Christophe de Roquefeuil, AFP
Last updated: 18 April, 2012

Egypt vote boils down to consensus candidates

The elimination of three controversial candidates from Egypt’s first post-revolt presidential election boosts secular and moderate Islamists who are likely to calm a political storm, analysts say.

The electoral commission confirmed Tuesday the disqualification of 10 of the 23 registered candidates, including former spy chief Omar Suleiman, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat al-Shater, and Salafist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail.

“It’s a very important decision because it eliminates the most controversial candidates,” said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, professor of political science at Cairo University.

“Suleiman’s candidacy clashed with the revolutionary opposition and with the Islamists, while Shater disturbed the left and a part of the popular electorate,” he told AFP.

And despite the fervent enthusiasm of Abu Ismail’s supporters, the Salafist politician was a source of concern for many, Sayyed said.

A weekend poll published by the state-owned daily Al-Ahram showed the eliminations would push forward less divisive figures such as ex-Arab League chief Amr Mussa and former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh.

Mussa, a foreign minister under Mubarak for 10 years, has been keen to show his understanding of the reasons behind the Arab Spring revolts. A secularist, he also knows how to highlight his Muslim identity.

According to Al-Ahram, Mussa would gain a large portion of the votes which would have gone to Suleiman, and he could also gain some Islamist support due to his past political statements critical of Israel.

The former Brotherhood member Abul Fotouh, who was expelled from the movement last year, would benefit from Shater and Abu Ismail’s disqualifications.

Seen as a moderate Islamist, Abul Fotouh has the support of many young members of the Muslim Brotherhood who object to the movement’s conservative attitude.

He is also well seen by a large part of the youth who participated in last year’s uprising that toppled longtime president Hosni Mubarak.

The large cull of candidates could also benefit Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force general who served as Mubarak’s last prime minister.

He is considered capable of calming tensions between the street and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces which took power when Mubarak was ousted.

However a law yet to be approved by the ruling military which bars Mubarak-era officials from running, could put him out of the race too. The law, which does not apply to former presidents and prime ministers, would not affect Mussa.

The Muslim Brotherhood had fielded a backup candidate, the head of their Freedom and Justice Party, Mohammed Mursi, in anticipation of Shater’s disqualification.

He could clinch some of the Islamist vote, but his perceived lack of charisma may block the chances of a surge.

The registration process for the May 23-24 election has been drama-filled with a roller coaster of legal challenges and appeals to candidacies, and analysts say the next phase could yield even more surprises.

“The electoral map is still not that clear,” said Tewfik Aclimandos, political analyst at the Paris I University.

“Much depends on the instructions of the Salafists,” who control 20 percent of parliament, after their candidate, Abu Ismail, was barred from the election, said Aclimandos.

“The question is whether the Abu Ismail supporters will sow chaos” or support another candidate, he said.

Abu Ismail supporters have stage a sit-in outside the electoral commission’s headquarters in a Cairo suburb in protest over his disqualification.