By ‘Fisayo Soyombo
VENTURES AFRICA — Egyptians are currently riding on the coat-tails of last year’s globally followed uprising against Hosni Mubarak to, for the first time in the country’s nine-decade history, elect their president, with an eye on a long-sought revitalization of its failing economy.
With its interim military tribunal promising to hand over power by July 1, a country once under the grip of octogenarian strongman, Mubarak, has indeed been handed an unprecedented lifeline. But the man to lead that charge must first amass more than 50 per cent of votes cast in a presidential contest featuring 12 aspirants or face the second placed candidate in a run-off next month.
Among the contenders are Mohammed Mursi, 60, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, who will be counting on the most populous Arab country’s likely affinity for Islamic leadership; independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, 60; leftist Hamdeen Sabahy, 57, who is the popular candidate among those who can neither stomach an Islamist regime nor aspirants with a hand in Mubarak’s deposed regime; and Amr Moussa, 70, the former Arab League chief who previously served as Mubarak’s foreign minister but stood down a decade before the revolt.
Still, Ahmed Shafiq, who was premier for a few days before Hosni Mubarak fell but quit after the protests at Tahor Square, retains an outside chance, considering his appeal to the section of electorates who consider only a strongman fit for rebuilding a country that spent nearly the whole of 2011 in anarchy.
The Egyptian revolution, lasting 25th January 2011 to 11th February when Mubarak resigned, led to significant truncations in the economy, after announcement by Vice President Omar Suleiman that the Egyptian military would assume control of the nation’s affairs following the former president’s deposition.
The high level military command of Egypt later announced the dissolution of both the Egyptian constitution and parliament of Egypt. Parliamentary elections, earlier scheduled for September did not hold until 28 November 2011.
Such yearlong polity disruptions have taken their toll on Egypt’s economy, which depends mainly on agriculture, media, petroleum and natural gas exports, and tourism — its main revenue source, alongside traffic that goes through the Suez Canal.
Hopes of a turnaround are palpable in the air, voters revelling in their first opportunity to truly decide the result of a contested election after decades of rigged votes and doctored reports, as was the case under other previous Egypt presidents, who were all military men.
“This is the first time that I vote in my entire life,” Mohamed Mustafa, a 52-year-old engineer told local media in Cairo. “I didn’t take part in past elections because we knew who would be president. This is the first time we don’t know.”
But whether the hopes translate to the change that Egyptians desperately crave, the change that made them risk their lives for Mubarak’s ouster, will have to be seen, as a sizeable portion of the North African country’s intellectual class believes the election is about choosing the least offensive of the candidates; not choosing the most desirable.