Islamists could crown Egypt's next president
A lineup of Islamists, retired generals, old regime figures and political newcomers are campaigning to become Egypt's first president since Hosni Mubarak's fall, but none of them may have the stature to tackle this nation's enormous problems or stand up to the powerful military.
The May 23-24 elections are supposed to mark the final stage of the post-uprising transition to civilian rule and in the end, the Islamists will probably have the last word. They dominated parliamentary elections a few months ago and their newfound political power makes them the country's kingmakers.
"The Islamists boast the nation's best capabilities to mobilize the masses, but that has been somewhat weakened," said prominent analyst Ammar Ali Hassan. "There is potential for a wide open race, but only if everyone plays by the rules."
Whoever is chosen and the extent of transparency in the election will determine whether this country, where power has long been concentrated in the hands of the executive, can discard a legacy of authoritarian rule and become truly democratic or will continue to have a facade of democracy that thinly conceals an autocratic regime.
There is also a hope, especially among the liberal and secular youth who spearheaded last year's democracy uprising, that the right candidate for the nation's highest office could temper the two biggest centers of power in Egypt today, the military and the Islamists.
The field was significantly depleted when Nobel Peace Laureate and pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei quit the race in January. He said at the time a fair election would be impossible under the rule of the military, which took power after Mubarak fell in February of last year.
Amr Moussa, who served Mubarak as foreign minister for 10 years before becoming the Arab League chief, is in his late 70s and does not appear to be in synch with the revolutionary mood gripping the nation over the past year. But he is popular among middle-class Egyptians.
Moussa is a secular-minded seasoned diplomat who is well known internationally, hardly the pedigree that the Islamist parties are looking for in a president.
Also at the forefront of the hopefuls is Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, a moderate Islamist who defied the nation's largest political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, by quitting to run for president as an independent.
The list of real contenders also includes ultraconservative cleric Hazem Abu Ismail; Mubarak's last prime minister and former air force general Ahmed Shafiq; leftist politician Hamdeen Sabahy; Islamic scholar Mohammed Salim El Awa and a youthful rights lawyer and newcomer Khaled Ali. The list of likely also-rans includes lawmakers, judges, journalists and senior army officers.