Egyptians vote in their historic first round of real presidential elections this week, after recent legislative polls in which Islamist politicians did best, ahead of candidates of the old guard.
Among those who claim they will lead Egypt to a new stability, Ahmad Shafiq is seen as one of the frontrunners. He was prime minister in the last days of the Mubarak regime.
Shafik is a product of the traditional political-military power system. He is a former pilot and senior air force commander and later civil aviation minister. His main campaign focus has been security and fighting crime. He insists his experience constitutes a strong asset in a time of transition, but many Egyptians want nothing to do with the old military.
Amr Moussa is running as a defender of a modern, multi-confessional society. The Arab League former secretary-general was a foreign minister under Mubarak’s rule, as well as serving as ambassador to the UN, India and Switzerland. He won favour among ordinary Egyptians for his criticism of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
Moussa has been campaigning for a month at grass roots level, from the Nile Delta to Upper Egypt, yet his detractors say he is also an old regime leftover.
Mohammed Morsy has been head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party since last year’s Egyptian revolution – the party with almost half the seats in today’s parliament.
Morsy and his supporters say he is the sole candidate with an Islamist programme. Some people fear what Egypt might be like with both legislative and executive power in Islamist hands. He holds a Ph.D. in Engineering from the University of Southern California. His children were born there and are US citizens
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is a former medical doctor and hospital manager, well known for his opposition to the old regime. Health and education are prominent in his campaign.
Aboul Fotouh was pushed out of the Muslim Brotherhood last year when he openly declared his presidential ambitions against the group’s promise not to field a candidate. He hopes to be seen as a uniter of both traditionalist hardliners and modern liberals.
In studying the presidential elections in Egypt, euronews spoke with Álvaro de Vasconcelos, the head of the European Institute for Security Studies in Paris, a specialist in Euro-Mediterranean relations, and also the author of a book out recently: “Listening to Unfamiliar Voices”.
Olivier Péguy, euronews: This Wednesday, Egyptians will be heading to ballot boxes for the first round of voting for a new president. Things are still quite tense for this election. There have been frequent bouts of violence in Cairo. Is it fair to expect the voting process will go well?
Álvaro de Vasconcelos: The military powers accept that the democratic transition must continue, and that the results of the elections must be accepted. There is also an absolutely essential consensus between the Islamist parties and the liberal parties, the liberal political forces, because there is this rather complicated division in Egypt. On one hand there are those who carried out the revolution in Egypt and on another there are those who won the elections – the Islamist parties who, quite rightly, consider that they have democratic legitimacy on their side.
euronews: One of the questions is what sort of score the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohammed Morsy will get with his Freedom and Justice party - which is the strongest political force in the country. Its candidate for the presidency is not necessarily the best placed. In your opinion, will the Muslim Brotherhood lose this election?
De Vasconcelos: I do think it could get away from the Muslim Brotherhood. You’ll recall that they didn’t intend to field a candidate for the presidential election. They had decided that they shouldn’t take everything. It would be too soon for them to take all the levers of power. For them to have the parliament and the presidency would be complicated. It would be accepted with difficulty in Egypt and, especially, abroad. With this in view, they put forward a candidate only when the Salafists presented one. They were afraid that the Salafist candidate was going to take all the Islamist votes, and the gains of the Salafists constitute a serious problem for the Muslim Brotherhood. That’s why they put a candidate forward. The military didn’t accept him. They thought he didn’t meet all the criteria, because he had been judged by the old regime, in the past. I don’t think the new candidate the Brotherhood is presenting will have much success in the election.
euronews: And do you think the Muslim Brotherhood will accept not winning?
De Vasconcelos: Yes, they are working within a system of democratic legitimacy.
euronews: Do you think Amr Moussa, the former foreign affairs minister of Hosni Mubarak and former Secretary-General of the Arab League, will have a role to play?
De Vasconcelos: I think that Amr Moussa will be seen by those who have revolutionary legitimacy on their side and those with democratic legitimacy, which is to say the Muslim Brotherhood, as a candidate who represents the old regime – people of the old regime will support him, people in rural areas who are less involved in politics than the people of Cairo. But he will have a lot of difficulty. Because of that, I doubt he can win the elections.
euronews: Who, among the candidates today, carries the heritage of the people’s uprising of last year?
De Vasconcelos: The former Muslim Brotherhood member Aboul Foutouh may have the most probability of answering to a broader consensus. It would be very difficult in run-off voting for the Muslim Brotherhood not to support someone who came from their ranks, and then the young liberals see him as someone who is close to them. In this sense he could stand a better chance of representing a broader base.
Egyptian election frontrunners