Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Disqualifications Roil Egyptian Election

by Rick Moran

The three major candidates running in Egypt’s first presidential election since the revolution have all been disqualified by the country’s election commission on Tuesday. The decision has made an already confusing situation impossible to predict as none of the barred candidates have conceded their ouster and the possibility of violence by their followers threatens the stability of the country and the integrity of the vote.

The ousted candidates include former Mubarak vice president and head of intelligence Omar Suleiman; Muslim Brotherhood party official Khairat al-Shater; and the radical Salfis TV preacher Hazem Salah Aboul Ismail. The Muslim Brotherhood, in anticipation that al-Shater might be barred from running, is fielding a second candidate, Mohammed Morsi. He is not as well known as al-Shater and this has dimmed prospects for an Islamist victory.

The disqualifications add to the confusion and uncertainty surrounding the election as the military hinted it might delay the presidential contest until a constitution is written. The Supreme Court suspended the panel that was chosen by parliament to write the document, citing its lack of diversity (70% of the members were Islamists). A delay would almost certainly cause the Egyptian street to explode in anger at the military rulers, of whom many Egyptians are already suspicious.

The likely beneficiary of the disqualifications is former Arab League chief and a Mubarak-era foreign minister Amr Moussa. He leads in the most recent poll taken at the beginning of this month. Another candidate who will gain from the disqualifications is a former Muslim Brotherhood member Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh who left the organization after clashing with the leadership. That same poll also showed that 40% of Egyptians were undecided on who to support, reflecting a national mood of uncertainty.

All told, 10 of the 23 presidential candidates were disqualified by the commission — a body filled with judges who are holdovers from the Mubarak regime. Their decision is supposed to be final but the three major candidates have all indicated that they will seek an appeal of the commission’s ruling.

Suleiman was barred for not having the requisite number of endorsements from each governorate. Al-Shater was disqualified because of a conviction during the Mubarak regime. And Abu Ismail was barred from running because his mother held an American passport. Suleiman had no chance for a reprieve given the technical nature of the violation that is keeping him off the ballot. The same could be said for Ismail, although his supporters, who threw rocks and scuffled with police in front of the election commission headquarters following the announcement, violently disagreed.

The case of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party candidate al-Shater was believed by some analysts to be different. His conviction of a crime occurred at a time when the Mubarak regime was rounding up Muslim Brotherhood members and creating non-existent charges to put them in jail. But the election commission ruled a conviction is a conviction and al-Shater was barred.

“We do not accept it. We will challenge it,” said Gehad El-Haddad, a member of the steering committee for the Renaissance Project, the hub of the FJP presidential effort.

Both the FJP and the Salifis believed the military was continuing policies of the Mubarak regime by targeting the Islamist candidates. Al-Shater was especially outspoken, saying, “If any party whether (the ruling military) or the election commission or security agencies imagine that using Mubarak’s old ways will lead to our defeat or stop us, it is a dream that will not be realized.” He added, “We will not allow the revolution to be stolen from us.”

Abu Ismail accused the commission of falsifying the evidence against him. “We are exposed to a conspiracy by parties that you cannot imagine. What is happening inside the committee is treachery to create divisions,” he said. He challenged the commission to present the evidence against him – evidence supplied by the US State Department who turned over the information after it was requested by the Egyptian government.

The volatility of the national mood would be tested severely if the military were to delay the presidential vote. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which holds executive power, have made a decision that the presidential elections will only take place after the new document is written. This reflects the widespread belief among the more secular and moderate elements in Egyptian society that no president should take power under the old constitution, which grants broad and dangerous powers to the chief executive. The practical effect of this decision is a delay in the vote, given the unlikely event that a panel to write the document can be empowered and the constitution completed before the first round of voting in late May.

The US is urging that the election should go forward anyway. State Department spokesman Mark Toner told a press briefing, “Our concern is that we want to see a fair and transparent process moving forward and a successful election and handover of power to a civilian government along the time frame that the (military council) has already laid out.”

But the military fears an Islamist president would strip them of power, expropriate the businesses that enrich current and former officers, and reduce their imprint on Egyptian society. They want a constitution that would leave them as they are now — the dominant force in the life of the country. Whether that’s possible, given the fierce opposition of the Egyptian street, is one reason drawing up the new constitution will take more than the few weeks remaining before the presidential vote.

The disqualifications have fueled these suspicions and that SCAF will influence the writing of the constitution to make sure they maintain their perks in the economic and social spheres. And while the Islamists reluctantly agree that a new constitution should be in place before the election is held, their revolutionary supporters will not sit still for a delay. Egypt’s youth have made it clear that a delay will be seen as a betrayal, which means there would be an effort to recreate the kinds of street protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak. Even the Islamists might feel compelled to join the protests if that were to occur.

A protest by supporters of all three ousted candidates is scheduled for Friday after prayers, which almost guarantees a huge turnout. The situation in the street will only add to the feelings of uncertainty and confusion that have now plunged the country into another crisis.

Rick Moran


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