and Justice Party occupies close to 50 per cent of assembly seats, and sources close to the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Independent political sources and members of several political parties also told the Weekly both SCAF and the MB have been urging Mansour Hassan, head of the advisory council, to nominate himself but that Hassan had declined.
The next preferred candidate, Arab League Secretary-General Nabil El-Arabi, also pushed for a one-year transitional presidency, a timetable that will allow for several pending matters, from economy to security, to be settled, as well as covering the drafting of a new constitution.
Mohamed El-Baradei, the presidential runner who withdrew from the race earlier in the year, expressed his support for El-Arabi. Other political forces -- apart from the FJP -- slammed the deal as "a conspiracy", not just against existing candidates but against democracy.
"We made a revolution because we wanted to have democracy, irrespective of who would win in parliamentary or presidential elections. We do not want a nominated president," says young revolutionary Khaled Abdel-Hamid.
Activist Mina Nagui characterises the scheme as not just undemocratic but "clearly self-defeating". A consensual president, Nagui says, would be little more than a replay of the "pathetic performance of Essam Sharaf as prime minister".
"He would be the façade for a regime that has been effectively hijacked by SCAF."
El-Arabi subsequently issued two consecutive press statements to deny reports that he planned to run for the top executive job.
According to one of the mediators trying to convince El-Arabi to stand elections, he "is truly offended that his name should be associated with an attempted coup against the revolution".
Meanwhile, SCAF has kept silent while the Muslim Brotherhood issued statements designed to distance the country's strongest political grouping from the unpopular deal.
Meanwhile, speculation resurfaced over the possible nomination of Mubarak's General Intelligence chief and belatedly appointed vice president Omar Suleiman. Suleiman has made no statements on the matter.
"Suleiman would not run," says a retired intelligence source who maintains contact with one of the strongmen of Mubarak's regime. "He knows that there is much he could give but does not feel that the political scene is right for his nomination."
The same source suggested Suleiman could not be presented as a consensual president agreed by both SCAF and the MB.
MB and SCAF, according to informed sources, have not yet given up on emerging with a name that could garner sufficient support to beat the already announced presidential candidates.
"The original plan was to support El-Awwa, who commands respect in Islamist and other quarters. Unfortunately he has failed to garner enough public support," says one source.
Currently the MB is calling on SCAF to reconsider its negative assessment of El-Awwa while SCAF is considering some of the political faces that came to the fore during the 25 January Revolution as possible candidates.
Several sources told the Weekly that SCAF is considering a short list of names, mostly university professors, despite scepticism over their popular appeal.
Aides working for the campaign teams of the leading six presidential candidates say they are almost convinced that the bid to find a consensual candidate has been defeated and that the public would refuse such a flagrant coup against democracy. Not, they argue, that this will bring the actual election closer since both SCAF and the MB have yet to agree mechanisms that will protect both their interests.
Meanwhile, parliament has embarked on debating the regulations that will govern the presidential poll as contained in a SCAF decree. A key point of contention is the article stating that HCPE decisions cannot be appealed. A source on the People's Assembly Legislative Committee told the Weekly that this, and maybe a couple of other related articles, would be amended.
This source added that in theory any changes should not delay elections tentatively due in late May or early June in order to allow for the transfer of power by early July and that any actual delay will be a result of SCAF dragging its feet.
SCAF has reiterated its commitment to hand over power by early July. The original plan announced by SCAF following Mubarak's ouster was to hand over power within six months. A year later SCAF justifies not keeping to that timetable on the grounds that more time was needed to conduct legislative elections and allow political parties and forces time to campaign.
"It will be very difficult for SCAF to remain formally in power beyond the end of June this year," argues political science professor Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed.
"SCAF is fully aware political and revolutionary forces are demanding a swift transfer of power," says El-Sayed. He argues that SCAF has to keep the political process on schedule even if that means abandoning the pursuit of a consensual candidate.
"Yes, there are political and legislative hurdles," he says, "but they will be sorted out," not least to contain the fury of a public fed up with the mismanagement of the transitional phase.