The Egyptian Presidential Debate: It is all about Constituencies

Egyptians watched their first national presidential debate with great interest on Thursday evening. The event, sponsored by two television channels and two newspapers, was preceded by an overview of the concept of presidential debates as practiced in America that even showed a clip from Saturday Night Live.

As in the US, the debates are a way for the candidates to position themselves with regard to the various constituencies in the electorate. In Egypt, these are the constituencies over which former Egyptian foreign minister and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa and former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abd al-Moneim Abu’l-Futuh were fighting:

1. The youth vote, including the left of center youth revolutionaries

2. The secular middle classes

3. Women

4. The Muslim Brotherhood voters (the mainstream religious Right)

5. The Coptic Christians (10% of the population)

6. The Salafis or hard line Muslim fundamentalists

So Abu’l-Futuh knows that the New Left youth do not forgive Moussa for having served under Mubarak and at one point, and he stressed Moussa’s background in this regard. He also promised to appoint very large numbers of young people to high positions, noting that in 2008 the US got a young president but that Egypt is ruled by the geriatric set. Abu’l-Futuh tried to reassure the secular middle classes and the Copts, both of which probably favor Moussa, that he wouldn’t turn Egypt into a religious state like Saudi Arabia. He knows that the Salafi leaders have already endorsed him. But the Muslim Brotherhood has its own candidate, Muhammad al-Mursi, who will likely draw votes away from Abu’l-Futuh.

Moussa stressed both respect for Islam and the important role Islamic law plays in underpinning most Egyptian laws. This was his attempt to steal some votes of the committed Muslims from Abu’l-Futuh. But he also stressed that these Islamic laws could not be applied to Coptic Christians, who have their own personal status laws. He reminded the audience that Abu’l-Futuh had long been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which back in the 1940s and 1950s resorted to violence. Abu’l-Futuh broke with the Brotherhood years ago and has a more moderate interpretation of Islam than they do. But Moussa tried to hang the Brotherhood around his neck, so as to scare away from him the secular middle classes, students, women and Coptic Christians.

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5 Responses

  1. Will be interesting to see what kind of effect this debate will have on Egyptian voting preferences.

    The mentality between the two main candidates is quite different. One very important factor is that Egypt needs someone who will appoint as high of a quality cabinet as possible. Very drastic reforms are needed. The constitutional crisis is another issue that it appears Egypt’s next president will become embroiled in.

  2. Egypt’s moving in Abu’l-Futuh’s direction so why prolong the inevitable. And maybe being in power and responsible for governing will temper the extremism of the hardliners in their ranks.

    One thing for sure: Amre Mousa is a corrupt political hack who deserves to be booted from the political stage. His track record has been marked by a craven pursuit of power. He had no trouble hitching his wagon to Mubarak’s ossified regime. It’s only now that he’s attempting to explain that there was no there, there. Lame.

    His “domestic” policy, if one can call it, offers little that is new or interesting. He’s a bureaucrat, not an economic thinker. Egypt’s economy is a basket case and Mousa has not a clue about how to get it back on track. Ditto for his foreign policy, which seems to be little more than a hodge-podge of failed rhetoric he pulled out of a dusty collection of Nasser’s greatest hits.

    No, Mousa is a hack. Let’s hope he never gets anywhere near the levers of power.

  3. Juan,

    Based on reading your posts it seems the biggest question is who if anyone within this group is capable of standing up to the military? I would doubt that the military will be willing to voluntarily give up their lucrative businesses and control of the economy.

  4. These may be the only constituencies Abu al-Fotouh was fighting Amr Mousa over, but Amr Mousa was fighting to appeal to ordinary rural Egyptians as well, while Abu al-Fotouh for a lot of the debate seemed to be presenting a platform that would appeal mostly to the groups you name (and to the army). Mousa is well aware that a lot of Egyptians live in rural areas, and the middle classes are definitely a minority – in Cairo I think the figures are that something like 60% of the population live in unplanned developments.

    Even if Abu al-Fotouh gets all the revolutionaries, moderate Islamists, Copts (unlikely – I’ve seen lots of anti-AF stuff on Facebook since the debate), and Salafis and most of the middle class (also unlikely), that still isn’t going to be enough to win the election.

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