CAIRO, April 9, 2012 - Sunday April 8 was the deadline to register to run in Egypt’s presidential elections. More than 1,500 individuals have received applications to file, causing a significant political headache in Cairo. Among the candidates are former workers, former soldiers, a retired belly dancer, taxi drivers, plumbers, and individuals from every other profession in Egypt.
Egypt saw several surprises last week in terms of the candidates.
Perhaps most shocking was the discovery that Sheikh Hazem Salah Abou Ismail’s holds American citizenship. Under Egyptian law, all candidates must have parents who are Egyptian citizens, so Ismail is prohibited from running for office.
The announcement prompted his strong supporters among conservative Salafist Muslims to flood into Tahrir Square to protest.
Another surprise was the flip-flop announcement by Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence Chief under dictator Hosni Mubarak. Early in the week, Suleiman announced he had decided not to run, but late on Friday, he reversed his decision and said he would run. The change came after hundreds of his supporters held a rally urging his candidacy.
Some believe Suleiman declared his candidacy as a response to the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Khairat al-Shater. Al Shater is a senior financier for the Muslim brotherhood. The Brotherhood previously had promised not to field a candidate, but announced in March that it will contest the elections. Although Al Shater’s popularity in the Muslim Brotherhood is questionable, members of the organization will back him out of loyalty.
However, the decision to run a candidate could damage the group’s reputation. Some Egyptians believe that the U-turn was caused by the Brotherhood’s sharply deteriorating relations with the supreme Military Council (SCAF) which has rejected demands to dismiss the under-performing cabinet it appointed last year.
Another surprise was the withdrawal of all liberal representatives, together with members from the Coptic church, from the constitutional assembly. The liberals and Christians decided to boycott the assembly to protest Islamist control of the constitution-writing body.
The turbulent atmosphere in Egypt is ratcheting up the already high political tensions. Parties are attacking each other, spreading rumors and questioning family history and the nationalities of their parents.
Tensions are likely to remain high over the next several months. Egyptians say that literally anything could happen until a president is elected to take control of the country.
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