A woman casts her vote at a primary school in El-Manyal, November 28, 2011. Photo: Jonathan Rashad
If Egyptians have been dizzied and dismayed by the merry-go-round of the presidential race, there is some solace in that at least this time, for the first time ever in an Arab Presidential election, no one knows what the result will be when voting begins on 23rd May. As much as it is fun and funny to watch this new sport of Egyptian politics (a year old and toddling now) farce is in danger of tipping into tragicomedy. As one Egyptian friend of mine, a wise commentator, beloved of journalists in need of a sagacious quote, admitted some time ago, “I have given up analysis! There’s nothing to do but watch.”
Having stated for a year that it would never field a presidential candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood changed its mind at the last minute. Then Omar Suleiman, Mubarak’s chief of intelligence, with an ascetic bald head and thin drawn cheeks who seems to have never been photographed smiling, threw his hat into the ring. And then the news hit the fan that Hazem Abu Ismail’s mother had taken American citizenship before she died. Abu Ismail, a fundamentalist Salafi with a big white beard and a populist platform of religion and revolution had plastered the capital with grinning campaign posters. Hahaha! laughed the Liberals gleefully watching him caught in the headlights of political revelation. An American mother disqualifies him.
Rumours and conspiracy theories were rife. The Salafis believed that the Americans had discredited Abu Ismail because they feared his anti-western agenda. A giant rally of beards convened on Tahrir Square. The Brotherhood thought that Suleiman’s candidacy signalled a plot by the ruling military council to ballot stuff a military strongman back into the presidency. They held a giant rally in Tahrir too. The Liberals worried that the Brotherhood’s disingenuity had propelled them into a position where they could potentially control parliament (they are the largest party, with 47 per cent of seats). The Liberal rally in Tahrir was small and broken up by the Salafis who smashed up their stage and unplugged their loud speakers.
Then headlines lurched again. I was with a friend in a café reading Twitter because news in Egypt this past year is too fast for regular news sites. My friend threw his hands in the air. “I can’t take…