Via The Middle East Channel, by H. A. Hellyer--this is only an excerpt; read on.
That's the view of many Egyptians over the entries into and disqualifications from the presidential race. Now that the dust has cleared, and leading candidates Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, Omar Suleiman and Khairat el-Shater gone, the race has lost some of its drama, but still remains fascinating. In the last 24 hours, yet another candidate might be a thing of the past -- and there is still a month left to go.
The new front-runners are a less colorful lot, but barring another dizzying turn in Egypt's political transition, one of them likely will be Egypt's next president. There are three (perhaps four: see below) leading candidates left in the race: Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League, and previously Hosni Mubarak's foreign minister (at a time when he was not quite as unpopular); Mohammed Morsi, the replacement candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood following Shater's disqualification; Abd el-Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, a former reformist member of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister. The latter may still be disqualified, as the Egyptian Parliament recently passed a law barring Mubarak allied politicians from running, if they served in the last decade. The military council just ratified it -- which indicates Shafiq is probably also out.
Who will win? Are these elections just an elaborate bit of stage-dressing, rather than a genuine expression of Egyptian democratic will? Recent survey data from Gallup offers some sobering perspective.
The most important finding of Gallup's latest survey is that more than half of Egyptian voters remain undecided in this first, post-Mubarak presidential race. Amr Moussa enjoyed the largest support, but he still only had 17 percent. Less than two percent of voters indicated they would vote for any one of the other three contenders. These polls were conducted prior to March, so that may have changed somewhat by now. Nevertheless, that still means that the swing vote is very significant.
In Egypt's Parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Salafi groups were the main beneficiaries of this swing vote. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of the MB saw their support go from 15 percent in July to 50 percent in December -- and Hizb al-Nour of the Salafis went from five percent to 30 percent. One strand of thinking therefore argues that any presidential candidate who receives the backing of the MB or the Salafis stands to win by a landslide.
This is not necessarily the lesson to learn, however. What is clear is that in these first waves of elections after the ouster of Mubarak, the Egyptian voter remains mostly undecided until very shortly before election day. The MB and the Salafis saw their support numbers jump not due to ideological shifts from the electorate, but political decisions based on circumstance. It seems the electorate swung to them due to two main reasons: grassroots mobilization and name recognition. In both of these areas, the FJP and Hizb al-Nour had distinct advantages over their competitors.
But those advantages do not necessarily translate to the presidential election. Firstly, those swing voters are probably not all that impressed with the showing of the FJP or Hizb al-Nour, as parliament's record has been rather unimpressive. One cannot assess by how much, but it is entirely likely that some of those swing voters feel less confident about their choice. The grassroots networks are still active, for that core ideological base of perhaps 15 percent for the MB and five percent for the Salafis. But the MB will have a harder time presenting Morsi as the fresh alternative in the same way as they did in December 2011 for the parliamentary vote.
Secondly, while name recognition was certainly on their side in the parliamentary elections, partly due to a vacuum of other well known political parties in the public sphere, this is not the case in the presidential race: the most well known name is Amr Moussa, by far. Morsi should not automatically count on the swing voters that backed his party in the parliamentary elections to back him for the presidency.
The other Islamist in the race, former senior MB member and revolutionary activist Abou el-Fotouh, is not particularly faring well just yet. His grassroots campaign is increasing in width and breadth, and he arguably has the most pluralistic of teams in this race, as well as a genuinely revolutionary base. However, he does not have the time to mobilize enough of a grassroots network to compete with the MB's existing network, and his name recognition also does not compare with Moussa's. A substantial number of voters who were previously going to vote for Abu Ismail and Shater will likely shift toward him -- but probably not enough. Gallup's polls a few months ago did not register him with even two percent of voters. That's going to be hard to change sufficiently in a short amount of time. But then again, stranger things have happened in Egypt, particularly lately.
Shafiq's grassroots network is also not particularly impressive, and his name is not so famous as to put him in the lead by any means. The Egyptian public has little or no reason to back him. If he is not disqualified as a result of the new law (which is unlikely) he might get a portion of the vote, but its probably going to be less than all of the rest in the top four -- as long as the state remains neutral.
That leaves Amr Moussa. His grassroots mobilization just benefited from the disqualification of Omar Suleiman. A good chunk of Suleiman's supporters will now back anyone who is decisively not Islamist, and Moussa fits the bill. His background in Mubarak's regime, for those voters, is secondary to his non-Islamist background. He announced his intention to run for president very early on in the Egyptian revolution, and has been involved at a prolific level of political life for years. If this race comes down to familiarity with the name of the candidate, it is hard to see how anyone can compete with Amr Moussa. If, indeed.