Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Elections with an Egyptian twist | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It has been claimed that the mother of the first Salafi presidential candidate in Egypt [Hazem Abu Ismail] used to be an American national, and this is difficult to imagine. Is it possible that the mother of a Salafi leader was once a citizen of an “infidel” state? Hazem Abu Ismail denied this and deemed the accusation to be a plot to get rid of him, which may actually be true considering he stands at the top of the political ladder and is one of those closest to winning the Egyptian presidency. Yet it may also be true that his mother was once an American citizen, and this in my view is something positive, because it refutes the claim that the Salafis are only committed to themselves and reject all others, which means that we are now facing a modernized version of the Salafi trend.

All preliminary indicators prove that the Egyptian presidential elections, like many democracies around the world, are full of idle talk and conspiracies, albeit within a legal framework. The US President Barack Obama has faced accusations from his opponents that he was not born on US territory, which is a requirement to be the American President. Obama tried to silence such claims by publishing his birth certificate, but his opponents then argued that this was a forgery!

The clamor surrounding the nationality of Hazem Abu Ismail’s mother may be agenda-driven but it is also perfectly legal. Accusations lodged against the relatives of presidential candidates may be an attempt to weaken them in the electoral arena, or a ploy to exclude them, but this is part of democracy, and most elections are full of mudslinging, where serious issues are mixed with gossip about money, sex, nationality and background.

In light of this, we should spare a thought for Ayman Nour, one of the most deserving candidates to run for the presidency since he actually dared to compete with former President Hosni Mubarak, and challenged him at the height of his power. Yet Nour was [until the ban was overturned on March 28th] prevented from running in the current elections due his criminal record, as he was convicted and imprisoned during the Mubarak regime. This is despite the fact that the Egyptian revolution was supposed to rise up against what came before it, and this includes unjust criminal sentences.

The surprise is that the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most experienced political party, seems to be walking in the footsteps of the National Democratic Party in terms of its conflicts, its leading figures, and the influence of businessmen upon it. The “party of the poor” being represented by rich businessmen is not the beautiful picture that it had originally intended to adopt.

It is ironic that two of the most prominent figures in the post-revolutionary era are Mubarak’s former men, Omar Suleiman, the former intelligence chief, and Amr Musa, the former Secretary General of the Arab League. It is also surprising and worthy of condemnation that those who rose up and overthrew Mubarak, i.e. the young people, have no place in the presidential elections, as all major candidates are older figures.

Indeed, Hosni Mubarak deserves to be blamed and held accountable because he deprived the Egyptians of real presidential races, and secured a monopoly for himself. The elections were called referendums, and citizens could mark yes or no on the ballot paper for Mubarak only, with the result known in advance. Now in Egypt the heated elections have introduced a new culture in which we see political, legal and economic debate that the country has not witnessed since the 1952 revolution. While this debate, if it increases, may cause divisions in the Egyptian arena and threaten social peace, it is a necessary stage of transition from an individualist regime towards the system promised by the revolution, and falsely promised by three presidents over 60 years, namely the parliamentary presidential electoral system.

The debate surrounding the eligibility of Abu Ismail, Omar Suleiman or El-Shatar is bordering on a petty squabble, but this is natural in a democratic system where there is an open race for the presidential chair. However, what is more important than the presidential election itself is that the electoral rules are stabilized so that they become the norm for the new Egyptian regime. Previous “Arab democracies”, including the Egyptian model, were in reality distorted dictatorial regimes. They were distinct from the monarchies, where a social contract is required to bind the components of society, and distinct from genuine republics, where the people elect the president.

The presidential election will lay down the rules for the future of governance in Egypt. The experiences of the Shura Council and Parliamentary Assembly elections are not enough, although they were conducted in unprecedented honest electoral circumstances. The president’s role is important and essential to the success of the government in Egypt, and the success of the Egyptian elections is also important because of the magnitude of its influence on the Arab arena. The Egyptian presidential system, when it was dictatorially born sixty years ago, was reproduced in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Algeria and Syria, and the region was hit by a disease of failed governments that is the source of all the defects we have inherited today.