The final countdown
Despite hiccups, Egypt's transitional phase is coming to an end, Dina Ezzat
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Posters of leading presidential candidates look over one of Cairo's busiest squares as the country prepares for its first highly competitive elections
It is a very busy time in the corridors of several presidential campaign headquarters. Posters are being sent away for distribution; commercials are being finalised for airing; public speeches are being drafted; and the candidates are getting ready for the final round of the big race.
On Tuesday evening, the chance for any of the confirmed 13 candidates to pull out expired, with all runners staying the course.
For his part, presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik contested a legal ruling of the Administrative Court that could -- if eventually confirmed -- expel him from the race in line with a heavily debated law that denies all senior officials who served with the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak during its last 10 years leave to pursue key public posts.
Voting in Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential elections is due to kick off in a few days for Egyptian expats and on 23 May for voters at home. The first round, according to sources from the campaigns of all key runners, is not expected to determine the fate of the presidency. A second round, they all agree, is inevitable -- to be held in June -- heralding an official end to the transitional phase that started on 11 February 2011 when Hosni Mubarak stepped down.
The day of announcement of the official winner is 26 June. It should be on Sunday, 1 July, that Egypt's first ever freely elected president assumes office.
"The remainder of the transitional phase will go on as scheduled -- this is the plan," said a source close to the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC). Meanwhile, according to this source, the announcement made Tuesday to indicate the intention of PEC to suspend its work in a show of protest against the "harsh and unfair" criticism levelled against it by members of parliament is not at all a manoeuvre to put off the presidential elections, and "it was not at all ordered by" the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
"SCAF was of course notified of the decision of the commission but it was not behind it," the same source said.
According to parliamentary sources, parliament speaker Saad El-Katatni acted promptly to accommodate the frustrations of the commission: he made a statement apologising for any offence that PEC might have felt from criticism made against its performance, although he also suggested that parliament, for its part, is equally offended by accusations of alleged interference levelled by PEC.
On Wednesday, however, PEC indicated that it is not going to resume its work unless it receives a new endorsement of support from SCAF. This endorsement, according to a source close to SCAF, "is coming".
Beyond the tug-of-war between parliament and PEC, the consensus among protagonists is that the road towards and through presidential elections is likely to see some serious hiccups, but that the end of the transition period is in sight.
The projected hiccups may or may not culminate in scenes of bloodshed similar to those that unfolded in Abbasiya on Friday between the military police and protesters -- largely supporters of the controversial Salafi and disqualified presidential hopeful Hazem Abu Ismail, expelled from the race by PEC after having offered false information about his mother's American nationality, bypassing the legal requirement on the sole Egyptian nationality of candidates and their parents.
According to MP Amin Iskandar, "it is highly unlikely that we will see another scene of such confrontation and bloodshed in the weeks leading to the presidential elections." But according to MP Wahid Abdel-Meguid, "a recurrence of the bloodshed that we saw in Abbasiya is not at all to be excluded." What Iskandar and Abdel-Meguid agree on is that any conflict ahead will be the result of confrontation between Islamists and the military.
For the moment, the dispute between parliament (in which Islamists dominate) and the ruling military council over the demand to sack the government of Kamal El-Ganzouri has been settled in favour of SCAF, with El-Ganzouri set to see out the remainder of the transition period. It is also evident that the blunder of Abu Ismail has shaken public support in Islamists in general.
Still, there is enough ground left for confrontation between the two sides, especially in relation to the long-disputed composition of the Constituent Assembly tasked with drafting a permanent constitution. Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, and those of the Salafi Nour Party, openly say that if SCAF decides to take the upper hand in the composition of the assembly they will block its work.
Another source of possible confrontation is the timing of the writing of the constitution and the almost certain fact that the powers of the new president will not be defined in final form before his election. While SCAF is said by reliable sources to be considering alternative drafts of supplementary constitutional declaration, to provide the necessary guidelines for the next head of state, Islamists in parliament appear opposed to this move as they fear that the text of any such declaration would undermine their current generous share of prerogatives in the event that the next president is drawn from outside their political quarters.
There is also the demand of Islamists -- and for that matter almost all other political forces -- for SCAF to eliminate the immunity to appeal given to PEC regarding its decisions. The reluctance of SCAF to accommodate this demand is explosive, according to Abdel-Meguid, who was member of the FJP coalition. "If people cannot solicit the intervention of a court of law to contest a suspected outcome of the work of the presidential committee, then they would have to take to the streets with their protests; this immunity has to be eliminated."
None of the above, according to senior political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Amr Hashem Rabie, could block the road to presidential elections. However, these battles, according to Rabie, could complicate the political scene enough to almost make the election of the next president insufficient to spur the return of stability, "especially if the results are contested and when the decisions of the Presidential Elections Commission cannot be appealed in a court of law." (see p.7)