Political opportunism and the presidential race
Had anyone predicted a few weeks ago the confounding scene of posturing and manoeuvring that surfaced in connection with the presidential race, no one would have believed it.
First, the mother of one of the most vocal and best-funded candidates held US nationality, a matter that automatically disqualifies him from the race. Then the Muslim Brotherhood ate its words and fielded a candidate. To top it all, former vice president Omar Suleiman, who had said he had no intention of running, joined the race.
Hazem Abu Ismail and his supporters raised hell about his disqualification, as if Egypt was nothing without him. For the longest time, Abu Ismail kept denying his mother's US nationality, portraying the whole thing as an evil conspiracy. Even after it became clear that he had no case, he still held a news conference -- in a mosque of all places -- to blame all and sundry for his debacle. And he filed a lawsuit at an administrative court that passed out a weird ruling, demanding that the Ministry of Interior hand Abu Ismail evidence of his mother's nationality. The ruling, which was procedurally flawed to say the least, drove Abu Ismail supporters into a frenzy, one from which they are yet to recover.
During the legal proceedings, Abu Ismail supporters gathered threateningly in front of the court, performing an unprecedented act of intimidation of the judges. At one point, they stamped their feet on the ground, as if ready to start battle. Once the ruling came out, Abu Ismail supporters roamed the streets till the early hours. Now that the Presidential Elections Commission has disqualified Abu Ismail, there is no knowing what his supporters will do next.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which months ago promised "partnership not rivalry" has gone back on that and other promises. For example, the Muslim Brotherhood had promised to field candidates in only 35 per cent of constituencies, but then ended up fielding candidates in every single constituency, both from its members and allies. Its conduct during the formation of the constituent assembly, which will write the constitution, was quite selfish. To top it all, the Muslim Brotherhood decided to field a presidential candidate, something it had consistently pledged not to do.
The Brotherhood's choice for president was Khairat El-Shater, a business tycoon. No wonder his candidacy stirred old fears of an alliance between business and power. El-Shater's candidacy was mired in legalities, him being a former convict. To make sure that at least one Brotherhood leader would stay in the race, the Brotherhood fielded a back-up candidate, Mohamed Mursi, the leader of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
Meanwhile, Omar Suleiman's candidacy took everyone by surprise, not only because of his earlier promises to stay out of the race, but also because of his close association with the former regime. Suleiman, who was head of General Intelligence before he was named vice president in Mubarak's last days, is not popular among the revolutionaries, mainly because of his involvement in selling gas to Israel. Suleiman is believed to have had close ties with both Israel and the Americans and is suspected of human rights violations.
The Muslim Brotherhood, whose reaction to the candidacy of former prime minister Ahmed Shafik was muted, went into frenzy over Suleiman's candidacy. The only explanation for this anomaly is that the Muslim Brotherhood sees Suleiman as a man who knows too much. And Suleiman, in turn, made no secret of his contempt for the Muslim Brotherhood. This is why the Brotherhood led a parliamentary effort to pass a law excluding Suleiman -- and all top former regime figures -- from office.
The Presidential Elections Commission put an end to the debate when it excluded 10 candidates, including Abu Ismail. The latter was disqualified over his mother's nationality. El-Shater was disqualified over a legal technicality related to earlier convictions. And Suleiman was disqualified for filing an inadequate number of notarised supporting statements.
Things may get messy once again. One cannot rule out the possibility that one of the disqualified candidates may send his supporters in the streets to force the hand of the authorities into changing the whole election process.
But we have enough trouble already.
The blatant way in which religion is being mixed with politics is unprecedented. The Muslim Brotherhood is the main culprit in this regard. And it is not clear why authorities allowed them to form the Freedom and Justice Party although the formation of parties on a religious basis is illegal in this country.
Even worse, the Brotherhood has acted as if the FJP doesn't exist. When El-Shater was selected to run for president, his nomination came from the Muslim Brotherhood, not from the FJP.
In Abu Ismail's case, the mixing of religion and politics was flagrant, for he had no qualms about using mosques in his propaganda campaign.
Then there is the question of monopolising power. Since the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the FJP, won a considerable number of seats in the parliament, the Brotherhood has sought to dominate the constituent assembly. The Brotherhood's appetite for power was so ravenous that it united all supporters of a civil state against it. In the end, a court ordered the work of the constituent assembly to be halted, so that a more balanced body may be selected.
It seems that the considerable organisational capabilities of the Muslim Brotherhood is not matched with political maturity. Not only is the Brotherhood acting perplexed and indecisive, it has been woefully incapable of gauging the public reaction to its actions.
Worrying too is the absence of tolerance that has become the hallmark of the attitude of several political powers, and which became evident in the refusal of the Salafis to accept the disqualification of their candidate, Abu Ismail.
Then there is the matter of intimidating judges, when Abu Ismail's supporters besieged the Administrative Court. Should this become a pattern, the neutrality of the law, our last hope for common sense in this country, would be compromised.
One cannot rule out a few more surprises before the presidential elections. With some people promising a second revolution and others threatening bloodshed, the future doesn't look bright.
What we need now is for the proponents of a civil state to unite in defence of the revolution and its democratic course. It was reassuring to see constitutional judges and political activists succeed in suspending the constituent assembly. The situation is difficult indeed, but all is not lost.