Will Egyptian President Be an Islamist, a Leftist, Or the “Devil You Know”?

By Shahira Amin* – Cairo

Fifteen months after Hosni Mubarak ’s ouster, this week Egyptians headed to the ballot box to choose a new President in the country’s first multi-candidate Presidential election. Unlike previous polls when election results had invariably been foregone conclusions, the outcome of this historic vote is uncertain with analysts and voters unable to speculate who the likely winner may be.

**Hamdeen Sabahi. Photo credit: Hend.zeiada 

Braving soaring temperatures, voters  lined up in orderly queues at polling stations across the country on Wednesday 23 May  (the first day of the vote) displaying passion and a rare patience to put up with the bureaucracy and the long wait.

“I’ve been waiting three hours in line but will wait no matter how long it takes,” said 32 year- old housewife Walaa Dweedar, one of the scores of women waiting outside the Thanaweya Girls School in the upper class residential neighborhood of Maadi. “We’ve never had a chance to freely choose our President. In the past, the authorities had always fixed the results beforehand.”

She said she planned to vote for Hamdeen Sabahi, the left leaning social activist who’s fast becoming the “revolutionary” choice of many voters seeking change. Sabahi’s popularity has surged recently thanks to his campaign promise to bridge the vast gap between the country’s rich and poor. 

“The Spare Candidate”?

Standing behind Walaa in the lengthy all-women queue was 33-year-old Injy Hamdy, another housewife who eagerly  told Index she was keen to vote “to diminish the chances of an Islamist contender”.

Security and stability are high priority demands for many voters worn out after months of chaos, street violence and  a surge in crime rates .

Standing a few meters away was a woman in a full face veil who introduced herself as “Om Ahmed”. Her choice was vastly different from that of the other two  women who were both younger and were clad in Western-style jeans and T-shirts. She said she would vote for Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential nominee.

“I want a President who is honest and who is worthy of our trust. Morsi will implement Islamic Sharia law” she explained.

Morsi is the more conservative of  two Islamist Presidential hopefuls taking part in the race. He was nominated by the  Muslim Brotherhood after the group’s original nominee Khairat el Shatter was disqualified from the race by the National Electoral Commission because of  his “criminal record.”

Morsi’s last minute nomination has earned him the nickname of  “the  back-up” or “spare candidate”.

Addressing Cairo University students in a recent election campaign speech he stated that “the Koran is our constitution, Jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal.”

“Martyrs of the Revolution , We Shall Not Forget Your Sacrifices”

Mohamed Yehia, a 21 year-old graduate of the Faculty of Agriculture at Cairo University paraded back and forth between the gender segregated lines carrying a placard that read “Martyrs of the Revolution , we shall not forget your sacrifices”.  Another young man raised a poster depicting some of those killed by security forces during the January 2011 mass uprising.

Yehia said he and his friend  were hoping to remind voters that it was because of the spilt blood and the sacrifices made by the brave young people who confronted Mubarak’s brutal security forces, that Egyptians were  now able  to freely choose their President.

Yehia said he would vote for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fottouh who has been described as a “liberal Islamist”. One of the  front runners in the election, Aboul Fottouh’s moderate policies have earned him the support of liberals, ultra-conservative Salafis and Egyptians of  starkly different ideologies .

The “Broken Promises” of the Islamist Candidates

In the populous low income district of Boulak where voter turnout was low, there was clear rejection of  the Islamist candidates owing to what one voter described as “their broken promises.”

“There has been little change since they came to parliament. They’ve been concentrating on trivial issues and have not dealt with the important issues like security and the economy,” complained Nasser el Leithy, a trader in a workshop selling car parts.

“Better the Devil You Know”?

“The revolution had no leader and so we have been left with the old regime remnants or felool and the Islamists. I’m voting for Ahmed Shafeek… better the devil you know,” he said shrugging his shoulders.

A former Air Force commander, Shafeek  is one of the Presidential candidates and a former Prime Minister under Mubarak .

“The country has stalled since the revolution. All we want is for things to starting moving again so that we can get on with our lives. And we don’t care who gets it moving. All we want is to be able to feed our children,” said Tamer Yehia, a mechanic.

Hence the strong showing by former regime figures who are seen by many in this deprived neighborhood as officials  with experience in government.

But not everyone sees Shafeek as a force for stability  as was evident when some protesters threw stones and shoes at the presidential candidate minutes after he cast his ballot, taking aim at him for “being a felool” an expression used by Egyptians to describe those who served under deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.

“Down with Military Rule!”

“Down with military rule! Down with the old regime,” they chanted. “The blood of the martyrs is on your hands.”

With election results expected on the 29 May and a second round anticipated in mid June the country is polarised and skeptics doubt that the appointment of a new President will bring stability anytime soon. They worry that the choice of the new President may in fact deepen the divisions between the secularists and the Islamists and further fuel the already heightened tensions.

*Shahira Amin is a well know Egyptian journalist and analyst. Currently she is Senior Anchor/Correspondent, Nile TV, and CNN contributor. Amin resigned from NileTV in an open protest against the biased, pro-regime coverage of the Egyptian revolution, which she actively joined in Tahrir Square. Shahira Amin is known for her unwavering defence of freedom, democracy, social justice and gender equality. Her article was first published by UNCUT Index on censorship. Go to Original

**Hamdeen Sabahi, leader of the Nasserist Dignity Party. Picture credit: Hend.zeiada | Wikimedia Commons

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