Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1194, (24-30 April 2014)

Ahram Weekly

It takes two to tango

Egypt’s presidential election offers just two candidates and many believe the result a foregone conclusion. Gamal Essam El-Din reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

As many expected next month’s presidential elections will be a two-horse race between former army chief Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi. Al-Sisi’s electoral campaign easily met the conditions necessary for their candidate’s bid to be formalised, submitting 188,930 endorsement forms to the Presidential Election Commission (PEC) on 14 April.

Sabahi, who came third in the 2012 presidential elections, took almost three weeks to gather the minimum 25,000 endorsements required. On 19 April, a day before the door for registration closed, his campaign submitted 31,555 notarised signatures.

Many political analysts argue the lack of contender diversity in the presidential race is sending mixed signals.

In 2005, when Egypt held its first direct multi-candidate presidential race, 10 candidates met the entry qualifications. It was an unexpectedly large field given that conditions for eligibility had been tailored by then president Hosni Mubarak’s legislative advisors.

In the year after Mubarak’s 2011 ouster 13 candidates entered the election race which brought Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood to power by the slenderest of margins.

In 2012 four Islamists competed. This time round there will be none. Following the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group in December no Islamist candidate has registered. Not that any Brotherhood member is legally entitled to do so: on 15 April a court order banned members of the group from standing in presidential and parliamentary elections.

Independent figures with Islamist leanings, notably Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh who came fourth in 2012’s polls, have declined to compete in a race the results of which they say are already decided. Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, a retired military officer who put in a strong performance in the 2012 race, is supporting Al-Sisi.

Al-Ahram political analyst Emad Gad is far from nonplussed by the narrow field. “It is a sign of political maturity,” he says. “Most Egyptians now realise the diversity seemingly offered in 2005 and 2012 was only décor. After all, in 2012 the final round turned into a competition between two candidates representing the two main post-25 January Revolution forces: the Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of the Mubarak regime.”

Gad believes that “when campaigning begins on 3 May we will see a serious battle as the two rivals try their best to gain votes by presenting comprehensive electoral platforms rather than battling on the basis of personal popularity.”

But that does not mean, he says, that Egypt is on the cusp of a two-party duopoly of the kind seen in the US and the UK. “In this respect we are still far behind America and Europe though it is a scenario that might apply in the future. For now the constitution divides power between the president, a party-based majority government and parliament.”

Professor of political science Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed is not predicting the kind of serious battle Gad expects, if only because “Al-Sisi’s popularity makes the result a foregone conclusion.”

“There is a general sense among all sectors of society that Al-Sisi will win in the first round, not only because he collected a huge number of endorsements from all governorates in such a short time but also because he has the backing of the army and state authorities.”

Figures released by the Justice Ministry’s notary offices record 574,731 endorsements being registered across 27 governorates since 31 March, 95 per cent of them for Al-Sisi. Even in Alexandria, where Sabahi won by a wide majority in the first round of the 2012 poll, his campaign had difficulty collecting the 1,000 signatures required. There have even been rumours Al-Sisi’s campaign helped Sabahi reach the required ceiling.

Al-Sisi and Sabahi will soon begin unveiling their electoral platforms. Abdallah Al-Moghazi, spokesman for Al-Sisi’s campaign, says that once the election campaign kicks off on 3 May Al-Sisi will address the nation on his platform and vision for the future. Al-Sisi’s campaign headquarters in East Cairo’s exclusive Al-Tagammu district, has already hosted meetings at which the candidate has expressed his views on Egypt’s political and economic problems.

Gad believes that although Al-Sisi has repeatedly vowed there can be no return to Mubarak-era practices, many view him as a representative of the old guard, supported by the remnants of Mubarak’s defunct National Democratic Party (NDP), the state bureaucracy, the army and the police. “He is widely perceived as Ahmed Shafik in the 2012 race, but a Shafik who is not facing the Brotherhood.”

Veteran journalist Makram Mohamed Ahmed argues Al-Sisi’s popularity is based on the belief among an overwhelming majority of ordinary Egyptians that he is the one man capable of restoring stability and ending three years of political turmoil.

“Ordinary citizens have lost any trust in the political elite. They also loathe the Muslim Brotherhood after its year of religious tyranny. Al-Sisi is seen as a strong military man capable of imposing discipline and restoring order,” says Ahmed.

Sabahi has argued that “the fact Al-Sisi swept the endorsements does not mean he will the vote”.

“Success in the presidential election battle depends on several factors, foremost among them the ability to reassure the public that there will be no return to the authoritarian rule practised by Mubarak.”

 “While most of the country’s traditional segments support Al-Sisi, the youth movements of the two revolutions of 25 January and 30 June have decided to rally around Sabahi,” notes Gad.

“The Nasserist and leftist forces which were supposed to support Sabahi have instead opted to endorse Al-Sisi. These include old-guard leftist traditional forces like the National Progressive Unionist Party (Al-Tagammu) and the Arab Nasserist Party.”

Traditional liberal forces such as the Wafd Party are also supporting Al-Sisi while post-25 January liberal forces like Al-Dostour, with a much younger membership profile, are backing Sabahi.

Sabahi has said on several occasions that he wants to be the Lula da Silva of Egypt — a reference to Brazil’s leftist president from 2002 to 2011.

Ahmed believes that “just as Morsi fell prey to the manipulation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guidance Bureau during his one year in power there is a danger that Sabahi could become hostage to the young revolutionary movements which many ordinary Egyptians accuse of embracing an American agenda.”

Sabahi has stated that he will prioritise the battle against social inequality, rejuvenate the public sector, fight privatisation and defend the ideals of the 25 January and 30 June revolutions, revoke the new protest law, release young political activists from prison, and fight the reinstatement in office of Mubarak’s corrupt elite.

The PEC is scheduled to announce a final list of candidates on 2 May and give the green light for election campaigns to kick off between 3 and 23 May.

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