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Anticipation builds ahead of historic presidential poll

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2012-05-23

As voters head to the polls Wednesday in Egypt's first-ever competitive election for president, the country is emerging from a "campaign silence". The race is looking as unpredictable as it is historic.

As voters head to the polls for Egypt’s first-ever competitive presidential elections on Wednesday, the country is emerging from an “electoral silence”. During the 48 hours leading up to the historic vote, candidates were banned from any and all campaigning.

Despite the campaign silence, the streets of the capital Cairo are bustling with talk of the ballot. Egyptians have endured decades of pre-determined results, but this historic vote is wide open hence the tangible excitement across the country.

Out of Egypt’s population of 82 million people, 50 million are eligible to vote. The first round of the elections, which will take place over two days on May 23 and 24, come amid ongoing tensions over the country’s political future after former president Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, following 30 years in power. Despite the enthusiasm for the vote, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Cairo, Gallagher Fenwick, also described a certain level of anxiety due to some of the candidates’ divisive politics.

Apprehensions about the vote emerged early on after the election committee declared that 10 candidates were ineligible to run. There are now 12 names in the race representing parties from across the political spectrum.

Although opinion polls in the country have been generally deemed unreliable, four candidates have emerged as potential front-runners. Among them are liberal former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who is largely seen as a vestige of the Mubarak-era because of his role as foreign affairs minister under the fallen leader; and Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a one-time member of the influential Islamist Muslim Brotherhood who has striven to rebrand himself as a leader who can unite Islamists and liberals.

The other two potential favourites on the ballot include Ahmed Shafik, who once served as a senior commander in the Egyptian Air Force, and Mohamed Mursi, who came late to the race as the Muslim Brotherhood’s reserve candidate after their first choice was disqualified.

Broken promises

Egypt's Islamists divided but hopeful
A key player in Egypt’s political arena, the Muslim Brotherhood has come under criticism for its conduct in the run-up to the poll. Months ago, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – which has strong ties to the movement - announced it had no intention of putting forward a candidate for the presidency, after sweeping up the largest number of seats in the country’s January legislative elections.

The party later backed Mursi as its candidate, saying it had it reversed its stance because of the number of former Mubarak supporters running in the race. The decision was criticised by some as hypocritical.

“The Muslim Brotherhood has been in parliament since the end of January and has yet to achieve anything significant. Their behaviour could be characterised as rather immature”, Karim Chazli, president of the organisation Egyptian Students in France, told FRANCE 24.

“For example, they refused to pass legislation prohibiting members of the former regime from high level government positions. They’re more reformists than revolutionaries”, Chazli added.

Chazli’s comments echo frustrations felt by many in Egypt’s ongoing protest movement, which has held a number of mass demonstrations against the country’s military rulers and feels that the uprising that ousted Mubarak hasn’t gone far enough.

“Egypt will be able to begin transitioning once there is a pro-revolution candidate as head of state”, Chazli said before admitting that “the views held by those protesting at Tahrir Square don’t necessarily reflect the general public opinion in Egypt”.

An unpredictable race

With opinion polls proving to be an unreliable source of information, it is hard to clearly gauge how voters intend to cast their ballot, if at all. While some may be undecided, others seem to regard the pool of candidates with a certain level of mistrust.

“Several of the candidates, particularly Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh and Ahmed Shafik, can appear a bit shady”, Chazli said. “Voters don’t really have a clear picture of who they are”.

According to Chazli, lack of trust and indecision contribute to the race’s unpredictability. “Up until recently, Egyptians haven’t really been politically active – they never had to choose a position, whether it was left or right. The way people intend to vote could very well change at the last minute”, Chazli said.

While the vote count is scheduled to be completed two days after the polls close, the official results will not be released until May 29, at which point the country will discover if there is an outright winner or whether there will have to be a second round of elections in mid-June.


Date created : 2012-05-22


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