The contrived campaigns and guaranteed landslide victories for autocratic leader Hosni Mubarak were swept away with last year’s revolution. Now 13 candidates — liberals, Islamists and Mubarak-era figures — are vying to succeed him.
Mohammed Kamal Tahawy couldn’t believe that one of them had come to his town to ask for his vote. The tour guide listened intently as Aboul Fotouh told the crowd, “The king of this country, after God, is you, the people of Egypt.”
Orange posters emblazoned with his bespectacled face adorned the tent where Tahawy and other supporters cheered him on, fists pumping in the air: “The people want Aboul Fotouh for president!”
Tahawy, like so many other Egyptians, said he had never voted in a presidential election because the outcome was always predetermined. But Aboul Fotouh, he said, was right: This time, Tahawy and the more than 50 million other eligible voters will decide.
“Today is my birthday, and I feel alive,” Tahawy said on the day he turned 27. “No one has ever come here before. No one has ever asked what we think.”
Since the official launch of the campaign season April 30, presidential contenders have been pleading for votes in television interviews and at rallies. They travel the nation’s 27 provinces, kissing babies, shaking hands and trying to get the support of undecided voters.
The Muslim Brotherhood is holding so many rallies for its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, that while he attends one, other prominent Brotherhood members host simultaneous events elsewhere in the country.
To the deep disappointment of young revolutionaries, the race has turned into a showdown between leading Islamists and figures from Mubarak’s government. Although many of them are boycotting the vote, they represent a small slice of society.
‘A big responsibility’
When Aboul Fotouh stopped in the northern Egyptian town of Abu Kabir, Youmna Ahmed, 15, craned her neck to see him, screaming, waving his picture and nearly fainting, as if he were a young pop star.
Her mother, who wears the face veil favored by ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafists, doesn’t leave her house often. But Jihan Abdel Ghafour spent a full day handing out fliers for Aboul Fotouh. She said he understands religion and Islam’s holy book, the Koran.
The time for secular and repressive leaders is over, she said. “We’ve taken time to make our comparisons. He has our support.”
Omnia Aboel Ata filmed Aboul Fotouh’s speech on her digital camera. The 24-year-old said she admires his views on women; Aboul Fotouh has said women should be allowed to hold high-ranking government positions and touts their importance in society.