The Egyptian Presidential Race

By: Mona Abdel-Fadil, PhD Fellow at IKOS, University of Oslo.

The road to the next elected president of Egypt has been full of surprises. Only a month ago, there was much debate about who would be allowed to run for president. A variety of rules applied. In consequence, a month ago, many Egyptians were fervently discussing which presidential candidates would be disqualified from the presidential race, and on what grounds. Suspense was maintained in public debate, following recurring statements by the electoral committee, as candidates were announced ‘in’, ‘out’, and ‘in’ again over the course of a few days or weeks.  Al-Nour (salafist) candidate Abu Ismail is an example of a candidate who after a lot of back and fro was finally excluded from the presidential race. Ahmed Sahfiq (former Prime Minister) is an example of the opposite. He was formerly announced disqualified, and then suddenly re-appeared in the presidential race again. The latter caused some confusion, but soon the focus shifted elsewhere. With serious contenders Abu Ismail (Al-Nour), Al-Shater (Muslim Brotherhood/Freedom and Justice Party) and Omar Suliman (former chief of intelligence) out of the way, the presidential race in Egypt continued into the next phase.

Cairo’s streets have been filled with banners for the presidential hopefuls, and even tuktuks and busses carry blown up pictures of a few of the presidential candidates. There is however a noteworthy shift of focus in public debates. Now it is the presidential candidates’ political programs that are continuously being discussed. On May 10th Studio Al-Raīʾis broadcasted a televised presidential debate between Amr Moussa (former foreign minister and head of Arab League) and Abu Fotouh (former Brotherhood member), which is among the first of its kind in the region. However, one of the interesting features of the public debate, and its aftermath, is that many Egyptians seem to think that the presidential candidates who did not participate in this debate, were the ones who won public opinion! In this sense, there appears to be a consensus that both Moussa and Abu Fotouh ‘lost’ the battle of viewers and voters. This seems at first to be a curious outcome. However, I believe it may be an implicit critique of the more combative style of discussion that characterized the second half of the debate (and parts of the first half too). The criticism is that the candidates were too busy attacking one another, to actually showcase their own political stance. On the other hand, there seems to be much more positive regard for the numerous TV and radio interviews with individual presidential candidates, that are constantly being aired. This format is perhaps a better platform from which to reach the public. ‘Who will you vote for- and why?’ is now the recurring topic of intriguing conversations amongst friends and strangers alike. Amidst confusion, frustration and ambiguity, there is also a tangible sense of excitement – over the fact that these discussions are actually taking place.

While no one really knows who will become Egypt’s next president. Speculations are flying high. From the opinion polls presented in various Egyptian media, it is likely that 5-6 candidates will receive a lot of votes in the elections that take place over the next two days. These are: Amr Moussa (career diplomat), Ahmed Shafiq (former Prime Minister), Mohammed Morsi (Freedom and Justice Party), Abu-Fotouh (former Muslim Brotherhood) and possibly leftist Hamdeen Al-Sabahi (former Al-Karama).

If indeed the opinion polls give a fair estimation of who Egyptians will vote for, then it is unlikely that any single candidate will succeed in receiving a majority of all votes. This in turn means that it is very likely that the presidential race will not end here, but rather continue to the second round were voters will be asked to choose between the two most voted for presidential candidates. Just who these two candidates will be is part of the continuous suspense of the Egyptian presidential elections, and open to question…