April 18, 2012

Egypt - the kingmakers speak....

Campaign posters for the three remaining major candidates
Ahmad Shafiq  -  'Abd al-Muna'im Abu al-Fatuh  -  'Amru Musa

Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission has disqualified 10 candidates from running in the presidential election scheduled for next month. According to the rules in place, there are no further appeals for these former candidates. Three of those rejected were considered front runners: the Muslim Brotherhood's Khayrat al-Shatir, Salafist leader Hazim Abu Isma'il, and former intelligence chief and vice president 'Umar Sulayman.*

Of course, there were protests against the move, especially from the Islamists, claiming that the commission is not impartial and sympathizes with the former Mubarak government. There may be some truth to this - the commission was appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the true arbiters of power in Egypt after the removal of Husni Mubarak. On the other hand, if they were truly holdovers, they likely would not have disqualified General Sulayman.

More important are the candidates the commission did not disqualify - one of these men will almost certainly be the next president of arguably the most important country in the Arab world. Given the disqualifications, the new front runners are former Arab League chief 'Amru Musa (commonly rendered as Amr Moussa), former Muslim Brotherhood member and now moderate Islamist 'Abd al-Muna'im Abu al-Fatuh (commonly rendered as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh) and former Prime Minister and commander of the Egyptian Air Force retired Air Marshal Ahmad Muhammad Shafiq (commonly rendered as Ahmed Shafik).

A few words on each candidate.

'Amru Musa (75) is well known throughout the Middle East, having served as Secretary General of the Arab League from 2001 to 2011, and as Egypt's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1991 to 2001. Prior to that, he was the Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations, India, and Switzerland. Musa is respected in the region as well as in the West. Despite taking some unpopular positions, most Western countries, including the United States, would not object to a Musa presidency in Egypt.

'Abd al-Muna'im Abu al-Fatuh (60) is a medical doctor and described as a moderate Islamist. He is a former long-time member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but broke ties with them last year to run for president. He was imprisoned for five years for his Muslim Brotherhood association.

Ahmad Muhammad Shafiq (70) is a retired Air Marshal who commanded the Egyptian air force and then served as minister of civil aviation until last year. During the revolution in 2011, he was appointed as prime minister for a period of two months. He is regarded by many Egyptians as a holdover of the Mubarak government.

So, these are the three candidates that have been qualified by the SCAF-appointed council. A respected statesman, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a retired military officer of the Mubarak government. It would appear to me that the ruling military officers have shaped the upcoming election quite effectively. Most Egyptians are wary of anyone associated closely with the former government, while others are wary of an avowed, albeit moderate, Islamist.

That leaves 'Amru Musa. Unless something changes - and in Egypt that is not only possible but likely - Musa will be the next president of Egypt. Given the state of the situation in the country, that's probably as good as its going to get.

* I have transliterated the Arabic names according to the official U.S. government-mandated transliteration system, that used by the US-UK Board on Geographic Names.