Last Wednesday, I wrote an opinion piece entitled “A Crucial Year” that dealt, primarily, with the next presidential elections in Egypt in the first half of this year. In the coming weeks, when the official presidential campaign begins officially, once the list of the presidential candidates is announced in its final form by the newly-formed National Electoral Commission, the country will follow closely the developments of this campaign. I would argue that this popular interest is rooted in the aspirations that the next presidential campaign would be, hopefully, different from the previous ones.
I guess the country expects and hopes for a serious and transparent campaign that is not dissimilar from presidential campaigns in democratic countries.
If this will be the case, Egyptians will take it very seriously. Such involvement will be reflected in the turnout at the ballot box on elections day. One condition is for the timeline of the campaign to be published by the Electoral Commission on Monday, January 8, 2018, according to a statement by its official spokesperson.
Needless to say, Egyptians, in their majority, would like to see serious and credible contenders for the highest office in Egypt, including President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, in case he decides to run for a second term. So far, there is one contender, Khaled Aly, a lawyer by profession. Another possible candidate is Muhamed Anwar El Sadat, the chairperson of the “Reform and Development” political party who has written that if he decides to run, he would insist on the fairness, transparency of the whole electoral process, from start to finish.
He further criticized the extension of the Emergency Law, for another three months, expressing his fears that the government could – according to his public remarks on the issue – use the Law to prevent normal campaigning for all presidential candidates save the one concerning the incumbent candidate .He warned that he would withdraw from the presidential race – once he is an official candidate – if he feels that such a race lacks seriousness, or if his supporters would be harmed in any way.
The spokesperson for Khaled Aly’s presidential campaign, Khaled Al-Balshy, an avowed political opponent to the Egyptian government and a darling for some Western news outlets, said that Khaled Aly would not take part in the presidential elections if they are “phony”, without explaining what would turn them into such an exercise. He called for the abrogation of the Law of Emergency or to waive certain articles in this Law when it comes to campaigning, for example, the right to hold public rallies in support of the various candidates.
One thing is certain by now when it comes to who would be the candidates. General Ahmed Shafiq, the former and last prime minister in the Mubarak government, who came second in the 2012 presidential elections against Islamist president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood announced on Sunday, January 7 that he decided not to run, after conferring with the members of the political bureau of his “National Movement” party.
He tweeted that he did not think that he would be the right candidate in the next presidential elections, after his five-year absence from the country, that had begun the day that followed Morsi’s victory. He went on to say that he reconsidered his previous position to run which he had announced a few weeks ago from the United Arab Emirates.
He added that his absence from the country prevented him from following, closely enough, the developments that Egypt has been witnessing in this relatively long period of being away, from a political point of view.
Theoretically speaking, the presence of General Shafiq in the presidential contest could have turned it into a more exciting and lively contest, and would have provided Egyptians with an alternative to President Al-Sisi .
However, and from a practical stand point, it would have divided the country, and provided the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists, in general, with an opportunity to further deepen the polarisation, both political and religious, that they have been causing for the last four decades in Egyptian society. A polarisation that greatly helped them win the 2012 presidential elections. One more important aspect of the decision not to run by General Shafiq is the fact that the government would continue fighting terrorism with a unified voice. Previously, General Shafiq had implicitly criticised the way the government is leading this fight.
The great unknown in the 2018 presidential elections is which candidate Islamists altogether would choose as their representative in the upcoming race for the highest office in the land. Talk is that a former presidential candidate, Abdel Moneim abou El Fotouh, who has always claimed that he resigned from membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, something that I have doubted all along, could decide to run. Actually, he is the chairperson of a political party, called “Strong Egypt”. Ahmed Emam, a member in the party’s political bureau, said on Sunday 7 January that Abou El Fotouh would decide to run if he is sure that the necessary conditions for fair elections would be guaranteed.
Regardless of who would be the final contenders in the presidential race of 2018, the election process from start to finish should be fair, transparent, and ensure equal opportunity for all candidates, without discrimination whatsoever against any of them, even if President Al-Sisi would be running. What his supporters would enjoy during the campaigning process should not be denied to others, without exception. Egypt s future political stability calls for such fair and free elections. It would go a long way, indeed, to improve the standing and influence of Egypt on the world scene.
“Egypt, the Way Forward” should be the overarching slogan for the 2018 presidential campaign.