This weekend’s decision by Egypt’s Presidential Elections Commission to disqualify ten candidates (out of 23) in the upcoming Egyptian presidential election on May 23 — including the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, a former top official of Hosni Mubarak’s regime and another popular Salafist candidate — appears to have closed a topsy-turvy chapter in the race.
The latest drama started when Salafist preacher Hazem Abu Ismail (above, top) began gaining traction in the race. A hardline Islamist, Abu Ismail’s campaign targeted a smaller role for the Egyptian military in public life and a correspondingly greater role for Islam. A proponent of Iranian-style reforms, he would make the veil mandatory for women. He also advocated a ban on alcohol consumption, including for foreign tourists, and the closing of gambling casinos, currently open to foreigners.
While this hardline agenda is fairly popular with not just a few Egyptians, it essentially terrified everyone else in Egypt — from the secular military to Egypt’s vocal minority of Coptic Christians to the tourism industry, which would rather not scare away any more Western visitors. Meanwhile, the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood, which had previously pledged not to field a candidate for the presidential election, also saw Abu Ismail as a threat. In sitting out the presidential election, it ceded to Abu Ismail the full spectrum of Islamists, conservative and moderate. But, more existentially, as Abu Ismail’s tone and support began to sound alarm among those who want to perpetuate Egyptian’s secular state, it risked being lumped together with the Salafists. Continue reading Disqualifications reshape Egyptian presidential race