Candidates promise economic miracles and restored stability, ignore Israel, in run-up to Egypt’s elections
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Candidates promise economic miracles and restored stability, ignore Israel, in run-up to Egypt’s elections

Days ahead of presidential vote, a choice between the risky unknown and the overly familiar

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

An Egyptian woman walks past defaced posters of Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq in Cairo (photo credit: AP Photo/Manu Brabo)
An Egyptian woman walks past defaced posters of Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq in Cairo (photo credit: AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

When Egyptians head to the polls on May 23 to elect their president in the country’s first free elections, they will be facing a tough choice: make a clean break with the past — with the grave risks that may entail — or stick with the familiar, admitting the shortcomings of the January 25 revolution.

There are many to reasons to be skeptical about Egypt’s new political era. And the polished images of competing presidential candidates lining the billboards of Cairo, vying for the public vote, add further fuel.

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Mursi (photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

The three leading candidates to succeed the ousted Hosni Mubarak — Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh and Muhammad Mursi (who represent the promise and the risk of a clean break), and frontrunner Amr Moussa (the Mubarak-era foreign minister who represents the familiar choice) — have done everything to blur the lines between liberal and conservative, capitalist and socialist, secular and religious.

What are the candidates talking about, in this promise-filled, populist campaign? The economy is clearly the first concern. With the Egyptian stock market in free-fall and 50% of Egyptians living under the poverty line (according to Amr Moussa), all candidates are promising to alleviate the country’s financial woes in their first 100 days in office.

Ex-Arab League chief Moussa promises to decrease the country’s poverty rate by 40% by the middle of 2013, while hardliner Abu-Fattouh says Egypt will become one of the top 20 economies in the world within 10 years of his tenure.

Egyptians’ personal sense of security is also a major factor in the campaign. All candidates promise to reconstruct Egypt’s security apparatuses and re-instill a sense of public safety lost in the revolution and the security chaos that ensued. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mursi details the rebuilding of Egypt’s police force, discredited and dismantled in the early days of the revolution. Abu-Fatthouh promises to “impose the respect of law and order and achieve internal security within 100 days.”

Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, Moussa promises to uphold Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel

The obsessive focus on Israel seems to have abated somewhat. The Muslim Brotherhood completely ignores it in the detailed chapter on foreign policy in its political program. Moussa, who daringly refused to dub Israel “an enemy state” in his televised debate with Abu-Fattouh (who did use that term), nevertheless promises to be tougher on Israel and to condition relations on Israel’s advancement in the peace process with the Palestinians “step by step and commitment by commitment.” Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, Moussa promises to uphold Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel.

Abu-Fattouh, who says his top priority is the military and economic strength of Egypt, promises to render the army “the strongest in the region” and reduce Egypt’s reliance on American weaponry through the development of a local arms industry.

Recognizing that the presidential candidates are much older than the revolutionaries who enabled them to run, Abu-Fattouh promises to nominate a vice-president younger than 45 and grant 50% of high-ranking government positions to representatives of the younger generation.

Muhammad Mursi said that women and Copts could fill any leadership position in Egypt, reassuring a doubtful public which often suspects his Islamic party of misogyny and religious coercion

On the ground, the election carnival is at its peak.

Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters lined the thoroughfares of Egypt’s main cities Thursday carrying signs championing their candidate Mursi in what they dubbed the world’s longest “human chain.”

Local embassies began tallying 224,000 votes of Egyptians living abroad as the political campaign back home heated up. Results were being announced country by country as the counting ended.

Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon Muhammad Tawfiq told the news website Al-Youm A-Sabi Thursday night that 365 Egyptians voted in Lebanon, with Moussa emerging first with 119 votes, followed by Abu-Fattouh.

Germany’s 1,615 valid Egyptian votes gave Abu-Fattouh a clear majority with 647 votes and Amr Moussa coming in fifth with only 177 votes, the Wafd Party daily reported.

Amr Moussa: ‘Women in my tenure will achieve what they have never achieved before; no position will be beyond their reach.’

Mouna, an Egyptian student who voted in her country’s embassy in London, said the absentee voting procedure was extremely strict.

“I have no doubt about the professionalism at the embassies,” she told The Times of Israel. “What happens later is another matter.”

A poll published May 14 by the prestigious Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies puts Amr Moussa first with 40% of the votes, followed by Ahmad Shafiq with 19.9%.

But Mouna says she does not trust any poll coming from Egypt, arguing that the sample group surveyed is often too small.

Presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh in a televised debate May 11 (photo credit: AP Photo/Mahmoud Khaled)
Presidential candidates Amr Moussa and Abd Al-Munim Abu-Fattouh in a televised debate May 11 (photo credit: AP Photo/Mahmoud Khaled)

Cutting edge technology has been put to use by the presidential candidates. Amr Moussa created a personal twitter account months ago, adding a new presidential campaign account to convey short and catchy propaganda slogans to his electorate.

“Women in my tenure will achieve what they have never achieved before; no position will be beyond their reach,” Amr Moussa tweeted on May 15. To receive immediate updates on the campaign of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mursi, all you need to do is send a text message with the words “Dr Morsy2012.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is working hard to portray itself as a moderate, progressive alternative. In an interview with the TV program “90 minutes” Tuesday, Muhammad Mursi said that women and Copts could fill any leadership position in Egypt, reassuring a doubtful public that often suspects his Islamic party of misogyny and religious coercion. Mursi said that references to the implementation of Sharia law in his party’s platform meant “the establishment of a modern state with Islamic principles, and the people controlling powers of government.”

Mursi’s election video clip, titled “Dream,” features young children in light summer clothes running through a grassy park, the girls in short skirts, the boys in fashionable T-shirts.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2hXZH2X6MME&feature=player_embedded

“We used to fear tomorrow, but now tomorrow is closer,” runs the chorus.

Mouna, the Egyptian student, is cautiously upbeat about the outcome of the elections. “As long as people are aware of their rights, I am optimistic. And I am certain that now they are.”

 

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