Egypt’s search for a successor to Hosni Mubarak is losing credibility. A move by the authorities to bar 10 of the 23 candidates, including three top contenders, could reshape the presidential election just five weeks before the polls start. This will add to the concerns of investors who should worry more about a timely, free vote than about who actually ends up in charge of the country.
Liberals won’t mourn the loss. The Muslim Brotherhood’s primary nominee Khairat al-Shater, popular hard-line Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, and Mubarak’s former chief spy Omar Suleiman were among those kicked out the race, pending appeals, by the election commission. Past criminal convictions, citizenship problems and some technicalities were given as reasons for disqualification.
But this mass ouster from the candidates’ ranks is a mixed blessing for foreign investors. True, they may have some reason to rejoice. The election of Abu Ismail would stoke fears about the impact of ultra-conservative Islam on the economy. That of Suleiman would raise concerns of corruption from the old guard. A win by al-Shater, meanwhile, would consolidate power in the hands of one party, following the Brotherhood’s dominance of parliamentary elections.
Their exit leaves room for more market-friendly moderates like Amr Moussa, a former Arab League secretary general, or ex-Brotherhood member Abdul Moneim Abol Fotouh, who was expelled from the movement for launching his own presidential bid last year. The Brotherhood also has a reserve nominee who made the list, but he may find it hard to mobilize support for a replacement at such a late stage.
That’s where Egypt’s election risks coming unstuck. These disqualifications, after nominations have closed, will deprive key factions of the opportunity or time to rally support for alternative candidates. And it will leave a question mark over those, if any, that are reinstated. Under the current timeline, the work on a new constitution is unlikely to be finished before the elections.
Without it, no one can be sure of the ultimate balance of power between the president and parliament.
The Muslim Brotherhood is currently blocking much-needed financial aid from the IMF until the army hands over more power, something it has pledged to do by the end of June. Egypt’s election turmoil increases the chance of a disputed vote, or of a delay that would prolong the country’s financial uncertainty.