We have all read about and listened and watched the Arab Spring unfold. Now a new chapter in the Egyptian revolution saga will unfold. This Wednesday and Thursday, Egypt will hold it's first ever elections following it's first presidential debate on May 10. Between pharaohs, the British, Mubarak, and SCAF, this country has never actually held a real election for president. To say this week will be historic is an understatement.
So why does the Egyptian election even matter to the world? Two main reasons: regional influence and U.S.-Israel relations.
With 52 million eligible voters, Egypt has the largest population of any Middle Eastern country and, one could argue, the most to do with the West in terms of foreign policy and tourism. Its no coincidence President Obama gave a historic speech there in 2009. Egypt's revolution was also the most broadcast of all the revolutions in the Arab world. We knew about Tunisia but we eagerly observed the crowds in Tahrir Square, cheering them on even. To have a leader, the only leader in a region full of unrest, actually chosen by the people is powerful, to say the least. The candidates are vying for a position that they know can be taken away from them by the people. It follows suit that other Arab leaders will see that a leader beholden to his citizens is not necessarily less powerful in the world than one who lords over them.
Because of this regional influence, the first post-revolution Egyptian president will have a big impact on Israel and thus, U.S. relations with Israel and the wider region. The 1979 Camp David accords set up a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that has thus far been maintained. However, when a situation never changes, complacency tends to sink in. Mubarak, though a dictator, was consistent in his treatment of Israel, the Gaza border ... and ignoring public opinion on this issue. Many Egyptians disagreed with his policies and now have the chance, the right, to change them.
There are five main candidates in this election. In a poll published last month by James Taylor — PolicyMic pundit and founder of the Egypt Elects blog — this is how the electorate felt, with most people still undecided.
Some say, just days until the voting, that opinion polls are not very reliable in determining a favorite, with each party touting their candidate is in the lead. However, I think an opinion poll can be accurate even if there is no clear frontrunner, illustrating the need of people for more information, time, or access.
Here's a short breakdown of three of the major candidates:
Amr Moussa: He is the former head of the Arab League and former foreign minister in Hosni Mubarak's cabinet. Though the parliament had passed a law forbidding high-ranking government officials from the past 10 years in the previous regime from running, it conveniently did not apply to Moussa since he went to the Arab League in 2001. Moussa is actually a respected diplomat by the West because of his eagerness to keep and foster ties and carry on the peace treaty with Israel. If he is able to shed Mubarak's shadow and show how he will handle domestic issues, he may have a chance.
Mohammad Morsy: He is the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate and a doctor by trade. It's no secret that the group has wanted regime change since it's inception, calling for an Islamist state that is also modern. Morsy was not their first choice as candidate, but original choice and Brotherhood financier Khairet al-Shater has been disqualified. It seems the appeal with the Brotherhood, and thus Morsy, is their experience and presence in communities through social programs. The group has talked about keeping up relations with the U.S. but they are vehemently anti-Israel, which in these times also means they are not pro-American. If Morsy wins, it will be interesting to see if he can separate those two ideas, appeasing his voters as well the West.
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh: A former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Fotouh is running a campaign that “combines pro-revolution rhetoric and criticism of the military council with Islamist credentials,” according to the Nation. He looks to Turkey as an example for Egypt becoming an Islamic nation without religion ruling everyday public life. It’s an interesting mix of ideas and ideals that has brought him the support of a wide variety of voters from Google marketing executive and famed face of the revolution Wael Ghonim, to Salafists to Coptics. Many believe he is the kind of uniting figure the country needs now in the wake of the revolution. Many young people who participated in rallies in Tahrir Square support Fotouh as well.