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EGYPT: Focus on second week of campaigning

CAIRO, 25 August 2005 (IRIN) - After over a week of campaigning the Egyptian people have been greeted to the unfamiliar sight of several different presidential candidates asking for their vote.

This is the first time the country has ever had multi-candidate presidential campaign.

Candidates have held several election events throughout the country since 15 August explaining their platforms and calling on citizens to vote for them. Election day is 7 September.

In a sharp departure, the state-owned broadcast media has actually covered the campaigns of opposition figures, as well as that of the incumbent President Hosni Mubarak, also candidate of the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

Every night, after showing the details of the president’s campaign, local TV station, Channel 1 has also shown excerpts from the opposition campaigns—though there have been complaints from the Ayman Nour campaign that their candidate was downplayed compared to other less important contestants.

“I still believe it is a big success to have [coverage] on one of the terrestrial channels,” maintained Gamila Ismail, the secretary general of the liberal opposition al-Ghad Party and wife of its candidate Nour.

Coverage by the state-owned dailies, however, has come under more criticism, with news of the president’s campaign far overshadowing that of his rivals.

According to a study done by the NGO al-Andalous Centre, 59 percent of the election coverage on the front page of the flagship state owned daily al-Ahram in the 15 days since Mubarak announced his candidacy is about the president.

His main competition, Nour of al-Ghad and Noman Gomaa of the Wafd Party, received one percent each.

Mubarak followed up the inaugural speech of his campaign last week with a busy schedule of speeches around the country highlighting various aspects of the programme he plans to implement if re-elected.

On Sunday he gave a speech focusing on employment in the Tenth of Ramadan City, an industrial complex outside Cairo. He unveiled a plan to create over 700,000 jobs a year for the next six years.

He also acknowledged the serious problem of unemployment in the country and the frustration which provokes the people.

“I am talking about the youth who have still not obtained work or a future – I feel their pain and the lost dreams of each one of them,” he told an enthusiastic crowd of supporters.

Observers have noticed a much more compassionate tone in Mubarak’s speeches since the campaign began as well as a renewed focus on social issues.

On Monday, Mubarak discussed his plans to reclaim more agricultural land and support farmers in a speech in Nubariya near Alexandria and the next day he journeyed to the industrial Delta town of Mahalla al-Kobra where he spoke about efforts to energize the textile sector and increase exports to the United States.

Each rally has so far been attended by large crowds of young NDP members who regularly interrupt the president’s speeches with supportive slogans.

Nour of the al-Ghad Party began his campaign on Friday with a trip to Ismailiya on the Suez Canal. There he gave a speech to a crowd of around 400 people outlining the failures of the regime and the anger of the people. “At the heart of frustration is oppression and the loss of hope,” he said. “The worst thing they stole from us is hope.”

From Ismailiya, Nour journeyed north to Port Said, on the Mediterranean coast, a city long known for its opposition to the president. Unique in the country, Port Said’s parliamentarians are almost all from the opposition or independents.

Nour rode through the streets in a convertible surrounded by hundreds of supporters as people waved to him from balconies and cheered him along. Many people there described their excitement at having a chance to choose a new president.

“I don’t know what I will do when I finish school,” said Sayyed, who graduates from university next year. “Everyone wants to get out of Egypt—we need a new president.”

Nour told IRIN that he believes he can win the election, though he admits that with the entire power of the state behind the president, it will be a tough fight. He acknowledged many people’s concerns that the elections wouldn’t be fair and were just a game for the regime.

“I hope to change the game into a reality,” he said, in a break between campaign stops. Nour has also had appearances in Mahalla, two days after the president passed through, and in Alexandria.

Nour’s chief rival for second place, Gomaa of the Wafd Party, also held his first campaign event in Port Said, two days after Nour. While Gomaa is widely recognised as lacking Nour’s charisma and dynamic speaking style, the sheer size and organisational skill of the party was on display that night.

Well over 2,000 people crammed into a massive tent set up in a main square in Port Said, surrounded by posters and balloons bearing Gomaa’s name. The speech was regularly interrupted by supporters chanting stock slogans of support for their candidate.

Gomaa spent most of his speech criticising the economic policies of the regime, warning against the expanding debt and focusing on the economic plight of Port Said. Two years ago, the government cancelled the city’s unique duty-free status, severely affecting the livelihood of its merchants.

Gomaa condemned this policy as “arbitrary,” ill considered and “without logic.” Like Nour before him, he promised to restore the free zone, adding that “together we will come up with appropriate solutions, rather than arbitrary ones.”

Even as more and more people are getting interested in the electoral contests, one issue looms over the whole process – how will the contests be monitored. The Judges’ Club has threatened to boycott the process, robbing the elections of judicial supervision and compromising their credibility.

NDP officials, however, have assured reporters that there will be 100 percent judicial supervision, no matter what, explaining that employees of the judicial branch, including clerks and lawyers, qualify as judges in a legal sense.

Meanwhile the head of Presidential Election Commission, the body formed to oversee the elections, have said that civilian monitors will not be allowed in polling stations. Negad Al Borai of the Group for Democratic Development who has pledged to monitor the elections, has said that this is not a final decision.

“It’s like a cat and mouse game – he says no, we say were are going to take it to court,” he said. “It means there is a dialogue.”

Themes: (IRIN) Governance




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