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Egypt: Pity the Winner


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egypt-pity-winner-elliott-abramsNational Review:

Egypt’s presidential race is now down from 23 declared candidates to just a handful of real competitors. On April 14, the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission disqualified ten candidates, including Omar Suleiman, who had been President Hosni Mubarak’s intelligence-service chief; Khairat El-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate; Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the Salafi leader; and Ayman Nour, the man who had run against Mubarak in 2005.

This leaves Amre Moussa, the former Mubarak foreign minister and head of the Arab League; the Brotherhood’s substitute candidate, Mohammed Mursi; and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the former Brotherhood leader now running as a sort of “centrist Islamist.” The field may change again, for a newly adopted statute would also bar Ahmed Shafik, former head of the air force and briefly prime minister as Mubarak was collapsing, but the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces has yet to approve this new statute. The election will be held on April 23 and 24, with a run-off in June if no one gets 50 percent.

The rules governing this contest might strike a foreigner as bizarre. Shafik, for example, left the Air Force in 2002 and served as prime minister for only four weeks. He was Mubarak’s minister of civil aviation for nine years — but Amre Moussa served as Mubarak’s foreign minister for ten years (not to mention that, as head of the Arab League for ten years, selected by Egypt, he was not exactly in rebellion against Mubarak). A law that says Shafik is irreparably tarred by association with Mubarak while Moussa is a model of democratic probity is ridiculous.

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It is too soon to judge who may win. Fotouh declared for president against the wishes of the Brotherhood, which promptly expelled him — because it had decided not to run anyone for the presidency. Then it changed its mind and put up Shater, until he was sidelined, leading to the nomination of Mursi. Fotouh didn’t get the nod because he had broken party discipline. But Mursi is by all accounts boring and lacking in charisma, and he may prove a weak candidate; Brotherhood voters may well split now between the two. Salafi voters, deprived of Abu Ismail, may stay home, vote for Mursi, or go to the streets. Voters who wanted Omar Suleiman may vote for Shafik, if he is allowed to run, or Moussa, who is at least secular rather than Islamist (which is why he will, according to polls, get most of the Coptic vote). But what, actually, does Moussa stand for? The interests of Amre Moussa. He will use any convenient rhetorical tactic — such as attacks on Israel — that may gain him popularity.Scissors-32x32.png

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