Islamists, remnants of former regime main contenders in presidential race, say experts

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By Heba Hesham

CAIRO: The upcoming presidential elections are going to be a showdown between candidates affiliated with the Islamist stream and those linked to the ousted regime, political and media experts argued.

Since the presidential electoral committee announced that registration of candidacy will start on March 10, a number of newly announced presidential hopefuls declared their intention to join the race.

The surge in new names, however, doesn’t necessarily mean more competition.

“Anyone who is eager for fame announces their candidacy and grabs the media’s attention by his statements,” said Nabil Abdel Fattah, an analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

Abdel Fattah said he does not believe those candidates have a real chance, but they only seek to have a prominent position in the society.

Expectations are also low for some of the older names.

Executive Director of the Heikal Foundation for Arab Journalism and former editor of Al-Ahram Weekly newspaper Hani Shukrallah expects some of the previously known presidential hopefuls to not fare well in the race.

“I don’t think that Ayman Nour for instance will get as many votes as he got when he ran against Mubarak. The situation is now different after the revolution,” he said.

Abdel Fattah believes that the main contenders are Amr Moussa, former secretary general of the Arab League and former foreign minister, and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh, secretary general of the Arab Medical Union and former member of the guidance bureau of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Moussa is part of the construction of the former regime but he is very politically savvy. While the chances of Abol Fotoh will increase after he was attacked by assailants, he also represents moderate Islam and has a long political history. This charismatic personality has the support of young generations,” he said.

Shukrallah shared the same views on Moussa, but said he is not really a remnant of the toppled regime.

“He always had opposition views,” he said.

However, he expected Mohamed Selim El-Awa to have a better chance than Abol Fotoh.

Shukrallah said the Islamist thinker, former secretary general of the International Union of Muslim Scholars and head of the Egyptian Association for Culture and Dialogue, will be backed by the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council.

“Although Abol Fotoh was a former Brotherhood member, he criticized them a lot and they did so as well,” he said.

He expected Abol Fotoh to earn fewer votes than Moussa and El-Awa.

Shukrallah and Abdel Fattah agreed that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will soon decide on the presidential candidate it will support.

Nabil Al-Araby’s name was recently suggested as a possible candidate that would be backed by both the SCAF and the Brotherhood. But the Secretary General of the Arab League denied having any intentions to run.

“[The SCAF] will choose the candidate that is on board with the idea of giving them a reasonable position in politics. It will probably be Amr Moussa,” Abdel Fattah said.

He added that Ahmed Shafiq, former minister of civil aviation and the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak, might come second on SCAF’s list.

“It will be a futile decision to support Shafiq; a man who was a close associate of Mubarak,” Shukrallah said.

He believes that the Brotherhood and SCAF will decide to support the same candidate. “Even if they choose different ones, the MB will seek to support the one who doesn’t criticize SCAF.”

Abdel Fattah added that the issuance of a political exclusion law that would ban remnants of the former regime to run for presidency depends on the desire of SCAF and the MB.

As for the amendment of Article 28 of the Constitutional Declaration that prohibits appealing the results issued by the electoral committee, he believes that SCAF will keep it in place as to guarantee that no one appeals the legitimacy of the coming president.

“What’s the problem with that? In the US former president George Bush was appealed for six months although he was the president expected to cause a third World War,” Shukrallah said pointing out that he expects that SCAF and MB will both refuse to amend it.

Presidential hopefuls so far include Moussa, Shafiq; Abol Fotoh; El-Awa; Islamic Scholar Hazem Salah Abou Ismail; Arab nationalist politician and head of Al-Karama Party Hamdeen Sabahy: lawyer and international arbitrator Abdalla Al-Ashaal; former deputy chief of General Intelligence Services Hossam Khairallah; former vice head of the Court of Cassation Hesham El-Bastawisi; and TV anchor and political activist Bothaina Kamel.

As for Nour, founder of Al-Ghad Party and former candidate in the 2005 presidential elections, it is still unclear whether he will be able to run for the 2012 elections taken his conviction under Mubarak, which legally prevents his participation in political life.

Omar Suleiman, former intelligence chief and Mubarak’s vice president; outspoken journalist and ex-member of SCAF’s appointed advisory council, Hassan Nafea; and rights activist and lawyer Khaled Aly are still to decide if they will join the race.

Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), withdrew from the race on Jan. 14 in protest of SCAF policies in managing the transition to democracy.



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