Sunday 15 April 2012

Who Will Become The President Of Egypt? (UPDATE 2)

(Note: In response to requests, I added brief info about each mentioned candidate at the end of the article)

Nearly 10 days ago I made a statement on Twitter that said that Mohammed Morsy (head of the FJP Party) had a very solid chance to become the next President of Egypt. I was, well, criticised (to put it politely.)

But now, after the preliminary exclusion of ten candidates (they have 48 hours to appeal their exclusion), my statement was taken perhaps a bit more seriously.

My argumentation and line of logic was very simple. First, Khairat El-Shater and Hazem Abu-Ismail, two extremely powerful candidates, were most likely set for disqualification for known reasons, which I outline in this post confirming their current exclusion, freeing a significant base of voters to choose other candidates.

Omar Soleiman (assuming he returns to the race), who many do want to vote for (I also outline why in this Ahram-Online op-ed) mainly seems to have support predominantly within major cities and more developed areas rather than rural and less developed ones, which are a big part of the vote. However, it is very hard to assess at the moment the extent of his true reach as a candidate, and how the previous short period wherein the FJP and Al-Nour have dominated parliament and politics has reflected on them in the cities and outside of them, and by extension how people might compare them to previous regime. One recent poll published in AMAY actually put Soleiman at 20%, the highest for any candidate, while giving Al-Shater only 3%. The poll's reliability is regrettably in question, nevertheless, as are most Egyptian polls. Of course, there is also the possibility that he would eventually be forced out of the elections using the Political Disenfranchisement Law - PDL (Background on the PDL: Al-Wasat MP Essam Sultan presented a draft law to Parliament, banning top ranking Mubarak Regime and NDP figures from running for office, particularly to fight the nomination of Omar Soleiman; law suffers from potential violations of the Constitutional Declaration though.)

Former PM Ahmed Shafiq's base of support as a candidate is also generally concentrated within major cities, though he has been venturing heavily outside of the cities to gain greater support. Of course, he aso could face exclusion through the PDL. But most importantly, Shafiq's chances, as a personal observation, seem to have also dropped considerably after some disappointing recent media appearances that have left a negative-to-weak impression with audience. Another major blow to his chances came after much of his potential voter base (e.g. the unaligned, those worried from the Islamists, those feeling that the country was more stable under Mubarak) seem to have shifted their votes towards Soleiman predominantly, towards Moussa to a lesser extent, and some even a bit to Abul-Fotouh (albeit to an even much lesser extent, being more of the unaligned variety.)

Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahy and "Moderate-Islamist" Selim El-Awwa both have very limited support as first-choice candidates. Sabbahy is seen as a genuinely patriotic figure, but has very little dedicated support base, and that does not seem likely to change soon. El-Awwa's fan base has also considerably dropped throughout the past several months after failing anchor himself to the Brotherhood, the Salafists, or the Revolutionaries, and for failing to position himself as a candidate within the public sphere. Ayman Nour, assuming he makes it back into the race after his recent exclusion, also suffers from the lack of a dedicated base of supporters that is large enough to form a considerable electoral mass. As things stand, left-wing candidates Abul-Ezz El-Hariry and Khaled Ali also currently have very limited mass appeal and dedicated public support, and are expected essentially to attempt to leave an impact on the level and quality of discourse in the elections and bring awareness to oft-avoided issues rather than realistically seek the seat. Neither Hossam Khairallah, a former intelligence high ranking figure, nor former Judge Hisham Al-Bastawisi also seem to have a real chance at the moment of generating any strong electoral momentum.

This essentially would leave the race between Abul-Fotouh, Mohammed Morsy and Amr Moussa.

Abdel-Mon'eim Abul-Fotouh's campaign is gaining traction and is developing into quite a respectable effort, but support remains relatively limited at the moment. Nevertheless, with the exception of Abu Ismail's much older campaign, I would argue that Abul-Fotouh's base of support is the fastest growing in the country as well, gathering around him quite a collection of extremely diverse and contradicting individuals and groups, a testament to his widening appeal. His campaign is also proving to be a source of attraction for younger and well educated individuals as well. The dropping out of Khairat Al-Shater and Hazem Abu-Ismail would also lead to a still-hard-to-identify number of traditional Islamists voting for Abul-Fotouh, a definite boost to his base.

Amr Moussa, however, is a tricky calculation. The assumed frontrunner, according to one view, was never the certain victor media often presented him to be. Moussa's chances were arguably much higher right after the revolution, when people needed an immediately reassuring and non-controversial figure, and had little time to better know other candidates. But the problem with Moussa's campaign is that few people seem "passionate" about Moussa. In a very Mitt-Romneyesque manner, one friend described him as "the ultimate safety candidate; someone who could do the job, but you still want to wait a while longer before committing to." Thus, while Moussa seems to be ranking highest in a few polls, it is quite premature to sound the victory bells. Also, one should remember that during the parliamentary elections non-Islamist parties polled at a higher number than what they eventually got, and remained so until right before the elections when voters began to "make decisions." I also expect a vicious negative-campaign attack against Moussa, whose speculated details I will not elaborate on at the moment to avoid the potential "putting of ideas into people's minds."

That leaves, of course, the MB's Dr. Mohammed Morsy, head of the FJP. Despite his incredibly high organisational profile and political credentials, Morsy seems to have eluded becoming the public figure he could have become by now. This engineering professor, who completed his PhD in the States, was a Brotherhood MP in 2000 and the speaker for the MB block in Parliament then, might have not immediately come to mind several weeks ago as a front-line candidate. But Morsy, who entered the elections as a backup candidate for Khairat Al-Shater, will nevertheless have the support of the entire MB and FJP membership bases and organisational structures, which have incomparable effectiveness and efficiency as demonstrated during the parliamentary elections (one friend, working as an observer for a competing campaign, spoke at length to me in bewilderment of the "complex" food-delivery and member-swapping-and-resting strategies during the parliamentary elections). It is also widely expected, and perhaps most critical to highligh, that much of the aligned and non-aligned votes that went to the FJP and Al-Nour in parliament would also go to Morsy, who will now have a bit over a month to try and become more of a household name. At this moment, this makes Morsy possibly the strongest candidate, quite ironically. Some will disagree, naturally.

There is, of course, one more possibility.

Following the announcement of Omar Soleiman's entry into the presidential race, Hamdeen Sabbahy and others presented an initiative which seems to be gaining more traction than expected. The "Revolutionary Candidate" initiative consisted mainly of bringing together all the candidates that were considered to be aligned with the revolution, and for them to agree on one main candidate that they would all unite around (with one or more other candidates serving as potential VPs). Yesterday morning, the MB/FJP's Mohammed El-Beltagy also said he supported the initiative (in his personal capacity), which is a very signifcant given El-Beltagy's profile within the MB (though he is also known to be his own man). It is widely expected that such an initiative would end up resulting in Abul-Fotouh's selection as the frontline candidate, practically handing him the Presidential seat if the MB also drops out of the race and joins the initiative (which is unlikely). Some speculate that the consensus candidate could be Selim El-Awwa, and rumour that the Brotherhood already is already considering the option. But his increasing decline in appeal seems to have grown too significant to be ignored even by the MB, and Abul-Fotouh would be a much better and more appealing consensual candidate. Of course, if Soleiman remains out of the race, this initiative would end up most likely as scrapped due to lack of raison d'être.

One final note: a recent AMAY poll said about 40% of Egyptians were undecided with regards to who they would vote for. I believe that number, and I think it is even higher.


I have received many remarks on this piece. I would like to highlight and respond to three of them:

1- "But Morsy Is Not Known To Voters": that is true. But much like Khairat El-Shater did an intense media blitzkrieg within the first few days of becoming a candidate, so will Morsy. The media, out of its own free will, will also attempt to highlight and introduce Morsy to the audience as part of its coverage of the elections. The "Brotherhood's Presidential Candidate" will definitely be something exciting for the media, and they will dedicate much air time to him. The Brotherhood's organisational ground network will also make sure that people in rural and other less developed areas will know who Morsy is, and will also position him as the candidate of the Brotherhood and the FJP's "project", letting people feel they are not just voting for one person, but rather for an institution, helping alleviate some of the "but we don't know him" sentiments.

2- "Moussa has been working hard and campaigning outside of the cities, so don't underestimate him": that is true, and it will have a strong impact on his campaign. But the problem is he has done much of his campaigning in such areas very early on, giving his opponents a chance to outdo him and to leave a more recent and stronger impact on voters. Moussa needs to get back on the campaign trail, and revisit some of his major voting areas. As I understand, he has been on the campaign trail.

3- "Abul-Fotouh seems to be too much of an intellectual to connect with the normal voter, right?": mainly received quite a few times from foreign readers. But that is not the case at all. Abul-Fotouh seems to be one of the few candidates who managed to equally connect with all strata of society, without putting on different personas depending on the audience.


Here are brief facts on each candidate mentioned in this piece, in response to requests. Candidates who were not mentioned  They are in order of mention in article:

1- Khairat Al-Shater: former deputy Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, considered to be MB's most powerful man. He is running after obtaining more than 30 endorsements from sitting MPs coming from either or both houses of Parliament.
2- Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail: a lawyer-turned-preacher, Salafist presidential candidate. He is running independently, after obtaining more than 30,000 citizen endorsements.
3- Omar Soleiman: former Egyptian Head of Intelligence, and former VP for Mubarak. He is running independently, after obtaining more than 30,000 citizen endorsements.
3- Ahmed Shafiq: former civil aviation minister under Mubarak, and Mubarak's last Prime Minister. He is running independently, after obtaining more than 30,000 citizen endorsements.
4- Hamdeen Sabbahy: Nasserist politician, long time political activist. He is running independently, after obtaining more than 30,000 citizen endorsements.
5- Mohammed Selim El-Awwa: considered to be a "Moderate Islamist", a lawyer and an "Islamic Thinker." He is running independently, after obtaining more than 30,000 citizen endorsements.
6- Ayman Nour: liberal politician, and former chief rival to Mubarak in the 2005 Presidential elections. He is running on behalf of the "Ghad Al-Thawra" Party.
7- Abul-Ezz El-Hariri: leftist politician and MP, running on behalf of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party.
8- Khaled Ali: leftist human & labour rights lawyer with strong ties to activists. He is running after obtaining more than 30 endorsements from sitting MPs coming from either or both houses of Parliament.
9- Hossam Khairallah: former high ranking intelligence figure. He is running after obtaining the support of the Democratic Peace Party.
10- Hisham Al-Bastawisi: former Judge and former deputy head of the Court of Cassation. He is running after obtaining the support of the Rally (Tagammu') Party.
11- Abdel-Mon'eim Abul-Fotouh: former MB high ranking member, known to have disagreements with the MB's current leadership. He is running independently, after obtaining more than 30,000 citizen endorsements.
12- Amr Moussa: former Minister of Foreign Affairs under Mubarak until and former Secretary General of the Arab League. He is running independently, after obtaining more than 30,000 citizen endorsements.
13- Mohammed Morsy: high ranking MB figure, head of the MB's Freedom And Justice Party. He is running on behalf of the FJP.

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