The crazy, crazy Egyptian elections

Given the several U-turns experienced in the last weeks, the Egyptian presidential elections seem the product of the imagination of a screenwriter specialized in political thrillers. If the producers of West Wing run out of ideas, they could have a look at the Egyptian political scene, and they will find pleny of inspiration.

To start with, it is surreal that the hard-core Salafist candidate, Hazem Abu Ismail, is disqualified from running because his mother hold the American citizenship -the current law prevents from taking part of the elections anyone with a foreign spouse or parent-. Not only has been Abu Ismail campaigning non-stop during the last six months as though being unaware of his mother’s nationality, but he usually indulged in anti-American rhetoric.

But maybe the biggest surprise -and challenge to analysts’ imagination- has been the Omar Suleiman “saga”. The anouncement by the former Mubarak strongman to participate in the elections at the 11th hour was interpreted by most experts as a response by the Military Junta (or SCAF) to the unexpected decision of the Muslim Brotherhood to field their own candidate, Khairat al Shater.

For this reason, it is hard to make sense of his disqualification for just lacking a few signatures, especially taking into account that the members of the Electoral Commission were chosen by the SCAF, and stuffed with Mubarak loyalists. So far, two possible explanations come to my mind:

-There has been a late agreement between the SCAF and the Brotherhood to sacrifice their candidates, namely, al-Shater and Suleiman, to avoid a direct clash in the elections that could provoke a real bloodbath. The agreement may also have included to get rid of Abu Ismail, whose rise provoked uneasiness in both camps. The preacher’s followers had threatened with a violent reaction if their beloved candidate was kicked out, so the exit of both al-Shater and Suleiman could mollify them.

-Suleiman was never really SCAF’s candidate. Maybe all the analysts were wrong to assume Suleiman entered the race following orders by Hussein Tantawi, SCAF’s president. In fact, some people argue that, after the fallout between Mubarak and the army when the “rais” decided to push for his son Gamal to succeed him, Suleiman’s relation with the military leadership got estranged. The real SCAF candidate would then be Amr Moussa, who is the real winner of the disqualification of the three other favourite candidates.

It is possible to contest both theories on several points, but these are the only two that come to my mind at this point. Maybe after a few days we will have new details that will shed light to these crazy, crazy Egyptian elections.


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