- By Region
When ultraconservative Islamist politician Hazem Abou Ismail was kicked out of Egypt’s presidential race a week ago, some of his supporters took angrily to the streets.
But, like 28-year-old IT specialist Mohammad Sokromy, many shrugged. He simply shifted his support from Mr Abou Ismail, disqualified because his late mother held a US passport, to another, more moderate, Islamist candidate – Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader.
“God willing, he will know how to use Islam in the right way,” said Mr Sokromy.
The Egyptian presidential election board’s disqualification of 10 candidates last weekend stunned observers and drastically changed the shape of Egypt’s May 23 presidential election, the first after last year’s uprising against long-time president Hosni Mubarak. Suddenly frontrunners Omar Suleiman, Mr Mubarak’s former right-hand man, Mr Abou Ismail, and Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater were out of the picture.
But aside from the candidates’ diehard supporters – who piled into buses across Egypt and filled central Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Friday – many Egyptians are indifferent about the decision. The ruling was merely the latest twist in a messy political transition. The disqualifications add to an overall sense of malaise among voters.
“What do I think of the elections?” said Mohamed Abdel-Salem, an Egyptian bus driver and father of two. “So far I can only say I am confused.” Despite keeping up with the fast-moving political news by watching local satellite television news and poring over at least two newspapers a day, he admits he is overwhelmed.
Though supporters of Mr Shater and Mr Abou Ismail are angry, “ordinary people are out of the current game”, says Helmi Rawi, a human-rights activist. “Whole segments of the country are not on the same wavelength.”
Other than a smattering of the revolutionary activists who led the charge against Mr Mubarak, Tahrir Square on Friday was filled with men and women bearing badges in support of either “Hazem” or the Brotherhood’s Justice and Development party. Liberal activists and even non-politicised Egyptians who swelled the ranks of the square during previous rallies had little presence.
“They are considering supporting Aboul Fotouh, but some people are confused because he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Dina Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian television talk show personality. She said many secular liberals would support the candidacy of the former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, “not because they believe in him or his ideas or his agendas, just because they are confused and they don’t want to waste their vote”.
The public reaction also revealed Egyptians’ downsized ambitions since the heady days of the revolution. Fading is the sense of empowerment and civic duty that bonded Egyptians together during the weeks of the uprising and the months afterwards.
“For sure people are not feeling the revolution like before,” said Wael Towfik, the editor of Hoqouk.com, an online radio station and news website. “It’s all taken a step back.”
Despite the anger on the square, a sizeable number of Egyptians welcomed the ruling, which eliminated the most controversial candidates and elevated two moderates to become frontrunners – Mr Moussa and Mr Aboul Fotouh, an Islamist who actively woos liberals. Both the country’s Islamists and liberal activists reject Mr Suleiman, while Mr Abou Ismail is considered unacceptable by the country’s liberals and secularists.
“Those in the couch party are the ones who are most happy, because they don’t want the remnants [of the former regime] or Islamists,” said Ahmad Begato, longtime Egypt correspondent for Al-Arabiya, a pan-Arab television channel. “They still have Amr Moussa to vote for. They still have some of the other candidates who are pretty good.”
Polls conducted before the presidential commission’s decision showed 40 per cent of the voters were undecided. Like Mr Sokromy, many who had decided appeared rather lukewarm about their choice.
“I don’t think any of the candidates are eligible to hold power,” said Ashraf Aboudoma, a lawyer in Cairo. “My only worry is the stability of the country. At this point, I don’t care who takes over.”
Gauging how ordinary people will vote is difficult. The Muslim Brotherhood’s political party and Mr Abou Ismail’s ultraconservative Salafist movement performed well in parliamentary elections that ended earlier this year and could very well dominate the presidential vote. But there is also some evidence of a backlash against the Islamists because of their poor performance in the parliament and perception that they are power-hungry.
Analysts say they believe Mr Moussa along with Mr Aboul Fotouh, who is attempting to woo liberals as well as Islamists, will gain most from the redrawing of the political map, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed al-Morsy unable to retain many of Mr Shater’s supporters.
But the same analysts’ predictions proved badly wrong during the parliamentary vote.
“Nobody understands anything – that’s the slogan you hear,” Mr Towfik said. “Most of the conversations are filled with questions about basic facts. And they end with, ‘May God grant the presidency to whoever deserves it.’”
Additional reporting by Dena Elsisy