By Sarah El Sirgany
CAIRO: In a continuously changing political scene, presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh struggles to keep the focus on his electoral program. He condemns the polarization that’s already taking its toll on his bid, but also has nothing but disdain for the nomination of Omar Suleiman, the vice president appointed before the ouster of Hosni Mubarak last year.
“Omar Suleiman committed crimes against Egypt and he is an extension of the previous regime. He should be subject to the Treachery Law, which prevents all figures of the previous regime that participated in the era of oppression and corruption from nominating themselves in elections,” Abol Fotoh told a group of reporters on Monday.
“Suleiman was the vice president when Egypt’s youth were being killed during the revolution and he bears the direct criminal responsibility,” he added.
He said the military is backing the ex-intelligence chief and has instructed the governors — a sector dominated by retired military and police generals — to help him issue the proxies required for his nomination.
The military, he added, should distance itself from and correct this “grave mistake” in order to preserve the integrity of the electoral process.
Suleiman, however, might not be the worst challenge facing Abol Fotoh. The last minute nomination of two Muslim Brotherhood leaders to the presidential race will definitely eat away from his voter base.
With the vice president of the Brotherhood, Khairat Al-Shater, and the president of its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Morsi, contesting the election, members of Abol Fotoh’s old group now have an official candidate to campaign and vote for.
The Brotherhood had expelled Abol Fotoh last year for his decision to contest the presidential race against its decision back then — he said he left willingly because he doesn’t want to mix politics with the preaching nature of the group.
“I didn’t wish for that, but go ask the group [about its decision to nominate Al-Shater],” he said.
Morsi serves as a backup candidate in case Al-Shater is disqualified.
At the same time, the strong possibility of excluding popular Salafi candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, could mean that more Islamist votes would be available to Abol Fotoh, who promotes a more moderate platform.
The sentiment on the street is that identity questions and ideological and political affiliations will influence the vote more than candidates’ platforms. But Abol Fotoh wants the discussion to shift to programs and candidates’ promises.
While Suleiman was submitting his papers to the Presidential Election Committee on Sunday, Abol Fotoh held a conference with some of the team members that have drafted 11 development projects defining his program for a “strong Egypt.”
As journalists tried to get more details from the broad guidelines offered by the team, his campaign members limited questions about Abol Fotoh’s reactions to the new developments on the political scene.
The projects include investment and development in the Suez Canal area, self sufficiency of grain agriculture through the usage of seeds engineered for dry climates, and a program for the integration of people with disabilities into the workforce and society.
The platform promises more spending on health and education. The funding would come from restructuring the national budget to include both military’s finances and special funds and eliminating corruption.
The rampant corruption, he explained, includes administrative mismanagement and violations of the law. Under the first would be about LE 18 billion spent on salaries for some 200,000 consultants in state institutions and LE 170 billion of subsidies which don’t always go to those who deserve it, he explained.
Last month, the minister of petroleum said energy subsidies could soar to LE 120 billion, 20 percent of which go to industries. Last year, the government pledged LE 22.4 billion worth of subsidies to consumer goods.
His plan for a “unified budget” is bound to put him in confrontation with the military, who has recently broken its silence about its businesses, promising to defend the fruit of its hard labor.
Abol Fotoh doesn’t see it this way. He waters down the expected confrontation. The inclusive budget won’t mean an infringement on the funds allocated to the military to perform its sole duty of protecting the nation, he said.
Its businesses, which amount to about 20 percent of Egypt economy, should be limited to fulfilling its needs. “It can’t turn into an economic institution competing with the public and private sectors.”
He, however, promised the military contribution in politics. The Mubarak regime isolated the military from politics, he said. The army’s vision in politics should be discussed.
“There is a difference between the military having a political opinion and enforcing this opinion. There is no state institution that has the right to enforce its views on the elected bodies,” he noted.
The venue for this discussion and for other decisions would be the National Security Council. Although dialogue would be the theme, the decision would be up to the president, he said.
The plans proposed by Abol Fotoh sound a bit ambitious, especially within the promised time frame.
For the first 100 days of him taking office, he promises to make restoring security his first priority. A security vacuum and the resulting crime wave have plagued the country since the 2011 uprising.
He has detailed plans of restructuring and purging the Ministry of Interior and the police force, which he admits are dominated by the loyal men of the previous regime. He sees this as the first step to ensure investor confidence and consequently fix an ailing economy.
An elected president, he said, would have the power and the will to force corruption out of state institutions.