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Egyptians Warily Await Final Slate Of Candidates

Apr 23, 2012
Originally published on April 23, 2012 6:39 pm

Egypt's election commission is expected to announce the final list of candidates this week for next month's presidential elections. But which candidate will win is far from clear.

A recent Egyptian poll shows nearly 40 percent of voters have no idea who to support. Another 30 percent who had decided will be forced to select someone else because their preferred candidates were among the 10 barred by election officials recently.

As a result, Egyptian voters who were once excited about the prospect of their first free presidential election are growing frustrated.

On a recent morning, campaign workers for ousted candidate Hazem Abu Ismail handed out fliers to drivers on the boulevard outside Egypt's presidential election commission. The fliers accused officials of conspiring to manipulate the upcoming polls to ensure that remnants of Hosni Mubarak's regime stay in power.

Last week, election officials banned Abu Ismail, an ultra-conservative cleric, from running because his mother held dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship. The nine other candidates were banned for other reasons.

One of the preacher's supporters, Khaled Hassan Ibrahim, claims the disqualifications were part of a plan by the military junta to eliminate Islamists from the race.

He adds that he is inclined to not vote. But if he does go to the polls next month, the 38-year-old merchant says, he has no idea which candidate to vote for.

He is not alone. Few of the people NPR interviewed say they know who they will choose. Many don't know who the candidates are or what they stand for. All expressed frustration.

'First Democratic Experience'

"Until now, I can't understand ... the situation exactly," says Ahmed al Minyawi, a 46-year-old casino manager. "Who is running, who is going to be the president, which side, the Islamic or the [liberal] system, something like this? Most people are very confused."

He says he's leaning toward Amr Moussa, the former secretary-general of the Arab League and a onetime foreign minister under ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak. Moussa has wide name recognition in Egypt and recently unveiled a plan for improving the Egyptian economy.

Minyawi's 42-year-old wife, Azza Said, is undecided.

Her main concern is that no extremist be elected. She says she's afraid an Islamist president will strip Egyptian women of their rights and force them to wear headscarves.

But she says she needs to hear more from the candidates before making her decision.

In the conservative neighborhood known as Islamic Cairo, voter Said Maher says he wants an Islamist president. But he, like Azza Said, says he is confused by the choices.

"It's our first democratic experience. There are many parties and many independent candidates we need to hear from," he says.

Too Many Choices?

Analysts say that's a problem because election officials are giving candidates less than a month to campaign in a country that is new to democracy, and where many voters are impoverished and illiterate.

"The Islamists, they had no less than five candidates," says Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid, a political science professor and official at the Egyptian Institute for Public Opinion Research. "Definitely this makes it quite difficult for those with Islamist sympathies to decide who to support."

The same holds true for candidates from across the political spectrum, he says.

"We have more than one leftist candidate — we have at least three. The same thing also applies to those who are more committed to liberal causes, and those who wanted to support someone with close links to Mubarak's regime," he says.

His center's poll earlier this month found 38 percent of voters were undecided. Half of those polled who had decided will now have to choose a new candidate because the commission disqualified theirs.

Meanwhile, election officials are scheduled to reveal the final list of candidates on Thursday. Thirteen names are expected to be on the list.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. This week, Egypt's High Election Commission will announce the final list of candidates running in next month's presidential elections. Which of those candidates Egyptians will pick is by no means clear. A recent poll shows nearly 40 percent of voters have no idea whom they'll support. Another 30 percent who had decided will be forced to select someone else. That's because election officials have banned their preferred candidates. As NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Cairo, Egyptian voters who were once excited about the prospect of their first free presidential election are growing frustrated.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: On a recent morning, campaign workers for ousted candidate Hazem Abu Ismail handed out fliers to drivers on the boulevard outside Egypt's presidential election commission. The fliers accused officials of conspiring to manipulate the upcoming polls to ensure remnants of Hosni Mubarak's regime stay in power. Abu Ismail, who's an ultraconservative cleric, was banned last week from running because his mother held dual U.S.-Egyptian citizenship. Nine other candidates were also banned for other reasons.

KHALED HASSAN IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: One of the preacher's supporters, Khaled Hassan Ibrahim, claims the bans were part of a plan by the junta to eliminate Islamists from the race. He adds he's inclined not to vote. But if he does go to the polls next month, the 38-year-old merchant says he has no idea who to vote for. He's not alone. Few of the people NPR interviewed say they know who they will choose. Many don't know who the candidates are or what they stand for. All expressed frustration. Ahmed al-Minyawi is a 46-year-old casino manager.

AHMED AL-MINYAWI: Until now, I can't understand what the situation exactly, you know?

NELSON: Who's running?

AL-MINYAWI: Who's running? They'll - who's going to be the president? Which side, you know, the Islamic or the liberally system, something like this? The most of people is very confused.

NELSON: He says he's leaning toward Amr Moussa, the former secretary general of the Arab League. Moussa has wide name recognition in Egypt and recently unveiled a plan for improving the Egyptian economy. Minyawi's 42-year-old wife, Azza Said, is undecided.

AZZA SAID: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Her main concern is that no extremist be elected. She says she's afraid an Islamist president will strip Egyptian women of their rights and force them to wear headscarves. But she says she needs to hear more from the candidates before making her decision. In the conservative neighborhood known as Islamic Cairo, voter Said Maher says he wants an Islamist president. But he, like housewife Azza Said, says he's confused by the choices.

SAID MAHER: (Through Translator) It's our first democratic experience. There are many parties and many independent candidates we need to hear from.

NELSON: Analysts say that's a problem because election officials are giving less than a month to candidates to campaign in a country that is new to democracy and where many voters are impoverished and illiterate.

MUSTAPHA KAMEL AL SAYYID: The Islamists, they had no less than five candidates. Definitely, this makes it quite difficult for those with Islamist sympathies to decide whom to support.

NELSON: That's Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, a political science professor, an official at the Egyptian Institute for Public Opinion Research.

SAYYID: The same thing also for the leftists. We have more than one leftist candidate. We have at least three. The same thing also would apply to those who are more committed to liberal causes and those who wanted to support someone with close links to Mubarak's regime.

NELSON: His center's poll earlier this month found 38 percent of voters were undecided. Half of those polled who had decided will now have to choose a new candidate because theirs has since been disqualified by the commission. Meanwhile, election officials will reveal the final list of candidates on Thursday. Thirteen names are expected to be on the list. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Cairo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.