Sunday, April 10, 2011

Who Will Be Egypt's Next President? Find Out Here Five Months Ahead of Time

Note: This is a reprint of my column in the Jerusalem Post. But I combined two articles to fit the length requirement there. I am now presenting them separately here for your convenience. 

By Barry Rubin

There are twenty candidates running for Egypt’s presidency. Most are not serious candidates but can split the vote for various blocs. I think the winner will be the radical nationalist Amr Moussa, which isn’t great but is better than an Islamist regime.

Moussa, former Egyptian foreign minister and then secretary-general of the Arab League, has lots of advantages. He has more name recognition by far than any opponent. As a veteran of the old regime he has the votes of Mubarak supporters. As a radical nationalist, Moussa appeals to many Egyptians. He is not an Islamist in any way, which will appeal to the majority of Egyptians who don’t want the Muslim Brotherhood to rule. And he knows how to be a demagogue. I’ve written more about him here.

The twenty candidates include two women, a Christian, two retired generals, and a couple of journalists. But there are no Islamists, or at least no Muslim Brotherhood representatives, among them. The Brotherhood won’t run a candidate and will have to decide who to vote for.

Now, here’s what I want to tell you. There is only one other candidate from the old establishment so that vote—perhaps one-quarter of the electorate?—will go to Moussa.

But, there are five leftists and six liberals who will split those two blocs to smithereens, if I can coin a phrase. The leftist bloc is relatively small but the following are all running:

Abdallah al-Ash'al, pan-Arab nationalist.

Hamadein Sabahi, Al-Karama (Dignity) party.

Hussein Abd al-Razeq, neo-Communist Al-Taggam'u Party.

Magdi Hussein, Al-'Amal Party

Sameh 'Ashour, Nasserist Party.

Incidentally, several of these people—notably al-Ash’al and Hussein, get along very nicely with the Brotherhood. How can Marxists, radical nationalists, and Islamists all work together? Well, that’s Egyptian politics.

Yet that’s not the key problem. Remember those young pro-democratic Facebook liberals who supposedly were going to rule Egypt? Well, they are all running against each other, splitting an already small voting bloc into a microscopic one. The six rivals are:

Mohamed ElBaradei, who is more popular and better-known by far with Western journalists than with Egyptians.

Hisham Al-Bastawisi, a judge who was one of the first to come out against Mubarak.

Ayman Nour, al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party, who ran against Mubarak in the previous election and spent four years in prison.

Midhat Khafaji, deputy head of the al-Ghad party who is running against Nour, the party’s leader!

Buthaina Kamel, a tv host who is from the Kefaya movement, another early anti-Mubarak group.

Wissam Abd al-Gawwad, a teacher who founded the Egyptians for Change association and the al-Nahhar party.

While only the first four are more important, that’s still a pretty big field. Remember also that when it comes time to assemble lists for the parliamentary election such splits will be even more damaging.

Here are the two interesting questions:

--Who will the Brotherhood back with its twenty to thirty percent base? They were supporting ElBaradei (yes, Islamists backing a liberal because he isn’t so liberal) but have quarreled with him lately.

--Will Moussa organize his own party which, if successful, could come in first in the parliamentary election.

But one thing isn’t in much doubt: President Amr Moussa sounds likely.

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