Hurdles before the race
Only days to the nomination closing date, the odds for the presidential hopefuls favour no one, reports Dina Ezzat
"A candidate with an Islamist orientation and background and a national platform supported by activists and volunteers from the extreme left to the extreme right" read the banner beneath which Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh inaugurated his election campaign in Cairo on Monday.
The official launch of Abul-Fotouh's campaign came amid speculation that the former Muslim Brother's presidential bid -- he was expelled from the group after declaring that he intended to stand -- would be derailed by the sudden entry into the elections of an official Brotherhood candidate, the group's deputy supreme guide, multi-millionaire businessman Khairat Al-Shater.
"He has supporters that he can count on, and some of them come from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood despite the last minute nomination of El-Shater, especially from the younger generation within the group," says a member of the Abul-Fotouh campaign.
But according to a source within the Brotherhood "efforts are now being exerted to rally all cadres behind El-Shater, whose nomination came in line with the collective will of the group and not as part of an individual agenda as is the case with Dr Abul-Fotouh."
Abul-Fotouh may have supporters but he lacks the Brotherhood's formidable organisational machinery which is being geared to launch El-Shater into the presidential race. He also lacks access to the financial resources El-Shater can command, either from his own personal fortune or from the Brotherhood. The sources of the wealth of both remain as mysterious as their pockets are deep.
El-Shater's nomination has also upset the calculations of Mohamed Selim El-Awwa, an Islamist intellectual who was hoping to garner the support of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). El-Awwa has signalled his concern to remain in the race despite questions over whether or not he fulfills the nationality requirements demanded of candidates. El-Awwa has a Syrian paternal grandfather, and while the candidate insists Syrian nationality did not extend to his own father, others question the account.
Al-Awwa has yet to officially register his candidacy though his campaign team insists he already has the requisite support. It is a claim many commentators doubt, asking why, if it is true, he has not submitted his papers.
The window for official nominations closes on 8 April.
Among Islamist candidates Abul-Fotouh and Salafi figure Hazem Abu Ismail are the only two to have registered their papers. The latter, though, also appears to be in danger of falling foul of the restriction requiring candidates to be the child of two Egyptian nationals. His mother appears to have been a naturalised US citizen at the time of her death.
"The papers exist and he knows very well that this is not the only story that could be pulled out of the drawer to force him out of the race. He will not run," says an official source.
Among Islamist candidates El-Awwa's support base is increasingly unclear following the announcement by Abul-Ela Madi, leader of the moderate Islamist Wasat Party, that it was switching support from El-Awwa to Abul-Fotouh.
El-Shater, on the other hand, could well be able to supplement his Muslim Brotherhood base with support from some Salafist quarters which are dragging their feet over endorsing Abu Ismail whose confused legal status might, in any case, keep him out of the race.
Among non-Islamist candidates former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa remains the front runner. Much of his support, according to sources in the Moussa campaign, comes from the ordinary public, "people", according to one campaign team member, "who have known Moussa for years and who have long respected him, to the extent of wanting him as president even during the Mubarak years".
That Moussa served as Mubarak's foreign minister for a decade hardly endears him to revolutionary forces.
"You have to keep in mind that Moussa served for a long time under Mubarak and this might be a liability. But we think of him in pragmatic terms, as the strongest non-Islamist candidate," said a senior member of a leftist party.
Moussa's administrative experience may yet play in his favour if more Egyptians, sceptical about the political, economic and security well-being of Egypt, opt to vote for an experienced pair of hands.
On Tuesday the Wafd Party, after a momentary wobble during which it flirted with Mansour Hassan, the Sadat era politician pushed late into the race by SCAf only to withdraw, returned to the Moussa fold.
Ahmed Shafik, like Moussa, a long time associate of Mubarak, served as prime minister during the final days of the regime. His campaign team acknowledges Shafik is trailing Moussa for the non-Islamist vote but says he will consider withdrawing from the race only if Mubarak's General Intelligence chief Omar Suleiman enters the fray.
Sources close to Suleiman, who was appointed vice president by Mubarak days before his ouster, suggest Mubarak's former strongman is readying himself to stand.
"Today he is under so much pressure to run," says one Suleiman associate. "Today he is closer to running than not. So many people are telling him that in the face of the Islamist candidates there has to be a strong non-Islamist candidate with firm experience in state affairs."
As of yesterday, sources said Suleiman was close to securing the 30,000 public signatures required to register his candidacy.
The ill will that exists between Suleiman and some members of SCAF is no secret. But according to reports the lack of rapport pales compared to the rancour that exists between SCAF's generals and Moussa. (see pp.2-4)