Egypt’s Complex Presidential Politics
With Egypt’s presidential elections due to occur in little more than a month, there is tremendous agitation going on over the principal candidates for office, says Steven A. Cook, CFR’s top Egypt expert. He says the front-runner now is Khairat al-Shater, representing the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, but another contender to watch is Omar Suleiman, a top intelligence official under Mubarak, who was briefly his vice president and who may or may not have military backing. On Shater, Cook says his front-runner status comes from “the significant resources and the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood behind him.” On Suleiman, he says there is a notion that Egyptians will vote for him “because he can bring security and stability back to the country,” noting, “it is not at all clear that he can.”
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood had a delegation in Washington last week, meeting with officials and congressmen on Capitol Hill and speaking to academics and foundations. They were received warmly.
They had meetings with the State Department; they were on the Hill; they met with different groups and different think tanks; and by most accounts, they were warmly received. I don’t think that means that some folks don’t remain skeptical of the Brotherhood and its intentions, but nevertheless, this was billed by the delegation as a getting-to-know-you and building-bridges visit.
A few years ago, nobody would have met with any of those people, right?
Nobody would have met with them, and certainly they would not have come to Washington a few years ago.
There’s a presidential election that will take place on May 23-24 with a runoff in June. The deadline to enter as a candidate has just expired. What are the high points?
There has been huge interest in the presidential election, and hundreds upon hundreds of people have picked up the papers to register for the presidential election. I think that when you think about contenders for the presidency, it is down to a number of people. [One is] Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak and former Secretary-General of the Arab League. [Another is] Khairat al-Shater, essentially the number two in command of the Brotherhood, who was just nominated by the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. Al-Shater’s nomination is causing tremendous controversy in Cairo because the Brotherhood had earlier pledged not to seek the presidency.
Then there is Abdul Monem Aboul Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who has declared his intention to run for the presidency in May. He has actually quite a diverse following: Islamists, liberals, opposition politicians during the Mubarak period, and others. He was at one time ultra-conservative, but he has moved toward the center recently.
The next name that is often heard is Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the Salafist candidate. There is controversy raging over his candidacy because apparently his mother carried an American passport, indicating that she was an American citizen. He claims that she was not an American citizen, but was a green card holder. Nevertheless, he has, as the New York Times reported, been “effectively disqualified” from the race.
There is also Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under Mubarak, who stayed in that job for a short period into the transitional period. He is a former air force commander and prior to the uprising was the minister of civil aviation. And [lastly,] Mubarak’s intelligence chief and vice president (for ten days), Omar Suleiman, has announced that he is getting in the race. There are others, but these are the names that are now being bandied about.