4:29pm

Mon April 9, 2012
Africa

Is The Old Regime Seeking A Comeback In Egypt?

Originally published on Mon April 9, 2012 5:14 pm

In Egypt, next month's presidential election has undergone a wrenching several days.

First, leading Islamist candidates faced possible disqualification on legal grounds, and then, hours before the deadline to register, a leading face from the regime of Hosni Mubarak jumped into the race.

The appearance of 75-year-old Omar Suleiman, Mubarak's former intelligence chief, has sparked fears that the military council running the country is maneuvering to bring back the old regime.

Few could blame Egyptians for complaining about a severe case of political whiplash. Just 15 months after demonstrators celebrated the fall of Mubarak, a much smaller but no less boisterous crowd cheered the reappearance on the political scene of the man sometimes called the power behind Mubarak.

To some Egyptians, exhausted by a year of turmoil, economic decline and uncertainty, Omar Suleiman represents stability. His first interview to a state-run newspaper featured a promise to restore security and then focus on the economy.

But for many other Egyptians, who remember the hundreds who gave their lives to topple the old regime, a Suleiman presidency would bring not stability but utter chaos.

"There will be another revolution, and this time it will have an Islamic engine," says 35-year-old Mohammed Abdel Rahman. "Nobody will be able to contain it."

Islamist Forced Out Of Race

Abdel Rahman and thousands of other Egyptians gathered in Cairo's Tahrir Square last Friday to protest a finding by the presidential election commission that would appear to disqualify the most conservative Islamist in the race, Hazem Abu Ismail.

Egyptian and U.S. authorities report that Abu Ismail's mother held U.S. citizenship, which is not allowed for an Egyptian presidential candidate.

The main beneficiary if Abu Ismail is tossed from the race would seem to be another Islamist, the Muslim Brotherhood's late entry, millionaire Khairat el-Shater.

But many of those gathered in Tahrir Square agreed with English teacher Mohammed Khalifa, who fears that the military council may try to force all the top Islamist candidates out.

"Things are not clear, and the military council is holding things up. Things are not going straight," he said. "We're moving from a plot to another, we're moving from an artificial problem to another. We don't trust anyone. I don't trust anyone, neither anybody here. We don't trust anyone."

The ruling military council has said it is committed to staging free and fair elections, a position viewed with increasing skepticism on the street.

Muslim Party's Credibility Damaged

Even the Muslim Brotherhood is suffering from a series of about-faces and flip-flops.

First, the party promised to run for a limited number of parliamentary seats, only to win nearly an outright majority.

Then, it promised a limited membership on the panel assigned to draft a new constitution, and then packed it with their supporters, according to critics. And after a year of saying it wouldn't field a presidential candidate, it launched el-Shater's bid.

Brotherhood official Amr Darrag acknowledges that some are saying the party's credibility is damaged. But now that Suleiman has emerged from the shadows, he says Egyptians are beginning to realize that the Brotherhood is acting to prevent the military from turning back the clock to before the revolution that began on Jan. 25 of last year.

"Our original intention was not to run for this position. But when we realized that somebody is trying to get us back to the 24th of January 2011, as a matter of fact this was the main reason for fielding Khairat el-Shater," Darrag says. "We had to field a candidate because we feel that this was the only way to protect the revolution."

Moderates And Liberals Appear Shut Out

Left on the sidelines for the moment are the youth movement that started the revolution, and moderates and liberals hoping for a democracy in Egypt that protects women's and minority rights.

There was, however, a glimmer of hope for those voters in one recent poll, taken before el-Shater entered the race, which showed former Arab League head Amr Moussa as the front-runner.

Media owner and longtime human rights activist Hisham Kassem says Egypt's revolutionaries would do well to consider a compromise candidate like Moussa, or risk the classic danger of post-revolution states — one person, one vote, one time.

Sudan "had a similar election to what is happening now in Egypt," Kassem warns. "They voted a government and a president. Three years later the military overthrew them, and we ended up with Omar al-Bashir. ... He's approaching 30 years now in power."

A final list of Egyptian presidential candidates should be announced later this month.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There's been no shortage of action in the ramp-up to Egypt's presidential election. With just over six weeks to go, some big names have jumped into the race and legal action threatens to disqualify others. Just yesterday, a key face from the regime of Hosni Mubarak declared his candidacy. Omar Suleiman is 75-year-old and Mubarak's former intelligence chief.

His entrance has sparked fears that the military council, which currently runs the country, is maneuvering to bring back the old regime. Meantime, two leading Islamist candidates could be kicked off the ballot. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Cairo.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Few could blame Egyptians for complaining about a severe case of political whiplash. Just 15 months after demonstrators celebrated the fall of Hosni Mubarak, a much smaller but no less boisterous crowd cheered the reappearance on the political scene of the man sometimes called the power behind Mubarak.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

KENYON: To some Egyptians - exhausted by a year of turmoil, economic decline and uncertainty - Omar Suleiman represents stability. His first interview to a state-run newspaper featured a promise to restore security and then focus on the economy. But for many other Egyptians, who remember the hundreds who gave their lives to topple the old regime, a Suleiman presidency would bring not stability but utter chaos.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS)

MOHAMMED ABDEL RAHMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: There will be another revolution, says 35-year-old Mohammed Abdel Rahman, and this time, it will have an Islamic engine. Nobody will be able to contain it.

Abdel Rahman and thousands of other Egyptians gathered in Tahrir Square Friday to protest a finding by the presidential election commission that would appear to disqualify the most conservative Islamist in the race, Hazem Abu Ismail. Egyptian and U.S. authorities report that Abu Ismail's mother held U.S. citizenship, not allowed for an Egyptian presidential candidate.

The main beneficiary if Abu Ismail is tossed from the race would seem to be another Islamist, the Muslim Brotherhood's late entry, millionaire Khairat al-Shater.

But many of those gathered here agreed with English teacher Mohammed Khalifa, who fears that the military council may try to force all the top Islamist candidates out.

MOHAMMED KHALIFA: Things are not clear, and the military council has held things up. Things are not going straight. We're moving from a plot to another. We're moving from an artificial problem to another. The people don't trust anyone. I don't trust anyone, neither anybody here. They don't trust anyone.

KENYON: The military council has said it's committed to staging free and fair elections, a position viewed with increasing skepticism on the street.

Even the Muslim Brotherhood is suffering from a series of about-faces and flip-flops. First, they promised to run for a limited number of parliamentary seats, only to win nearly an outright majority. They promised a limited number on the panel assigned to draft a new constitution, and then packed it with their supporters, according to critics. And after a year of saying they wouldn't field a presidential candidate, they launched Khairat al-Shater's bid.

Brotherhood official Amr Darrag acknowledges that some are saying the brothers' credibility is damaged. But now that Omar Suleiman has emerged from the shadows, he says Egyptians are beginning to realize that the Brotherhood is acting to prevent the military from turning back the clock to before the January 25th revolution.

AMR DARRAG: Our original intention was not to run for this position. But when we realized that somebody is trying to get us back to 24th of January 2011, as a matter of fact, this was the main reason for us fielding Khairat al-Shater. We had to field a candidate because we feel that this was the only way to protect the revolution.

KENYON: Left on the sidelines for the moment, the youth movement that started the revolution, and moderates and liberals hoping for a democracy in Egypt that protects women's and minority rights. There was, however, a glimmer of hope for those voters in one recent poll taken before Shater entered the race. That showed former Arab League head Amr Moussa as the front runner.

Media owner and longtime human rights activist Hisham Kassem says Egypt's revolutionaries would do well to consider a compromise candidate like Moussa or risk the classic danger of post-revolution states one person, one vote, one time.

HISHAM KASSEM: And always remember that Mauritania did have free elections like we had, and Sudan did. We're talking Sudan '83. They had a similar election to what is happening now in Egypt. They voted a government and a president. Three years later, the military overthrew them, and we ended up with Omar al-Bashir for, you know, he's approaching 30 years now in power.

KENYON: A final list of Egyptian candidates should be announced later this month. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.