The circus otherwise known as the presidential elections in Egypt is making an anarchist of me. There isn’t a single candidate I find either qualified or deserving to lead revolutionary Egypt, and I don’t believe the elections will be free or fair – how can they be, under a military junta that has run Egypt since 18 days of revolution forced Hosni Mubarak to step down on 11 February 2011?
Concerned with guaranteeing itself immunity from trial for crimes against the people and protecting its legendary budget from civilian oversight when it hands over power after next month’s presidential elections, the junta – according to which conspiracy you believe – is machiavellian in its evil-genius ability to manipulate the public into voting for its preferred candidate, or as confused as everyone else.
It has certainly been helped by the Islamists’ endless missteps. Again, according to which conspiracy you favour, those same Islamists – be they Muslim Brotherhood or ultra-conservative Salafis – are either in cahoots with the junta in an attempt to guarantee their own slice of power, or as hapless as the rest of us trying to end military rule.
From where I stand, it’s not just a slice but a desire to swallow the cake whole that has hamstrung the Islamists – who control 70% of parliament – and highlighted how Mubarak and his predecessors gutted Egyptian politics.
Ever since the military coup in 1952 to end the monarchy and British occupation, the army has arrested just about every kind of development. So it’s really not unsurprising that we’re left to ask, a little over a month before we’re supposed to choose Mubarak’s alternative: who is the best of the worst? For a few fevered weeks it was “who is the least scary?” until the election commission disqualified 10 candidates, three of whom in particular elicited various fears.
One – the Muslim Brotherhood’s powerful financier, Khairat al-Shater – was disqualified for his money laundering and terrorism conviction in what was undoubtedly a politically motivated trial under Mubarak. Anticipating this, the Muslim Brotherhood also fielded Mohamed Morsi, the head of its Freedom and Justice party.
It was a sign of how politically deaf it has become to external criticism. Regardless of how Morsi fares in the polls, the fact remains that by fielding a presidential candidate, despite months of vowing it would not, the movement’s divisions are not limited to just the youth – who broke with their leadership to join the protests of 25 January 2011, while the movement took its time to join the revolution – but to the higher echelon.
Politics is dirty and the Muslim Brotherhood – and Egypt – is learning that there’s a big difference between being a movement that can wrap itself in the flag of Islam, and a party that has delivered on none of the concerns that its voters put it in parliament to fix: jobs, the economy and security. Shater was said to command the support of a little over 3% of undecided voters.
A second disqualified candidate – the Salafist Hazem Abu Ismail – embodied the hypocrisy and the troubling role of Salafis in Egyptian politics today. They believed the democratic process was a sin and wanted nothing to do with a revolution they now claim they want to defend, no doubt because it’s given them 25% of parliamentary seats. Abu Ismail reportedly spent millions on campaigning and yet somehow forgot that his mother had become a US citizen before she died, thereby rendering him unqualified to run due to a xenophobic rule that Salafists themselves supported that bars foreign nationals and their relatives from positions of political power. He had the support of 12% of undecided voters.
Enter Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s spy chief and a man with a background that would scare anyone, and yet was considered by more than 20% of undecided voters the “saviour” from those who would take Egypt back centuries.
The fact that decent people were ready to vote for a man of the Mubarak era – someone who reportedly oversaw torture for the US as part of the rendition programme by which terrorism suspects were flown to Egypt for “interrogation” – speaks volumes of the paucity of presidential candidates and how fear continues to fuel our politics.
Some say the military junta pushed him to run to garner the “scared Egyptians” vote; some say they pushed him to run knowing he would be disqualified so that the scared Egyptian vote would go for Amr Moussa, Mubarak’s foreign minister; some say … you get the idea: no one knows what’s going on.
Now that the rollercoaster has dipped many are surveying the scene, and the strongest candidates are a former regime man (Amr Moussa, also ex-head of that club of dictators otherwise known as the Arab League), and a former Muslim Brotherhood man (Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, who was kicked out of the movement back in the day when it still maintained that it wouldn’t contest the presidency).
I look at this “choice” and hear the tortured justifications made in their favour and they sound awfully similar: hollow.
The whole point of overthrowing Mubarak was that we had ended fear. The revolution continues, not just to end military rule but to provide alternatives to the best of the worst. We still have a way to go.
Mona Eltahawy is a writer and lecturer on Arab issues.