It is quite difficult to believe that the mother of the rising presidential candidate representing the ultra Islamist Salafis has the U.S. citizenship. The irony here is in the fact that he is banned from running for presidency because his mother, who passed away few years ago, carried an American passport.
Hazem Abu Ismail denies it, saying it is a devious trick to block his election. It could be true, knowing that he has a good chance to be the next Egyptian president. Meanwhile, it could be true that he kept a hidden secret in his closet, knowing that his Islamist followers won’t vote for him if they knew he is a son of an American mother. However, I think this news could prove to be positive for Salafis, who are usually accused of being anti-west.
All the primary indications show that the Egyptian election is becoming dirty and a mud-wrestling, similar to many of the world democracies. President Barack Obama, for instance, is still struggling to convince his opponents that he is an American. He had to publish his birth certificate to prove he was born on American soil, in order to silence his rivals!
Another banned candidate is Ayman Nour, who is unfairly excluded from the presidential race, although he was the only person who dared to challenge the ousted president Hosni Mubarak at the peak of his power. Nour has been excluded citing his criminal record, as he was convicted and imprisoned, although the revolution was supposed to wipe out the preceding verdicts. This is what the revolution was all about, to reverse old regime’s unfair decisions.
But the real surprise is banning the big boss of the Muslim Brotherhood party, the largest and most experienced of all the Egyptian parties. Like Nour, Khairat al-Shater was jailed during Mubarak’s time several times. In 2006, he was sentenced by a military court to seven years over terrorism and money laundering charges.
Another irony is the fact that the ones who are allowed to run for election are high officials from Mubarak’s era like Omar Suleiman, the former spy chief and Amr Moussa, the former Arab League secretary general. What I see as a strange result is that the youth groups, who led the revolt and toppled Mubarak, have no place in the presidential race. Almost all the main candidates are aged men.
Hosni Mubarak deserves to be blamed for shunning the Egyptians from having free presidential races and only kept it for himself. He didn’t like the word “election” and used “referendum” instead. A voter was told to mark “Yes” or “No” for Mubarak only. The results were cocked as usual.
Now the heated election in Egypt has introduced a new culture that is full of political, legal and economic interesting debates. Such a culture has not been experienced by the country since the 1952 Revolution. Although, further controversy could lead to divisions in the Egyptian scene that can threaten its social fabric; yet, it is an essential phase to transfer from the totalitarian regime to the kind of regime sought by the revolution. Three Egyptian presidents have vowed to apply democracy along the past 60 years, but they didn’t.
The arguments over the qualifications for those running for election like Hazem Abu Ismail, Omar Soliman or Khairat al-Shater is normal in a democratic regime. What is more important is setting the rules of how the president is elected, to have a manual to guide politicians in an open and transparent system. The faults of the Arab democracies, including Egypt’s, have always been known: deformed regimes that are neither a monarchy that requires conditioned social agreement with the people, nor a real republic in which the people elect their own government.
This presidential election will lay the foundation for the future of ruling in Egypt. The Egyptians conducted successful and fair elections of both houses of parliament -- the People’s Assembly and the Shura Council -- however, electing the president is very important and essential for a successful system of ruling in Egypt.
Moreover, a successful democracy in Egypt is very important for the whole Arab region. When the Egyptian presidential regime was born as a dictatorship more than 60 years ago, it was cloned in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Algeria and Syria. The Arab region was infected by the failed system, which became the source of all our current and continuous disasters.
The writer is the General Manager of Al Arabiya. The article was published in the London-based Asharq al-Awsat on April 15, 2012 and was translated from Arabic by Abeer Tayel