Egyptians begin voting today in the first presidential election since the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February last year.
Thirteen candidates are standing for office, including former Arab League chief Amre Moussa, Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, Mohammed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, who served as prime minister in the last days of Mubarak’s government.
Following is a guide to the poll with background on the leading candidates.
Timetable: The first round of voting is held over two days. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, as is expected, a two-day run-off will be held starting June 16. Egyptians abroad began voting via their embassies on May 11. Final results are due on June 21. Egypt’s stock exchange and government-owned businesses will remain open during the election.
Eligibility: Voters must be 18 or over. Members of the armed forces, convicted criminals, those who’ve been declared bankrupt and people in the care of mental health institutions aren’t allowed to vote. More than 50 million Egyptians are eligible, according to state media.
Supervision: The elections commission supervises all aspects of the poll, from registration of voters and candidates to the counting of ballots. The ruling military council has said 52 local and international organizations have been permitted to “attend” the elections, and it will deploy at least 150,000 troops and 11,000 vehicles around the country to ensure security.
What’s at stake: Egypt has been without a president and under the control of the armed forces since Mubarak was kicked out of office in February last year. While the country has already held parliamentary elections, in which Islamist groups led by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party gained a majority, the body has been at loggerheads with the interim Cabinet appointed by the ruling generals.
Security and the economy are the main issues dominating the political debate. The unrest of the past year has crippled tourism and foreign investment, two of the country’s main sources of revenue, while the country has endured the worst economic slowdown in a least a decade. International reserves have been reduced by more than a half. While Egypt is seeking a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund as part of efforts to boost growth, talks with the fund have yet to conclude amid wrangling between the government and parliament.
With a new constitution not yet written, it is unclear what powers the new president will have. While the ruling military council has said it will transfer authority to a civilian government after the vote, it still controls large sections of the economy and will continue to retain political influence.
Candidates: A weekly opinion poll by the semi-official Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies has put Moussa in first place. Other surveys have given the top spot to Aboul-Fotouh or to Shafik.
Amre Moussa, 75, served as foreign minister as well as secretary-general of the Arab League and has touted his international experience and contacts as an advantage in securing oversees aid. Portrayed by Islamists as a member of the wealthy elite and a “remnant” of the Mubarak regime, Moussa has pitched himself as the only experienced statesman among the contenders and vowed to “immediately employ” his contacts to plug the country’s financing gap. He has also pledged to boost public spending to lower the highest unemployment rate in at least two decades.
Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, 60, was expelled from the Muslim Brotherhood after announcing last year that he planned to run for office, defying a decision by the group’s leadership. A physician by training, his campaign has attracted broad support from secular activists and Islamists alike, including the unexpected backing of an ultraconservative Salafi group. Aboul-Fotouh served prison terms in the Mubarak era and his campaign highlights his dissident background and support for last year’s uprising. In 2007, he defied the Brotherhood’s official line by backing the right of women and Egypt’s minority Coptic Christians to compete for the presidency. His policies include a shift in taxes to favor the poor.
Mohamed Mursi, 60, is an engineer by training and became the Muslim Brotherhood’s official candidate after the elections commission disqualified the Brotherhood’s main nominee, Khairaat el-Shater. Running on a conservative ticket, he failed to get the backing of a main Salafi group that makes up the second largest bloc in parliament. On the other hand, the Brotherhood’s ability to mobilize supporters may prove to be an asset and he has risen in opinion polls in recent weeks.
Ahmed Shafik, 70, served as prime minister in the dying days of the Mubarak regime. While this may alienate supporters of the popular uprising last year, he has run on a law-and order platform which may appeal to Egyptians frustrated by insecurity and the bickering between members of the Islamist-dominated parliament and the interim government.
Hamdeen Sabahy, 57, is leader of the nationalist Karama, or Dignity, party, and is running as an independent. An avowedly Nasserist politician, his background in the opposition may endear him to younger voters who took part in last year’s anti-Mubarak uprising.