The western media has been touting Egypt’s currently underway presidential contest between the incumbent President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi and Ghad Party leader Mousa Mustafa Mousa as a “sham” on the grounds that several candidates were detained or withdrew.
Al Sissi may be the front-runner, but no matter who wins, I have no doubt that the coverage by the foreign media will be scathing. It has been so ever since the president, who saved his nation from regression to medievalism, civil war or worse from the tragic fate of several of its neighbours, Syria, Libya and Yemen, was elected in 2013 by a landslide.
During a recently aired interview the president moaned the lack of contenders, blaming the country’s more-than-100 parties for not nominating challengers. “I swear to God, I wished one, two, three or even 10 distinguished people ran and you choose,” he told viewers.
I trust his sincerity. More candidates would have lent greater credibility to the election through the prism of western democracies, but unfortunately those who threw their hats into the ring but didn’t make it were all unsuitable on numerous grounds underscored below.
Former prime minister Ahmad Shafik, who fled Egypt in the aftermath of the 2012 presidential election, quit the race saying he was the wrong person for the job. He scandalised the nation by sending campaign videos to Qatar’s mouthpiece Al Jazeera, including one containing falsehoods about his host country, the UAE.
Members of his own party the Egyptian National Movement resigned due to the party’s relationship with the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Upon his return home his family falsely claimed he had been kidnapped upon arrival at Cairo Airport, which Shafik was quick to deny from a comfortable five-star hotel room where he was staying while he waited for his house to be made ready.
Islamist politician Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, pretended to distance himself from the organisation in order to open a window for the Brothers re-entry onto the political scene. He was detained last month for colluding with the Brotherhood abroad, which called for a boycott of the ballot and a suspension of the constitution. Like Shafik he chose Al Jazeera to promote his campaign critical of the state while in London and is alleged to have plotted sabotage and unrest with Brotherhood criminals in Turkey just prior to the election. When security services raided his farm, they found six people wanted for terrorist activities.
Former army chief-of-staff Sami Anan, who was openly backed by the Brotherhood, was held in a military facility after violating the army’s well-known rules. He was detained accused of forging documents submitted to the National Elections Authority to the effect the he was no longer a member of the armed services when he remains a reservist. Anan blotted his copybook by appointing Hesham Geneina as his political adviser — a man whose relationship with the Brotherhood and Hamas is common knowledge, along with his frequent appearances on Muslim Brotherhood-owned networks.
Another presidential hopeful Khalid Ali, a popular human rights lawyer, resigned from the Bread and Freedom Party following accusations of sexual harassment. He issued a statement in which he apologised to his accuser, a young fellow activist who asked to keep her identity secret, as well as to his children and all his previous female colleagues.
The list of the most prominently-known would-be candidates reads like a rogue’s gallery and although there were many other contenders, they failed to meet constitutional requirements on eligibility — a minimum of 20 members of the House of Representatives or 25,000 voters from at least 15 governorates.
Yet others who may have been tempted declined to put themselves forward in the knowledge that their chances were dim in a face-off with a leader enjoying the backing of 75 per cent of parliamentarians, almost all political parties and religious leaders, including the Salafist Al Nour Party.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Ultimately it is up to the Egyptian people to decide. They have endured seven tumultuous years involving two revolutions, Brotherhood violence, terrorist attacks and economic struggles. Today there is light at the end of the tunnel. President Al Sissi has delivered on security and economic progress while admitting there is much more to be done. Foreign currency reserves have reached their highest level ever. Unemployment rates are coming down. Tourism is rebounding. Inflation dropped from 31.7 per cent in February 2017 to 14.3 per cent in February this year. Both candidates are upright citizens who are considered safe pairs of hands.
Egyptians have a choice and that choice should be respected, not undermined by agenda-led or know-nothing cynical shrieks from armchair ‘experts’ in faraway lands.
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.