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Candidates jockey for lead days ahead of Egyptian election

In this Monday, Nov. 22, 2010 file photo, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohammed Morsi speaks during a press conference alleging early fraud in Egypt parliamentary elections, at the group's offices in Cairo, Egypt.

Nasser Nasser/AP

In a campaign that has become a referendum on the place of Islam in society and threatens a pivotal peace treaty with Israel, Egyptians vote for a new president next Wednesday and Thursday, the first truly open multi-candidate presidential election in the most heavily populated and influential country in the Arab world.

The vote comes 14 months after the military leadership and a widespread popular uprising forced out Egypt's last president, Hosni Mubarak. Those military leaders have ruled over the country since then, promising to hand over executive power once a new president has been confirmed by the end of June. The armed forces have been the power behind the scenes in Egypt since the military coup of 1952, but as the visible authority for more than a year, the popularity they enjoy among the people has worn thin.

At the same time, the erosion of law and order has made security the single most important concern of the population and laid bare the tension between the country's Christian population and elements in the Muslim majority. The people are looking for a leader who can address all these matters as well as an economy that is in free fall.

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A second round of voting between the two leading vote-getters may be required in June before any one candidate receives the requisite 50 per cent plus one majority. Those top two candidates are likely to be among the following four men:

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, 60

A pediatrician and former head of the doctors' syndicate, he kept the Muslim Brotherhood alive in the 1970s with a new generation of supporters when the old leadership was imprisoned. He was known as a moderate as opposed to a conservative when he was in the Brotherhood.

A veteran of six years in Mr. Mubarak's prison, and three decades in the Brotherhood's Guidance Council, he parted company with the movement over the leadership's heavy-handed control over members, including a refusal to allow him to run for president.

Greatest asset: His support spans all sectors of the Egyptian electorate from secular liberals to Salafists

Biggest liability: His support from extreme elements in the Salafi trend, including the Gamaa Islamiya, known in the 1990s for its terror attacks on Christians and tourists

Quoted saying: "We are against the military having any role outside its duty of securing the safety of the country."

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Amr Moussa, 75

A career diplomat who served as the Mubarak foreign minister for 10 years, then as head of the Arab League, he was known for voicing opposition to Israeli policies, while still supporting the peace treaty between the two countries.

Greatest asset: His popularity that stems from his charisma and his criticism of Israel

Biggest liability: His association with the Mubarak regime

Quoted saying: "Do you think that democracy will come to Iraq on a B-52?" (from 2003, re: U.S.-led invasion of Iraq)

Mohamed Morsi, 60

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Head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party, he became the party's choice as candidate after first choice, Khairat El-Shater, was disqualified.

A professor of engineering, with a doctorate from the University of Southern California, he is known as a conservative in the Brotherhood movement and is a strong advocate of privatization to boost the economy. He played a central role in drafting the Brotherhood's political program that reserved the position of president to Muslim men only.

Greatest asset: The Muslim Brotherhood's hold over its members and an electoral operation that will get out his vote

Biggest liability: His complete lack of charisma

Quoted saying: "Egypt's next president can't be like his predecessor, he can't be a follower who executes policies put to him from outside."

Ahmed Shafiq, 70

A former Air Force chief who, reportedly, shot down two Israeli fighter jets in 1973, he served as the last prime minister of the Mubarak era and makes no apology for it.

He is known as someone who gets the job done, as demonstrated when he remade Egypt Air (making it acceptable to the Star Alliance of airlines that includes Air Canada) and built a world class airport in Cairo.

Greatest asset: His connection to the military leadership

Biggest liability: His connection to the military leadership

Quoted saying: "We must stop those dark forces from monopolizing religion to pass their own political agenda."


Election scenarios in Egyptian vote:

Best for Israel: Ahmed Shafiq

Worst for Israel: Mohamed Morsi

Best for Christians: Amr Moussa

Worst for Christians: Mohamed Morsy

Best for military: Ahmed Shafiq

Worst for military: Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh

Worst-case scenario: If the two leading vote-getters are secular. The country's religious majority will suspect fraud and all hell will break loose.

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About the Author
Global Affairs reporter

As Global Affairs Writer, Patrick Martin’s primary focus is on the turbulent Middle East, to which he travels regularly. He has twice been posted to the region – from 1991-95 and from 2008-12. More

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