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Dispatches From Cairo: Sand and Political Excitement Fill the Air as Election Nears

By Lauren Unger-Geoffroy

The latest public survey statistics, taken this month before the eliminations, showed 28 percent of Egyptians supporting the disqualified Salafist Abu-Ismail and 39 percent backing the last major candidate standing, Amr Moussa.

Moussa has been a front-runner since the early days of the revolution and was the people’s favorite to replace Mubarak at that time. His good track record as a onetime secretary-general of the Arab League, an ambassador and a foreign minister make him a reassuring choice. In agreement with all the other candidates in their criticism of Israel, Moussa has said that the controversial 1978 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel is not sacred. Attempts to discredit Moussa through website reports that Moussa’s half brother is the son of a Jewish woman failed when the assertions were shown to be false.

There is one remaining significant Islamist candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, but he does not have a comparable following. The rest of the vote in the public survey was split among more than 15 others who at that point had survived as registered candidates.

The presidential election will take place May 23 and 24. In the span of a few weeks, hundreds of proposed candidates were narrowed down first by requiring 30,000 specifically distributed voters’ signatures, the backing of 30 members of the Parliament or the endorsement of a represented party. This allowed only about two dozen to apply for registration. Though most of the rejections were appealed in the allotted two days, the appeals have failed, and the rejected applicants seem to be definitively out. The final candidates will be announced next Thursday, only three weeks before the election. However, until May 22 a committee will accept objections that might exclude candidates.

The differences between the concurrent presidential campaigns of Egypt and the United States are so vast that they almost defy comparison. On the one hand, there’s the USA dragging its big bully of a body, bulging unhealthily under a corrupt, capitalist, bipartisan system, through multimillion-dollar lobby-funded ad onslaughts, primaries and other costly campaign stages toward its far-off November election media fantasia. On the other, there’s Egypt scurrying and choosing quickly among a jumble of aspirants. Critics of Egypt’s embryonic electoral approach may have some valid complaints, but the nation’s post-revolutionary system has some virtues that will be appreciated by many campaign-weary Americans.

Despite the springtime sand-haze now obscuring Cairo, activists plan to continue coming out in numbers on Fridays, in protests and displays of solidarity, to show they are not to be ignored again.

The stumbling new democracy of Egypt appears for the moment, barring another wave of confrontation knocking it off its feet, and despite the continuing menace of foreign influence, to be en route to a plateau where it can catch its breath, Insha’Allah.

The view of Cairo since Wednesday has been through a fog of blowing dust. Under that veil, the calls to prayer have been muted and voices have been muffled on the street, which remain busy even though some residents are staying indoors. Many of those who ventured out in the hamseen, or sandstorm, wrap their faces in scarves and wear glasses or goggles. Inside, behind windows, the light is filtered through a golden mist as I write this. Beautiful, though the particles penetrate everywhere, blowing in through cracks, covering everything with dust.

There will be many speeches in the forum of Tahrir as the election approaches, but we hope there will not be violence. Today the air is full of the stinging, ancient Egyptian sand that makes people wrap their scarves around themselves in ways that obscure their differences.


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