Egyptians Warily Await Final Slate Of Candidates

During a demonstration at Cairo's Tahrir Square last week, veiled Egyptian women hold posters supporting Muslim cleric Hazem Abu Ismail, an ultra-conservative preacher who was disqualified from running for the presidential elections on technical grounds.

During a demonstration at Cairo's Tahrir Square last week, veiled Egyptian women hold posters supporting Muslim cleric Hazem Abu Ismail, an ultra-conservative preacher who was disqualified from running for the presidential elections on technical grounds. Amr Nabil/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Amr Nabil/AP

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.

Amr Moussa, the former Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian foreign minister, is currently considered the front-runner in Egypt's presidential election. Here, he speaks during a press conference in Cairo on Sunday. i i

Amr Moussa, the former Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian foreign minister, is currently considered the front-runner in Egypt's presidential election. Here, he speaks during a press conference in Cairo on Sunday. Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images
Amr Moussa, the former Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian foreign minister, is currently considered the front-runner in Egypt's presidential election. Here, he speaks during a press conference in Cairo on Sunday.

Amr Moussa, the former Arab League secretary-general and Egyptian foreign minister, is currently considered the front-runner in Egypt's presidential election. Here, he speaks during a press conference in Cairo on Sunday.

Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

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.

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