Who will win ?

Who will win?
Although many would argue that President Hosni Mubarak the ruling National Democratic Party nominee_will easily win this year’s presidential elections, candidates from 14 parties are nonetheless giving it a go. Mona El-Nahhas and Mustafa El-Menshawy speak to some of the hopefuls, assessing their chances, and providing glimpses into their electoral platforms

Hosni Mubarak
National Democratic Party

Since taking office in 1981, President Hosni Mubarak, 77, has portrayed himself to the nation as a president who would not be a follower of “either Nasser or Sadat”. In one of his early media appearances, as a crowd of foreign correspondents began asking whether he planned to stick to the liberal economic and pro-West foreign policy lines of late President Anwar El-Sadat, or reverse course to re-inject the more non-aligned and socialist style of the popular Gamal Abdel-Nasser, he simply and firmly replied, “My name is Hosni Mubarak.”

He has, for the most part, been true to that dynamic, sometimes adopting a Nasserist approach, at other times veering closer to the liberal, pro-Western policies of Sadat. Significantly, however, he has also tended to view things from a military perspective far more often than either of his predecessors did. A renowned air force officer who fought both the 1967 and 1973 wars, President Mubarak has refrained from driving the nation into any miscalculated military actions. Even when he chose to send Egyptian troops to Kuwait in 1990 to participate in the US-led war to end the Iraqi invasion of the smaller Arab Gulf state, Mubarak consulted extensively with top army officers, politicians and intellectuals beforehand. A little over a decade later, he declined repeated US demands to send Arab troops to post Saddam Hussein-Iraq — even within a UN peacekeeping framework. According to a senior presidential aide, Mubarak “said this was different from the Kuwait liberation war. It was a war to topple an Arab leader, which was not something that he was willing to become involved in, no matter how much he disliked Saddam and blamed him for the misfortune that befell his own country and the divisions that dominated the Arab world after the invasion of Kuwait.”

Egypt’s participation in Desert Storm, as well as its dedicated efforts to facilitate Palestinian-Israeli talks with an eye on achieving a fair and comprehensive peace, provided it with significant economic gains, including a generous scrapping of its foreign debts in 1991. It also granted Cairo a generally special rapport with Washington as the US evolved into the world’s single superpower with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

While critics say that these policies have undermined Egypt’s status as a leading Arab country, supporters argue that it was Mubarak who managed to re-connect Egyptian-Arab ties that were severely damaged by Sadat’s unilateral peace agreement with Israel. It was Mubarak, they say, who successfully re-instated Egypt’s membership in the Arab League, and helped bring the pan-Arab organisation back to its Cairo headquarters in 1991, after it had been operating from Tunis for close to over a decade as a result of Sadat’s establishing relations with Israel.

Today, as Mubarak appeals for national support for a fifth term in office, he is promising to stick to a foreign policy that he perceives as realistic. On domestic matters, the president is promising to stay the course when it comes to economic policy. In this respect, the past few years have featured an increasingly precarious balancing act between encouraging a market-driven economy, and an effort – that some find ineffective – to retain the state’s social welfare role.

In his nomination speech on Thursday, Mubarak also promised more sensitivity on human rights related issues. This, human rights activists and opposition parties say, was an unrealistic goal, especially in light of what they say has been increasing state security intolerance towards nay-sayers. Mubarak’s aides argue that even though the scepticism is not unfounded, it should also not be exaggerated. After all, they say, it was Mubarak who established the nation’s first-ever human rights council. The president has also promised to reconsider the emergency law that has been in effect since 1981.

Noaman Gomaa
Wafd Party

Noaman Goma’a, the chairman of the liberal Wafd Party, one of the nation’s oldest and most prominent opposition parties, decided to run for president after members of the party’s supreme committee convinced him that the Wafd should be part of the upcoming presidential elections, the first to involve multiple candidates. The party had previously considered boycotting the vote.

Goma’a’s affiliation with the Wafd dates back to his school days; when the party, which was dissolved after the 1952 Revolution, reappeared in 1978, he rejoined it, becoming a member of its higher committee. He became assistant secretary-general in 1986 and deputy chairman in 1989. In 2000, Goma’a — who by then was the dean of Cairo University’s law school  was elected party chairman.

Deciding to run means “I do care to win,” Goma’a said, while admitting that the current political climate would make it difficult for all the candidates.

Goma’a’s platform reflects the Wafd Party’s liberal bent. On the economic level, that means limiting governmental expenditure to decrease the deficit in the balance of payments, placing greater regulations on foreign loans, and establishing a new taxation and customs law with the aim of attracting investors, solving the chronic unemployment problem, and increasing Egyptian exports.

Politically, Goma’a’s priorities are abolishing all exceptional laws, including the state of emergency in effect since 1981, as well as releasing political detainees.

The party has not decided whether it will accept the LE500,000 in governmental financial aid allocated for each presidential nominee.

Ayman Nour
Ghad Party

The 41-year-old chairman of the Ghad Party has been widely referred to — by the foreign media at least — as the nation’s most serious opposition candidate. If elections were staged fairly, Ayman Nour said, he would win. “We offer Egyptians an alternative to the regime,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He has challenged President Mubarak to participate in a one-hour televised debate, during which he claims he would “expose [the president’s] responsibility over the past 24 years” for the nation’s major problems.

Before founding the Ghad Party, Nour was a leading member of the liberal Wafd Party, which he left in 2001 after a major feud with its leader Noaman Goma’a. Nour recently reconciled with long-time rival Goma’a in an attempt to garner broad support from a spectrum of different political powers.

Nour is currently mired in a forgery trial, which will resume on 25 September. He says the case against him was fabricated by the state to ruin his career. According to legal experts, the trial will not prevent Nour from running; that would only occur if he were convicted.

Nour’s goals include combating corruption, solving the unemployment problem, and controlling soaring prices. He said the details of his complete platform — which includes a comprehensive plan to solve all of the country’s problems — would only be released after the Presidential Elections Committee announces the final list of candidates. Thus far, he has said that if elected, he would serve for a two-year transitional period, during which a new constitution will be drafted. Afterwards, new presidential elections will be staged.

Nour has called for complete judicial supervision over elections, and does not oppose the idea of international monitors observing the elections as well. He has also asked that non-governmental organisations take an active part in the supervision.

Nour told the Weekly that the Ghad Party would be funding the campaign with donations from its members. Although official campaigning is scheduled to begin on 17 August, Nour began two months ago, via a “door-knocking” effort meant to acquaint Egyptians in different governorates with his platform.

Helmi Salem
Ahrar Party

The 64-year-old chairman of the Ahrar Party knows that competing against President Mubarak will not be easy. “Everyone knows the man who has ruled Egypt for 24 years. Unlike the rest of the candidates, Mubarak will not need electoral propaganda.” At the same time, Salem thinks this kind of chance shouldn’t go to waste. “It’s an opportunity to acquaint the public with the party’s platform, political leanings, and leading figures, as a preparatory step for the coming parliamentary elections.” Plus, he says, his party has long called for replacing the referendum system of electing a president with a direct ballot. “It would be ridiculous not to run, now that our dream has come true.”

An army officer who took part in the 1973 War, Salem joined the Ahrar Party when it first came into being in 1976. His platform calls for amending the constitution to limit the power of the president. One way would be to mandate just two five-year terms, he said. If elected, Salem would widen the margins of freedom in many ways, including allowing all political trends to form parties and publish newspapers.

Salem also wants to give the private sector more of a chance to participate in bringing about comprehensive economic development. He aims to bridge income disparities, and find ways to balance prices.

On the Arab level, Salem calls for a pan-Arab currency (the unified Arab Dinar), and for the establishment of an Arab Court of Justice.

Salem expects a huge turnout for the elections, arguing that the silent majority will, for the first time, break its silence once it realises that things will be totally different this time, with elections taken seriously. “The ordinary citizen has begun to feel the value of his voice in mapping the country’s future,” he said.

Salem, who is against the idea of international supervision of the elections, viewing it as a flagrant intervention in internal affairs, said Egypt should learn to trust its own capabilities; the Egyptian judiciary, in his view, is the only guarantor of fair elections taking place.

Talaat El-Sadat
Ahrar Party

The 51-year-old lawyer and MP is proud to be the nephew of late President Anwar El-Sadat. In fact, he admits that his name will probably help him win votes. If elections are fair, Tal’at El-Sadat thinks he may get up to 70 per cent.

Topping El-Sadat’s agenda is abolishing all exceptional laws, such as the emergency statutes that have been in effect since 1981. He has pledged to shut down all detention camps and to release the 40,000 people he claims are currently political detainees, including even the assassins of his late uncle.

El-Sadat also wants to keep religious institutions away from the state’s hegemony, suggesting that both the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and the Mufti of the Republic be elected by Muslim scholars, rather than appointed by the state. “This is the best way to guarantee the credibility of their religious opinions,” he says.

The same principle should be applied to judges, who must also be totally independent of the state, El-Sadat says, and thus no longer affiliated to the Justice Ministry.

El-Sadat says he is in favour of the idea of international monitoring of elections, believing it has nothing to do with the nation’s independence. “We have previously sent monitors to supervise elections in several countries, so why deal with the issue in this overly sensitive way?”

El-Sadat also wants to further amend the constitution to provide every citizen with an equal right to nominate himself for the presidency — abolishing the limits set by the recent amendment of Article 76. “Fulfilling the dreams of the average citizen is the driving force behind my decision to run,” El-Sadat says. “The time has come to end 24 years of corruption, unemployment, suppression, and humiliation.”

He does not plan to accept the LE500,000 in governmental aid allocated for each presidential nominee by the new presidential law.

Mamdouh Qenawi
Al-Dostouri Al-Igtimai Al-Hur Party

69-year-old Mamdouh Qenawi’s campaign platform is simple: getting the nation back onto what he terms “a non-corrupt social track with lower rates of poverty and inflation.”

Qenawi wants to establish a national banking system for the poor; an idea that has taken off in Bangladesh that he feels will help refurbish the local economy. “The bank would invest the LE600 billion currently deposited in Egyptian banks into small and medium enterprises — a move that could increase exports and create more jobs.”

Admitting that fighting unemployment would be his harshest challenge, he says, “it will take years to reduce jobless rates by training fresh graduates in various skills and upgrading the quality of education in general.”

His priorities also include issues of democracy, and social and national security. “The constitution should be modified to prevent presidents from serving more than two eight-year terms,” he says.

Born in Sohag in 1935, Qenawi studied law at Cairo University. In 1984, he ran for and won a People’s Assembly seat. He was later elected to the Shura Council.

Osama Shaltout
Al-Takaful Party

The chairman of the Takaful Party, Osama Shaltout, 66, said he decided to run for president as a way of showing that there really could be more equality in Egyptian society. “There needs to be constitutional reforms that mandate a maximum of two, five-year presidential terms,” he told the Weekly.

“The president should also be held accountable for his actions every three years. If he fails to meet his pre-election commitments, he should either be fired, or imprisoned for a maximum seven-year sentence.”

Shaltout also promised to pay attention to economic and social ailments, believing that unemployment remains Egypt’s biggest challenge.

He hopes the elections will be fair and free, since “it is high time for the average citizen’s opinions to be respected.”

Shaltout, a university finance professor, thinks he may get up to 51 per cent of the vote.

Fawzi Ghazal
Misr 2000 Party

73-year-old Fawzi Ghazal’s platform calls for increased democracy in the form of “all leaders — be they in local governments, universities or public institutions — being directly elected to their posts.”

On an economic level, Ghazal — a mathematician by profession — told the Weekly that, “Egypt could be one of the world’s wealthiest countries if all its resources were being properly exploited with the public’s welfare in mind.” He says alleviating unemployment problems and speeding up the development process would be two of his main priorities.

Ghazal also calls for limitless freedom of expression, and a reorienting of Egypt’s foreign policy towards Arab countries, with a stronger role for the Arab League.

Born in the Nile Delta’s Menoufiya Governorate, Ghazal — who has a doctorate in math — participated in political activities before the 1952 Revolution, when he was a member of a national independence committee.

Ahmed El-Gebeili
Al-Shaab Al-Demoqrati Party

Ahmed El-Gebeili, 45, says the main reason he is running against Mubarak is that he hopes to one day “face [US President George W] Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and end all sorts of foreign interference in Egypt’s affairs.”

In addition to being the leader of Al-Sha’b Al-Demoqrati Party, El-Gebeili is a journalist with Al-Ra’i newspaper. He says creating an atmosphere conducive to guaranteeing freedom of the press and increasing journalists’ salaries would be one of his priorities.

He praised Mubarak as a great man of war, peace, and “heroic” achievements. “I cannot compete with Mubarak, who is supported by a long history of success,” he said. “However, I decided to run to prove that Egypt has freedom.” His platform aims to create a “national front for the protection of Egyptians, a move that would guarantee that all groups and political entities in Egypt work in unison.”

Also on his agenda is the pledge that Egypt should tilt towards Arab, Islamic and African countries instead of excess cooperation with the West. “Contacts with the West have only brought decades of occupation, and current US attempts to impose its hegemony on the region,” he said.

Although El-Gebeili claims to have a 24-months plan to end unemployment, inflation and illiteracy, he did not go into the details. One thing he emphasised, though, is that Egypt needed to move towards more self-sufficiency by planting essential products like wheat instead of importing them.

Rifaat El-Agroudi
Al-Wifaq Al-Watani Party

Rifaat El-Agroudi, 63, has only been chairman of Al-Wifaq Al-Watani Party for a year. Nonetheless, he says that if the upcoming elections are fair and free, and if his ideas are given enough publicity, he is 100 per cent sure he would win. Those ideas include establishing a parliamentary republic and removing all items that are against the Shari’a, or Islamic law, from the constitution.

“Corruption and favouritism should come to an end, and laws should be strictly applied. Since Mubarak’s ruling party came to power, the government has failed to deal with unemployment, corruption and rising prices — despite promises to address them effectively,” El-Agroudi told the Weekly.

El-Agroudi said he would stop the privatisation of the public sector, which he said needed to play a more effective role in creating job opportunities.

On foreign policy, El-Agroudi said he supports resistance to Israeli and US occupation of Palestinian and Iraqi territories. He said Egypt needed to restore its role as a pioneer in Africa and the Middle East.

In general, however, he was sceptical that his party would have enough time to run an effective campaign.

Wahid El-Oqsuri
Misr Al-Arabi Party

Wahid El-Oqsuri, 52, said that if he were elected president, his main challenge would be “rebuilding the Egyptian citizen, who has suffered psychological destruction brought on by decades of poor rule”.

His priorities would include things like “better health care and education, cheap housing and lower prices,” El-Oqsuri told the Weekly.

Egypt’s economic crisis, he said, was too complicated to be solved in a specific time frame. “After 24 years in power, Mubarak has failed to contain this crisis — thanks to rampant corruption,” he said.

The presidential candidate said he would attempt to reduce unemployment rates by encouraging micro-finance projects, rebuilding the public sector and halting the privatisation process.

El-Oqsuri has degrees in military affairs, social sciences, and Shari’a, or Islamic law.

Ahmed El-Sabahi
Umma Party

Famous for being a fortuneteller, El-Sabahi says he is running for president to boost Mubarak’s popularity. “Mubarak is the main presidential candidate,” El-Sabahy told the Weekly, “and we are subordinate candidates. So, he is the one who should win.” He said that Mubarak’s tremendous achievements made him the best candidate by far.

Nonetheless, in the slim chance that Sabahi is elected, his goal will be to put the principles of Shari’a, or Islamic law, into action. He also called for parliamentary seats to be divided equally amongst the nation’s various parties.

Sabahi made headlines a few years ago when he reportedly established a workshop within his party to train young Egyptians how to be barbers. At the time, Sabahi called the training course a positive step towards eradicating poverty and addressing the nation’s unemployment problem.

Ibrahim Turk
Al-Ittihadi Al-Demoqrati Party

Ibrahim Turk believes that the competition is “real” this time. “Regardless of whether I win or not, suffice it to say that I took a positive action and participated,” Turk said.

Economic development is the main item on Turk’s agenda. “Economic reforms would lead to political reforms, and the former could take place with better exploitation of the country’s resources,” he said.

Ending queues of people seeking to buy subsidised bread, and reclaiming more land, are two of his goals, if elected.

Turk also calls for reforming local government and imposing strict penalties on administrative violations.

He urges an end to free education after the preparatory school stage, as a way of improving the quality of education overall, and upgrading the standards of the nation’s students.

The 47-year-old Turk was born in Alexandria. He was a financial manager of Delta Bank and a businessman before switching gears to politics.

Anwar Afifi
Al-Shaab Al-Demoqrati Party

The 64-year-old presidential candidate, an engineer by profession, filed a lawsuit against the Presidential Elections Committee demanding that President Hosni Mubarak not be allowed to run for president. Afifi is basing his lawsuit on what he calls the unconstitutionality of the National Democratic Party (NDP), since it was formed by a presidential decree issued by the late president Anwar El-Sadat, thus making the NDP more of a political group than a political party. The lawsuit says Mubarak’s presidency is thus both illegal and unconstitutional. Afifi also demands that the president step down from the NDP’s helm.

Afifi has an extensive history of contesting the legality of earlier referendums extending Mubarak’s presidency. In 1993, he filed a lawsuit against that year’s referendum before the Supreme Constitutional Court, which rejected the case for not falling under its jurisdiction. The court rejected another case filed by Afifi against the 1999 referendum for the same reason.

Asked about his chances of winning, he told the Weekly that they are slim “since the NDP completely dominates power and the whole political process”.

If elected president, Afifi said his biggest challenge would be unemployment. He says one of the ways he would fight this problem would be to “order the reclamation of one million feddans every year, and build new cities across the country”.

Afifi also calls for abolishing the emergency law. “There are no reasons to keep this law, as it only serves to terrorise other political parties.”

Ahmed Fadaly
Al-Salam Al-Demoqrati Party

Ahmed Fadaly, 41, the leader of Al-Salam Al-Demoqrati Party, which was founded in July, dismissed rumours that he could not run because the party is new. “I have already obtained the agreement of the Shura Council,” he told the Weekly.

Fadaly’s agenda for the coming elections would stress solutions for the unemployment problem. “If elected, all jobless people would receive unemployment benefit of LE150 pounds monthly in an attempt to immediately address the phenomenon,” he says.

He also wants to raise the salaries of civil servants, and make new “budget allocations that would redistribute and modify the way resources are used.” Fadaly also aims to address corruption in a far stronger manner than it is addressed today.

Fadaly is a 1990 graduate of the Faculty of Shari’a, Islamic law.