Dreaming of the top
What makes ordinary people want to run for president, asks Omneya Yousry
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Clockwise from top: the dream of the presidential palace; counting the signatures; singer Saad El-Soghair, the latest fame seeker; the media finds in El-Soghair a new headline; checking people's credentials; ordinary people applying as candidates in front of the Presidential Elections Commission
In less than a month, more than 900 people have gone to the offices of the Presidential Elections Commission in Cairo to register as candidates in the presidential elections.
They started flocking to the offices on 10 March and have until 8 April when the deadline looms. Fewer than 10 public figures are standing in the elections, and all the others are ordinary people from different backgrounds. The large number of candidates has surprised many people, but the professions and backgrounds of the wannabe presidents have been perhaps even more surprising.
The latest wannabe president is singer Saad El-Soghair, who is popular for his films with belly dancer Dina. El-Soghair announced that he collected 50,000 signatures from his neighbourhood, Shubra Al-Kheima, yet he isn't officially registred.
The majority of the candidates are men, but one woman, Selmeya Mohamed Saleh, who works as a cleaning supervisor at one of Cairo's sports clubs, has also put her name forward. Her first proposal should she be elected president would be to abolish the People's Assembly, the lower house of Egypt's parliament. "I know nothing about campaigns. I want to nominate myself for the sake of Egypt. We neither fear the Salafis nor the Muslim Brotherhood. God willing, Egypt will be good in the future," she said.
However, this is all that many people are likely to find out about Selmeya and her programme, because she wouldn't continue the interview unless she was paid. "If you don't pay me, I don't have time for interviews. One of our neighbours, who works as an ironer, was interviewed last week for LE6,000," she told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Many candidates are possibly looking for either fame or money by putting their names forward, while others are more sincere in their ideas. No doubt some will think it a joke that ordinary people with strange ideas should go running to the offices of the commission to put themselves forward as candidates. But some of these people nevertheless have interesting ideas.
Sami Abdel-Latif, for example, is a man of humble background. Aged 46 and from a village in the Nile Delta, he wears the traditional Egyptian galabeya and has no obvious political background, making a living by reciting the Quran and waking people for sohour in Ramadan. Abdel-Latif finished his education at the Al-Azhar preparatory level, but he decided to put his name forward in the elections "because I'm a single man" and he is not able to get married and have children.
"I won't have a wife and family one day to distract me from the job, so I will be able to dedicate myself to solving the problems of all Egyptians everywhere," he said. Abdel-Latif's programme is to support the poor, people like himself, he says. His campaign team consists of himself alone, and he has no funding.
Regarding the requirement to secure 30,000 signatures to stand in the elections, Abdel-Latif says that this is wrong. "I haven't got any signatures yet, but I will be challenging this rule in court," he adds, commenting that he intends to complain to the International Court of Justice because the Egyptian law is unjust. While the January Revolution was made by and for the poor, it is still the rich that dominate the government and People's Assembly, Abdel-Latif says, and though he wants to present himself as a candidate representatives from the governorate, the People's Assembly, and human rights organisations have refused to meet him "because I'm poor".
In Abdel-Latif's mind, a poor person like him can unravel all the wrong-doings in the country. If elected president, he wouldn't appoint ministers himself, but would ask each ministry to nominate someone for the post. The vice president and prime minister would be chosen by the People's Assembly. Abdel-Latif would also set up what he calls an Egyptian People's Forum, where the president and the ministers would meet with people every last Friday of the month to hear their requests. Schools would be set up for the disabled and IDs given to street children, replacing the illegal papers currently in circulation. Nursery schools would be replaced by traditional Quranic schools, or kuttabs, in which children would be taught to memorise the Quran.
Abdel-Latif would also have the Egyptian pound redesigned were he to be elected president, putting "pictures of Al-Kaaba, the Prophet's mosque and Jerusalem on one side, and the Virgin Mary, Jesus and the oldest Egyptian monastery on the other." This would improve sectarian relationships, he says. On agriculture, Abdel-Latif wants to take all land into state ownership and rent it out to farmers. He says he can speak English and French fluently, though he would always appear with a translator should the need arise.
"I'm not searching for fame because I'm famous already, as I used to appear on the Egyptian sixth channel in Ramadan," he says. "If I win, my first act will be to stamp out corruption in Egypt."
Another interesting candidate is Mohamed Rashed, "the repentant thief", who is a 64-year-old born in a village in Upper Egypt. Rashed is now the owner of a kiosk selling various goods, but his former profession was a thief. He uses the nickname "Egypt's Robin Hood", and he was once one of the best-known thieves of the 1990s.
However, Rashed does not want to overdo his thieving background, as there are "many other thieves among us." Speaking to the Weekly, he says that "what I wanted to convey was a message to society that committing crimes isn't the answer and that haram [illegal] wealth won't do any one any good."
Rashed once gained millions stealing from luxury apartments in Cairo, though he also ended up in prison. Once released, he decided to repent and returned the money stolen to the Ministry of Interior, which honoured him by paying for him to go on pilgrimage and to purchase a small kiosk to help him earn a living. Published at his own expense after he left prison, Rashed's autobiography describes his career as a thief and his repentance, offering tips to property owners on how to protect themselves from theft. The book is being distributed in Nasr City.
Rashed was also instrumental in founding an association to reform and rehabilitate former prisoners, taking care of them and their families and helping to find them jobs. He has invited all the members of the former regime who now find themselves in prison to join the association after the completion of their sentences.
He believes that what Egypt needs is honesty, which is why he has decided to run for the presidency. "I used to find millions of dollars thrown into the streets and then return them to their owners," he claims. "I have no money for my campaign, so I am inviting all businessmen to contribute if they believe in me as a repentant thief who wants to serve my community."
Meanwhile, various media groups have offered him their assistance, though at a price. "Yesterday, they asked me for LE165,000 to print t-shirts with my name and photograph on them," he says. Rashed says he took part in the revolution and sent a letter to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), thanking him for the army's role in protecting the revolution.
Regarding the signatures he needs for his candidacy to be accepted, Rashed says he has collected 13,000 thus far from various governorates in Egypt and from expatriate Egyptians. "My popularity is high. Everyday I receive SMSs from Egyptians abroad saying they are collecting signatures for me at embassies." His only qualification for the post of president is his honesty, he says, something which almost made him change his mind about running. "Yet, people's affection towards me seemed so high that this made me change my mind."
Commenting to the Weekly, Rashed says that for centuries Egypt has been too hospitable to its rulers. His aim, were he to be elected president, would be to prevent people from looting the country. "Come to think of it, I am an expert on looting," he remarked.
This now-repentant thief has lost his entire wealth twice, first in his mid-20s when he wanted to get rid of the "haram money" he had stolen, and second when former prime minister Essam Sharaf went on television calling on people to support the economy and stock market. "I donated LE50,000, which was everything I have from the kiosk that the Interior Ministry gave me when I came out of prison."
All these unusual candidates express their disdain for their more official competitors, people like Amr Moussa, Abul-Futouh, Salah Abu Ismail, and others. If they had to vote for someone like one of these, they wouldn't vote at all, they said.
Among other unconventional candidates is pastry maker Abdel-Hadi Ahmed Deeb, who is eager to go to war with Israel in two years time and won't disclose how or when unless he is elected. Another candidate is Adel Younis, who uses the name Adel Farouk and claims to be the illegitimate son of former king Farouk, the last king of Egypt and Sudan. Younis has even applied for a paternity suit, which will be considered at its final session on 12 April at the family court in Tanta. If elected, Adel Farouk said he would re-introduce the old Egyptian flag.
Another candidate is Mohamed Moussa, a retired civil servant in Ismailia, who claims he is the incarnation of the long-awaited Mahdi, who will liberate the Arab countries from oppression.
Last but not least, there is an anonymous hashish addict who has applied to have his name put forward as a candidate in the elections. "Because I'm an addict, I know what addicts go through," he says, adding that if elected he would legalise hashish.
The presidential elections begin in Egypt on 23 and 24 May, and the winner will be announced by 21 June. Regarding the 30,000 required signatures, or the signatures of 30 MPs, none of the above-mentioned candidates seems likely to gather the required number to enter the race.
But they all say they will keep their application papers and media interviews as souvenirs of the attempt.