Currently the largest block in the Egyptian Parliament that emerged from the smoldering ruins of the Mubarak regime is the Muslim Brotherhood, closely followed by the Al-Nour (Salafi) block. Between the two Islamist factions, they control 70 % of the Egyptian Parliament. Their success in the Legislative elections was driven on the one hand by the reaction to the Mubarak regime, and on the other by the disappointment of many Egyptians with the western model of democracy.
In the upcoming Presidential elections there will be nine candidates. According to the most recent polls conducted in April, it would be extremely difficult to predict a winner. The reason for this difficulty is that each poll was conducted by a different newspaper and the results of each of them is widely different. The two main papers running polls are Al-Ahram (Egyptian government controlled newspaper) and Al-Masri Al Youm (An independent private paper with Islamist leanings)
Nevertheless, according to these polls, two candidates – Amr Moussa and Abu Ismail- appear to be leading the pack; with “undecided” being the third leading category of responses. Al-Ahram consistently presents Amr Moussa as the leading candidate, but the highest support Amr Moussa shows in those polls is 41 %. Al-Masri Al-Youm on the other hand, has shown Amr Moussa consistently at less than 20% with more than 50% of the electorate undecided. So who are these people?
Amr Moussa is a career politician with ties to the Mubarak regime who headed the Arab league between 2001 and 2011. In 2006 he took a stand in support of Hamas criticizing the West for not recognizing the results of the Palestinian legislative elections. His popularity with the electorate is closely connected with his harsh criticism of Israeli policies regarding Gaza and his advocacy for opening the Gaza-Egypt border. In a recent interview he stated that “The Camp David Accords are dead”; when asked to clarify he said that the Accords included a provision for Palestinian self-rule that was never implemented, blaming Israel for the failure of the Accords. He insisted, nevertheless, that the Accords are separate from the Peace agreement with Israel which he is willing to uphold.
Hazem Salah Abu Ismail was a Salafist ultra Conservative figure disqualified by the Egyptian Court on April 14th due to the fact that his mother was American. According to Egyptian law, neither the candidate nor his parents can hold any citizenship other than Egyptian. His disqualification boosted the prospects of other Islamist candidates and prompted negotiations about consolidating lists among Al-Naour and Muslim Brotherhood candidates. Much of the unrest Egypt is witnessing right now is directly related to this contest among Islamist groups to position themselves to capture Abu Ismail's followers. Before being disqualified, Abu Ismail clearly rejected any compromise or conciliation between Shar'ia and personal freedoms and announced as part of his campaign that wearing the veil would become mandatory. He called for the arrest of tourists wearing two-piece (western) suits and the closing of casinos and gambling houses.
Amr Moussa has been hailed by the American administration as a moderate, and in the context of the field of candidates currently in the run he is certainly a moderate. It is, however, a sad day when a candidate is considered a moderate because he doesn't advocate killing you.
Egypt is undergoing a revolutionary transformation after several decades of dictatorship. The regimes of Sadat and Mubarak allowed the West to bring Egypt on board as an ally, and as a result everything connected with the West is associated in the mind of the common Egyptian with Mubarak and his hated regime. As a consequence, there is a direct correlation between anti Western rhetoric and popularity with the Egyptian electorate. How much of that rhetoric will translate into effectively anti western policies in years to come is in some cases unclear, but obvious in others. While in the case of Amr Moussa the West can expect a friendlier regime, any move by Moussa to create closer links with the west would backfire at home. On the other hand, any Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood candidate can be expected to follow through in their anti western positions if they win the Presidency.
This elections are taking place against the backdrop of internal turmoil and violence with a significant portion of the Egyptian electorate still undecided, and each military repression of demonstrators is likely to boost the chances of the Islamist candidates at the expense of Amr Moussa. A candidate elected under these circumstances is likely to have a weak hold on power and be highly dependent on legislative support; a Legislature which is dominated by the Brotherhood and Al-Nour.
Israel and the US might need to come to terms with the fact that they will have to deal in the near future with a less than friendly regime in Cairo...
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