Egypt searches for a President

As Egypt embarks down the road of electing a new President, Egyptians are going to have to go to the polls again. But, this time they won’t be voting for someone to represent their district in Parliament, they will be voting for their new President.

Let me be clear about the context here: I have never met an Egyptian who voted for anything until the post-revolution parliamentary vote. But, voting for a Parliamentarian is one thing, voting for your new President is something else entirely. To me the whole thing seems rather daunting.

Life in Egypt used to be so much easier: you had one person running for President. While we knew there were others running against our now defunct President, you were never really told who they were. And, when a few of them made their candidacy known, jail or a trumped-up charge usually followed.

For 30 years, the process of Presidential elections revolved around one nominee who got 99 percent of the vote. Yet, I never met anyone in Egypt who actually voted; no one I know of even tried to register to vote. But, that’s why it was so simple. It was like your Mom making dinner when you got home from school. You got what you got. There were no choices, and if you complained it would be straight up to your room with no dessert. Sometimes not having choices is, in many ways, a lot easier than having to choose among options. It requires less brain power after all, and if what or who was selected for you turns out to be a dud, well, you are void of responsibility because someone made the decision for you.

No such luck this time, because Egyptians will have to choose a President from several hundred potential nominees. However, many prominent Egyptians have now pulled out of the fray, among them a candidate that once seemed to hold such promise. He fell under vehement attack in the press, was called a traitor in Parliament and for good measure a picture of his daughter wearing a bikini appeared in the local media under a caption that read “And, this would be your President?” This was followed by a picture of this candidate having dinner with a group of people with alcohol prominently on display on the dining room table. The campaign unending and it was a kind of US-type “family values” attack strategy. Eventually, this presidential hopeful had enough and withdrew from the running. You can’t blame him, I guess.

So, who’s left in the field of prominent Presidential hopefuls? Two candidates in the fray were Cabinet Ministers in the defunct President’s regime. One was his foreign minister, the other his minister of civil aviation. The former now launches fierce attacks against his previous benefactor and his children. The latter does no such thing, and is a fierce supporter of the transitional military governing body.

Another candidate is strongly affiliated with the Moslem Brotherhood (MB). The MB said it would not field a candidate for President. This nominee now says he is running as an independent and has severed his roots with his previous party. He was campaigning in a governorate a few weeks ago and on his drive back to Cairo, two vehicles forced his car off the road. The perpetrators, all wearing masks, pulled the candidate out of the car beat him on the head with their rifle butts three times, stole his car, and left him on the side of the road. He has since recovered and rumors abound about the identity of the perpetrators. Guess it’s still not safe to run for President in Egypt.

Beyond this field, there are hundreds of other less known names. Some university professors, some radical islamists, and yes a few women. There don’t seem to be any rules as to who can qualify to run given the constitutional ambiguity. Heck, I can run for President if I want to. And, that would be cool. Sure, I might get only 4 votes, the totality of my siblings, but I will be forever known as a presidential candidate. No doubt, many others have hit on this idea before I did.

So, if, after much reflection I choose not to run for President myself, who will I vote for? Everyone I know is pondering the same question. Most think that a more viable Presidential candidate will appear at the last moment. A kind of Romney, Santorum, Gingrich dilemma leading everyone to ask – “Is that all you’ve got?” But, at least in the US, Americans can choose to stay with Obama. What about us in Egypt?

Well, there’s an answer for that too that relates to the now one-year -old trial of former President Mubarak. His lawyer now asserts that his trial has no legal standing because his resignation was unconstitutional. Accordingly, President Mubarak isn’t our former President, he is our current President and the only way he can be tried is to be impeached by Parliament. If he’s right, maybe Egyptians actually don’t have a choice and we can go back to having things as easy as they were before the revolution. And, yes some Egyptians are already longing for the way things used to be, given Egypt’s failing security situation. Likely these are people who don’t like choices, especially when the choices you have all seem to be so uninspiring.

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© Khaled F. Sherif, 2020

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