June 19, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Sand and Political Excitement Fill the Air as Election Nears
Posted on Apr 21, 2012
We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an international artist who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. In this entry, she writes about that nation’s approaching presidential election and the travails of the candidates.
CAIRO—On Friday, 100,000 or more Egyptians packed Tahrir Square in an impressive demonstration of popular mobilization. The event was a moment of awkward reunion between bearded Islamists and liberals of all parties in which unified slogans, generally calling for continued backing of the revolution, were on display. Political rivals found comfort in a full-contact mash of humanity as they joined in support of the new Egypt.
There were eight stages for the 40 or so parties and political movements that were represented. Groups marched in from all over Cairo, and there even was one, forming “the Revolutionary March,” that came from Suez, more than 70 miles away.
Friday’s demonstration was a pause and an attempt to re-coalesce the people’s increasingly diverging motives. Protests, but not campaigning, are permitted in the presidential contest, and there’s a thin line between the two.
Most of the people at protests in Tahrir over the past few weeks had been Salafi supporters of Hazem Abu-Ismail, a famous TV imam who recently was disqualified as a candidate in the presidential election, in which he ran as a hard-line Islamist and an anti-West candidate.
The chorus of a song played last week at a rally for Abu-Ismail in Tahrir went: “We will make from our skulls a stairway for your dignity.”
Earlier, the emergence of another would-be presidential candidate, Omar Suleiman, had threatened to trigger a public uprising. The former head of Egyptian intelligence, chief enforcer and vice president during the last days of Hosni Mubarak’s reign registered his candidacy just before the deadline. Seemingly those who want a return to the last regime are not few; after only two days of collecting signatures, Suleiman submitted the required 30,000. However, he was disqualified on the grounds that many of those signatures were invalid and therefore the total was insufficient. Undoubtedly, a run by Suleiman would have touched off major riots and other violence.
One of my acquaintances—a privileged architect who had told me that when he was young he played in a rock band with country club comrades who would later become some of Mubarak’s infamous billionaire associates—asked me: “Why do people think Suleiman is bad?” When I mentioned torture, spying, arresting, kidnapping and making people disappear, he replied, “That doesn’t make him bad.”
That’s an opinion shared by some other Egyptians, but the rest of the country cried out in outrage against the candidacy and made it obvious that bloodshed would return if the ruling military allowed Mubarak’s spymaster to run. Egypt will not again passively accept being held hostage.
Khairat al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s disqualified candidate, is a business genius who spent more than 12 years, in three stints, as a political prisoner under Mubarak, and even as a captive continued to generate hugely successful businesses faster than they could be confiscated. He is a major figure of the Muslim Brotherhood. His incarceration for political opposition—more high irony here—was the source of his disqualification for candidacy. Egypt would have been lucky to have him in charge of commerce and development.
Others who were eliminated, for various reasons, were less important candidates without strong support. Among them were Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, and Ayman Nour of the Tomorrow of the Revolution party.
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