Egypt army web page tests presidential hopefuls

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jun 20, 2011 11:38 AM
Egypt army web page tests presidential hopefuls

By Yasmine Saleh

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's military rulers have launched an online poll to test the popularity of potential presidential candidates, a move analysts said may be aimed at judging appetite for getting a former officer back in the post.

The list on Facebook includes at least four ex-military officers, alongside Islamists, judges, diplomats and others. Most have declared they will run, including two former officers.

Others named have not declared but are often cited by the media or the public as possible candidates, including former prime minister and air force commander Ahmed Shafiq and Omar Suleiman, former intelligence chief and briefly vice president.

The military supplied Egypt's rulers for the past six decades. A military council is now acting as a transitional authority after Hosni Mubarak, a former air force chief, was driven out by popular protests on February 11.

The army has vowed to transfer power to civilians but many ordinary Egyptians question whether the army will be ready to go back to their barracks and accept civilian command.

"This is meant to test the people's opinion to see if they would accept a candidate related to the military or not," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

The army denies any plan to hold onto power after elections, firstly for parliament in September and then for the presidency.

The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said on the page that its initiative was aimed at "communicating with the great Egyptian people and the youth of the revolution."

Abdel Fattah said: "There is an ongoing debate among Egyptians and political powers on the role of the army after elections that remains to be clarified...The army says it wants to be an independent body but does not explain what this means."

DIVISIONS

The Facebook list allows users to vote on who they prefer, including Suleiman, who was appointed vice president by Mubarak in the last days of his presidency.

Suleiman, who handled most major sensitive foreign policy issues for the president as the intelligence chief, was tasked with the role of announcing Mubarak had stepped down and was handing powers to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Suleiman has made no public appearances since then.

Also on the list is Shafiq, a former aviation minister under Mubarak and appointed by him as prime minister during the uprising. He led the cabinet in March after protesters demanded a sweep out of Mubarak's ministers from the cabinet.

The two other former officers listed on the Facebook page are Magdy Hatata, former army chief of staff, and Mohamed Ali Bilal, who headed Egyptian forces in the 1990-91 war to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Both have said they want to run.

Ordinary Egyptians, many exhausted and worried by the political turmoil, are divided about whether the military should continue to play a role in politics.

"It was inappropriate of the military council to insult the revolution by having the names of Omar Suleiman and Ahmed Shafiq in a poll on presidential candidates," wrote one Facebook user, adding that they were in the "highest posts" during protests against Mubarak in which more than 840 people were killed.

Another user, calling himself Mohamed Kajoo, wrote: "From my point of view, Egypt has to be ruled by a military person."

Others on the list include Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian foreign minister and soon-to-retire Arab League chief who has said he will run, and Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

Also on the list is Ayman Nour, who lost to Mubarak in 2005 in the only multi-candidate presidential race held in Egypt until now, judge Hisham al-Bastawisy and Abdel Monem Abul Futuh, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood, Egypt's most organised political grouping, has said it will not seek the presidency and that it will not back any of its members who choose to run as a candidate.

At least 10 Egyptians have so far said they plan to run.

(Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich)