On May 24th and 25th, Egypt will witness the first presidential election in Egyptian history, where Egyptians have more than one presidential candidate. Fifteen months after the toppling of ex-dictator Mubarak and his 30 years of dictatorship, Egyptians are going to select their first post-revolution president. The process started with more than 300 presidential candidates, including a plumber, a taxi driver, an ex con, a dancer who claimed that politics is like dancing, and a cook, who promised free meals for all Egyptians, if he won. A lot of candidates have dropped out along the way, and the Supreme Election Commission itself eliminated 10 candidates, including the strongest two candidates to the Military rulers establishment, Khayret Elshater, of the Brotherhood Justice and Freedom party, the most organized political party because of legal issues, and Hazem Abu Ismail, of the “Salafy” El Noor Party, the ultraconservatives Muslims, who like evangelical american, want to take Islam back to the time of “Salafyeen” dissentiences of the prophet., Mr Abu Ismail has become the Obama of Egypt, the agent of change, whose name became a household word overnight, this is not the only similarity he has with Obama, as the birther, he was accused of covering up his mother non-Egyptian nationality; an American one, which according to Egyptian constitutional, disqualified him from running. Now there are only 13 presidential candidates left on the ballot.
How are Egyptians going to select their next president? The candidates have largely no platforms or plans for Egypt. People only know them through personal reputation, and each candidate only talks about what is wrong with the other candidates and spreading rumors against each other; one candidate was accused of being a Christian, he was a Muslim, another was accused of having a non-Egyptian nationality.
Since illiteracy is so high in Egypt, some say as high as 50%, each candidate is randomly assigned a symbol for his name and his party to be used for campaigning and on the ballot as a way to distinguish him from the others. The unusual system was brought about in 1950 and was used in the election of Egypt’s second president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led the country from 1956 until his death in 1970. In the 1950s, only 30 symbols were used to represent the candidates, but last parliament election they used 250 symbols, that amount are needed to represent all the candidates.
These symbols, easily recognizable objects—from bananas to buses–are decided upon by the Supreme Elections Commission and then are randomly—with no input from the candidate–assigned to those in the running to be elected. Last parliamentary election, a conservative candidate wasn’t very pleased when he was given a woman’s dress as his symbol. Another smiling fellow had a banana next to his face on his campaign poster. Former actress Hind Akif was giving a rocket (elsarookh) as a symbol, which has the obvious ‘hottie’ connotation in Egyptian everyday lingo. A symbol like a donkey, dog or snake is never used, as no Egyptian would vote for a donkey, dog or snake candidate. The symbol of the camel has been used extensively since the 60s, but now, after the infamous battle of the camels that took place in Tahrir Square during the revolution, it probably won’t be used anytime soon. Even the almighty pyramid wasn’t spared in this carnival of political symbols. The umbrella has been used almost every election although you hardly see an Egyptian using it. The symbols can be animate or inanimate—deer and eagles, mangoes and bananas, trains and buses, vacuum cleaners and blenders, cameras and cannons, pianos and violins, water pumps and water bottles, basketballs and soccer balls.
Assigning these symbols may not, however, be all that random. Clearly, the symbol each candidate is assigned could actually affect his or her chance of winning the election. They operate as culture codes that can only be cracked by the Egyptians, and help the voting public make up their mind about their candidates. Here are the symbols given to the five front runners of the presidential race and how their symbol could affect their chances of winning.
General Ahmed Shafeiq, the “Ladder”. a secular who is known as the “Baltagiyah” candidate (political thugs) He is accused of masterminding the infamous battle of the camels in Tahrir Square. He promised if he won, he will get ready of all Baltagiyah in one week. He stepped up to be the first PM after Mubarak stepped down, but was fired after a poor performance on a TV talk show debate with novelist, Alaa Aswani. He served as a Minister of Aviation under Mubarak, and is a known social climber, and for Michele Bachman intrest he wont apply Shari.
Dr. Abdelmoneim Abolfotoh, the “Horse” symbol. an Islamist light, he will apply Sharie gradually He defected from the Brotherhood’s camp, and declared his independence. His views are moderate and he has more charisma than any Islamist. He was put in prison and tortured during the regimes of Sadat and Mubarak. His supporters cross the Islamist line; he has come from behind in the race, and now he is the front runner,.
Amre Moussa, the “Sun” symbol. Knowen as the “Fuloul” candidate (remnants of Mubarak regime) spent 10 years under Mubarak as a foreign minster and was the former head of the Arab League. He claims that he has the experience needed to establish a new prosperous and secure Egypt. He will apply the spriet of Sharie He promises Egyptians a bright future, a new dawn.
Mohamed Morsy, the “Scales of Justice” symbol, the Brotherhood candidate, for for Michelle Bachman sake, he will apply Sharie, replaced their main candidate, Khairat el-Shater, when he was disqualified by the Supreme Elections Commission, who are overseeing the election. Actually, everyone thought he should get the “stebn”, the spare tire symbol, but as the uncharismatic replacement candidate of the Freedom and Justice Party, he got the scale of justice one.
Finally, Hamdain Sabbahi, “the eagle” symbol, an old leftist, who is supported by liberals and the revolutionary youth. Young energetic a firebrand candidate, “Saddam Hussein had more courage than his executioners” he once said. He has received the endorsements from well-respected major Egyptian world figures, like Dr. Zwail, NASA superstar engineer; Dr. “Yaqoob”, (Jacob), famous heart surgeon in the UK; and novelist and activist, Alaa Aswani, for Michelle Bachman sake, he will not apply Sharie, Mr Sabbahi ‘s name has become synonymous with the revolution, and his political star is rising high.
Here you have it. Now it is up to the Egyptian people on May 24th to check out all these symbols on the ballot, and make up their minds in selecting the first post-revolution President it is that symbol.
Ahmed Tharwat/ host of Arab American TV show, Belahdan/
Public TV, Minneapolis, MN