Al-Ahram Weekly Online   15 - 21 March 2012
Issue No. 1089
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Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

No obvious choice

Dina Ezzat reports on the continuing search for a presidential candidate that SCAF feels it can trust and the Islamist parties feel they can sell to their members

Presidential candidates require the written and officially acknowledged support of either 30,000 citizens or 30 MPs. Until Al-Ahram Weekly went to press on Wednesday none of the key candidates had secured the support of 30 MPs, and everyone complained of having difficulty in officially registering members of the public as supporters.

Whether the candidate is Islamist or liberal, the problems are the same. Supporters of former Arab League secretary-general Amr Moussa are facing the same uphill struggle to register as those of Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, onetime member of the influential Muslim Brotherhood. For once Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail and Nasserist Hamdeen Sabahi are in the same boat.

The difficulties, says a leading campaign team member, "are orchestrated obstruction". The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is deliberately preventing presidential runners from officially registering the volume of support they enjoy in an attempt to discredit them in the eyes of their wider electorate.

"The most charitable interpretation," says another presidential campaigner, "is that SCAF is sending a message to candidates that it cannot be ignored."

A less charitable interpretation is that the ruling military is seeking assurances from candidates that its vast economic interests and political weight remain intact post any election.

"The current members of SCAF all plan to retire on 1 July," says a source close to several members of the military council. "But this does not mean SCAF is willing to compromise the status of the military in any future political set-up."

"Whether people like it or not," he adds, "it was SCAF that made it difficult for [Hosni] Mubarak to hand the presidency to his son, and that stopped Habib El-Adli from crushing the revolution."

SCAF, says the source, is also "genuinely" concerned that the election of a president who is "insufficiently wise" could leave Egypt facing "unpredictable problems -- economic, political or even military". Others argue that the military is intent on retiring from centre stage while still keeping its hands on the levers of real power.

Of declared presidential candidates only Ahmed Shafik -- Mubarak's last appointed prime minister -- has a military background, and SCAF, says the source, is unwilling to back him, though he does command some support among the military council's members. Which leaves Egypt's military rulers in a dilemma since they are not convinced any of the other candidates will be willing to broker a deal that perpetuates financial and political immunity for the army. That leaves SCAF still searching for "a candidate with whom it can come to an understanding but who can also attract the support of a majority of voters".

It is a search that leads to one address, that of the Islamist parties, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.

Members of SCAF are likely to view a backroom deal with the Islamists over a nominee they can both support not as a conspiracy against the election process but as the forging of a necessary consensus between a military unwilling to relinquish its privileges and groups that emerged victorious in recent parliamentary elections.

A convincing consensus candidate acceptable to the Islamists and the army is, however, proving very elusive.

Islamic lawyer Selim Al-Awwa was at one point said to be a contender. But neither SCAF nor the Muslim Brotherhood were really comfortable with him becoming the next president, and the Salafis were not convinced they could guarantee him the votes of their rank and file members.

Attempts to promote Nabil El-Arabi, secretary-general of the Arab League, as a consensual candidate were short lived. El-Arabi soon made it clear he was loath to join what was quickly becoming a murky political game.

Last week SCAF made a new bid with Mansour Hassan, who served as a minister under Anwar El-Sadat and was rumoured to be a possible replacement for Mubarak as vice president days before Sadat was assassinated on 6 October.

Hassan heads the SCAF-appointed advisory council that was supposed to offer the military advice on pressing political issues but which has done little beyond accept the resignations of member after member, most tendered in protest at SCAF's mismanagement of state affairs.

Hassan says that he will soon publish his platform. The Muslim Brotherhood, though, wonders if it will be able to sell him to its members, particularly the young who, despite threats of expulsion from the leadership, are leaning increasingly towards Abul-Fotouh. The same goes for the Salafis.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist groups have both complained that Hassan's nomination was a politically naïve move by SCAF, not least because of his business contacts and other connections with key figures from the Mubarak years, some of whom are facing corruption charges, others already serving jail terms for graft.

Hassan has so far secured only the backing of the Wafd, and even that has caused dissent among party ranks.

SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood are said to be considering an alternative to Hassan, with Hossam El-Gheriani, an Islamist judge, being the name most often mentioned.

For Hassan, or anybody like him, to become president is possible, says MP Ziad El-Oleimi, a leading figure of the 25 January Revolution. "But what it means is that rather than an elected president with a popular mandate Egypt's head of state would be the head of an advisory board and subject to the influence of the groups that chose him."

For El-Oleimi as for Khaled Abdel-Hamid, another 25 January Revolution figure, this would mean that "the revolution would have to continue" and that "demonstrations would begin again".

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