Presidential elections…and beyond
The nomination of candidates for Egypt’s first ever multi-candidate presidential elections—to be held on 7 September—ended earlier this month. The one-week nomination period brimmed with surprises and speculation, with Egyptians’ attention focused on the names of the nominees, their orientations, objectives and programmes. Sad to say, most declarations made by presidential hopefuls were rather shallow—in some cases almost comic—lacking in the seriousness and sense of responsibility indispensable for the contested post. Actually, most statements reflected a fascination with power, fame and glory, that is, with the gloss of the post. This is not to blame those who nominated themselves, rather, I personally applaud their courage and initiative, and wish luck to those whose nomination was approved by the Presidential Election Committee.
The upcoming period should witness the competition of programmes and proposals by rival candidates. However, a quick look at the nominees and their first declarations—including those who were disqualified—leads one to wonder if this is the utmost Egypt could offer in leadership and statesmanship. The answer is definitely not. Egypt is not barren of people who possess ample wisdom and insight, and are waiting for the right time to rise, come forward, introduce their programmes to the public, and lead. They probably believe that the reform process has already started, but the six-month period since the onset of reform last March and the presidential elections scheduled for September—whether or not this period was deliberately limited—is too short to allow a serious approach to the masses. I am confident that after the end of the presidential and parliamentary elections, they will use the climate of reform to work hard and prepare themselves to take part in next parliamentary or presidential elections due in 2010 and 2011 respectively.
It must be admitted that President Mubarak has accumulated enough trust with the people to give him an unquestionable advantage over the other candidates. However, it must also be admitted that this is not merely because of his achievements, but has much to do with the existing political vacuum which makes the multi-candidate elections—the first in more than 50 years—closer to a pre-determined battle which lacks real competition. This however should not preclude serious participation in the process through investigating candidates’ programmes, following up on their electoral campaigns, and heading to the polls. Practice makes perfect, and this applies to the political process and reform just as to everything else.
It is sensible to aspire for change, but political change should thrive in a culture of plurality and power sharing and rotation. In this context, those who compete for posts at different levels should not be condemned or defamed, and those who control power should abandon the pursuit to monopolise it forever. I thus believe that the real strive for reform and change should seriously start after the elections. The right to freely form political—rather than religious—parties, so as to inject new blood in the political arena, should be secured. New, creative figures, and innovative programmes and concepts can thus surface, grab a share in the political field, and draw the attention of wide sectors of Egyptians. Our political life would be wealthier, and we would emerge out of the dark tunnel which now traps Egyptians between the one ruling party and the scary prospect of religious fundamentalism.
This is my view of the present and future phases of our political life. It is the view of an Egyptian who is keen to contribute to running his country’s affairs, and invites all others to do so. I do not fear different opinions or evade plurality, nor do I call for rallying behind a specific candidate. In this context, I find that the support announced by the Coptic Church to Mubarak, and its call upon Copts to re-elect him for President, inconsistent with democratic practice. It confiscates Copts’ rights to free political inclination and commitment, and bypasses their Egyptian identity in favour of their Coptic one, reducing them to mere subjects of the Church.