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    Middle East
     May 25, 2012

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A day in the sun for Arab democracy
By Sami Moubayed

His chances of victory are high, but cracking the Brotherhood at the polls remains a task that is very difficult. It is also probable that neither Morsi nor al-Foutouh will win, as they will divide the conservative Muslim vote right in two, which ultimately plays out in favor of the secular candidates, Amr Moussa, Ahmad Shafiq and Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Amr Moussa. He is a popular secular candidate, with opinion polls predicting 32% of the vote for him. He was for years Egypt's public face to the international community, when he served as foreign minister under Mubarak.

Moussa's long career as secretary general of the Arab League and positions on the Iraq war in 2003, the Lebanon war in 2006


and the Gaza war in 2008 have all made him popular to Arab nationalists on the streets of Egypt.

Some see him as the most impeccable of all the candidates, while others immediately dismiss him for having worked with Mubarak for 10 years. They argue that nobody would have risen so high during the Mubarak era had he not been closely affiliated to the intelligence services and the Mubarak family. At one point, they argue, he was one of Mubarak's many "yes" men.

The counter-argument is that Mubarak "banished" him to the Arab League when he became a little bit too popular for the president's liking.

Moussa, it must be remembered, steered clear from criticizing Mubarak openly until it was clear to everybody that the president was about to fall in February 2011, making a grand entrance into Tahrir Square to call for downfall of the Egyptian regime of which he had once been a part.

To some that makes him a revolutionary, whereas to others it classifies him as a smart yet unashamed political opportunist.

Moussa, aged 75, is a seasoned politician with long years of experience, meaning that he is more capable of running the state than either al-Foutouh or Morsi. Seculars support him ardently, so do former members of the Mubarak regime and the business elite that longs for the stability and prosperity they once enjoyed under Mubarak.

Moussa has a strong network of friends throughout the Arab world, ranging from the king of Saudi Arabia to the emir of Qatar, and is both trusted and respected by the US, France, Russia - and Israel.

If he comes to office, it would be business as usual for Egyptian-US and Egyptian-Israeli relations. His victory would mean that the Camp David Accords would be safe - for a while.

Ahmad Shafiq. He is a former field marshal in the army and also a one-time protege of Mubarak; he served as prime minister during the president's final hour. He is tipped to win 23% of the vote.

Precisely because of his military background, most Egyptians shun him, having rallied behind a popular cry: "Downfall of the rule of Officers!" Shafiq for president, they claim, would be Mubarak all over again. Officers, they argue, think that countries can be run more or less like professional armies, through strict rules, drills and dictates.

The fact that he still defends Mubarak, who is an officer like him, adds to popular scorn towards Shafiq. He is marketing himself as "Mr Security", but his chances of victory are slim, running against powerful Islamists like Morsi and al-Foutouh, respected seculars like Moussa, and populist figures like Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Hamdeen Sabbahi. He is a secular, inspired by former president Gamal Abdul Nasser, the godfather of Arab nationalism who ruled Egypt with firebrand socialism between the years 1952-1970. Sabbahi, aged 57, is expected to win 12% of the vote, according to polls. He studied mass communications at Cairo University and built his career as a populist politician, often making reference to the fishermen and farmers with whom he grew up with as a child.

In 2000, he became an independent member of parliament under Mubarak, only to be arrested for opposing Egypt's stance on the 2003 Iraq War - in complete denial of his parliamentary immunity.

One of his greatest setbacks is his admiration for autocrats like Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. He is stirring up nostalgic memories of a bygone socialist era, which was very popular among day-to-day Egyptians but loathed by Egyptian notability and the powerful business community.

He is a pan-Arabist and believes in secularism and a classless society, two points that automatically create a divide between him and Islamists.

He is no match for Moussa's charisma, al-Foutouh's cunning or Morsi's power base.

Sabbahi has said that if voted into power, he would focus on restoring Egypt at the heart of the Arab world, as it had been under Nasser. He affirms that "peasants are the most important class in Egypt".

When asked about the Camp David Accords, he said, "I believe that it has shackled Egypt and undermined its status. I haven't been a supporter of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty, but if I become president the abrogation of Camp David is not going to be my priority."

He also said, "I will cut off natural gas supplies to Israel, which is not part of the treaty. We have no obligation [to export gas to Israel]. It is a waste of national wealth and a subsidy to an enemy who is using it to kill our Palestinian brothers."

Camp David ultimately "may be subjected to amendments or cancelation if the people want".

Such loud words appeal to the heart of Arab nationalists not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world. The only chance he has of winning, however, is if one of the two other secular figures steps out of the race before the run-on elections, and gives his votes to Sabbahi.

A close race
It is highly likely that none of these figures will emerge with a strong majority of votes, making run-off elections a necessity in June.

To win, a candidate needs more than 50% of the votes. Each of these five candidates, according to most observers, will win anywhere between 10-30% of the votes.

Whoever wins the run-off would assume office on July 1, right after the powerful Military Council, which has run Egypt since February 2011, dissolves itself.

If the Islamists don't destroy each other, Morsi will likely make it to the run-offs and compete against either Moussa or Sabbahi, who is being hailed as a compromise candidate, neither affiliated with the former regime nor with the Islamists.

Other surprises might happen, when voters realize - perhaps - that they don't want to give too much power to the Brotherhood, because parliament is enough for it to monopolize.

The outcome is very difficult to predict, because each of the candidates - with the exception of Shafiq - has his pros and cons.

It must be noted that apart from an orchestrated multi-party presidential election that took place under Mubarak in 2005, this is Egypt's first real presidential election.

Ever since the monarchy was abolished in 1952, Egypt has had doctored elections - plebiscites actually - where one person ran for office uncontested.

Nine plebiscites have taken place since 1952, which resulted in only three presidents during the past 60 years of Egyptian history.

Three happened under Nasser, two under Anwar Sadat, and four under Mubarak.

This was brainchild of Nasser and his police state, which championed autocracy and one-party rule that lasted from 1952 until being forcefully dismantled by the January 25, 2011, revolution.

Regardless of who wins, it is an historic moment for Egypt and a milestone for the Arab Spring.

Sami Moubayed is a university professor, historian and editor-in-chief of Forward Magazine in Syria.

(Copyright 2012 Asia Times Online (Holdings) Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)

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