A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, March 26, 2012

Late Entries in the Egypt Presidential Race Could Change Calculus

 Over 1,000 Egyptians have already put forward their names as potential Presidential candidates. The overwhelming majority will never put together the signatures needed to register them as formal candidates (30,000 voter signatures from at least 15 governors or the support of 30 members of Parliament), but perhaps hope springs eternal. The serious candidates had seemed to emerge some time ago: former Arab Leagues Secretary General Amr Moussa, former Muslim Brotherhood figure Abdel Moneim Abu'l-Futuh, Salafi figure Hazem Abu Ismail, young liberal Khalid Ali, former Air Force Commander and Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, Mansur Hassan, etc. etc. But in the past few days two new names have (so far unofficially) appeared in speculation, and they could dramatically transform the field.

One of these is former head of General Intelligence and (briefly) Mubarak's only Vice President, ‘Omar Suleiman. After dropping from sight after the revolution he has re-emerged and is making public appearances amid reports he will run. He may represent a coalition of the intelligence and security establishment; he may have little real support at all. But no one knows what broader constituency his renewed prominence may indicate.

Perhaps more important is the possibility of a Muslim Brotherhood candidate. The Brotherhood has a plurality in the People's Assembly and dominates the newly named constituent assembly, The Brotherhood had said it would not run a candidate, and when Abu'l-Futuh announced his candidacy, the Brotherhood expelled him and said it would expel members supporting him.

But now the Brotherhood is reconsidering, and there's much speculation it might put forward Deputy General Guide Khairat al-Shater. He runs the Brotherhood's business interests, spent years in prison under Mubarak, and some say he is the real power behind General Guide Muhammad Badie. (See a New York Times piece on Shater here, and Shater's webpage here (Arabic). Until the past week or so Shater was generally tipped to be the Brotherhood's candidate for Prime Minister in a coalition Cabinet. Now there's talk of his running for President instead. His entry would reshuffle the deck and reopen the betting.

The registration process closes April 8, so things should become clear this week and next.  Shater would transform the race; Suleiman would at least complicate the question of who the "establishment" candidate is.

UPDATE: The Brotherhood will reportedly consider Shater, Parliament Speaker Katatni, and Freedom and Justice Party leader Muhammad Mursi tomorrow, and announce a result by Thursday.

No comments: