Picking new leader, Egyptians search for superman

After Mubarak, Egyptians are looking for a leader who will be able to solve a myriad of problems

Topics: From the Wires, ,

CAIRO (AP) — Egyptians say they want their next leader to be honorable, smart, a knight, a man with a heart, a military man, a religious man, one who goes down and meets with the people. What they are really looking for is a superman.

Egypt’s next president is facing an incredibly tall order of problems, from a tumbling economy and a beat-up security force to decrepit schools and hospitals that can’t even provide enough incubators for premature babies.

Turning out in large numbers to vote for the first time in free and competitive presidential elections, a deeply engaged population have a lot of expectations from the leader that will replace the longtime leader Hosni Mubarak, whom they ousted in a popular uprising last year.

“We want a flawless president. We want him strong, just, respectable, clean, someone who feels for the poor. We basically want a superman,” said Heba el-Sayed, a 42-year old teacher who was asking her colleagues outside a polling station in the popular neighborhood of Sayeda Zeinab who they voted for.

Egyptians have never had the chance to pick a leader. Mubarak, who was often derisively labeled as “pharaoh” by Egyptians, came to power in 1981 after the assassination of President Anwar Sadat at the hands of Islamic militants, mostly because he signed a peace treaty with Israel. He was re-elected multiple time after that, mainly in yes-or-no referendums in which he was the only candidate.

The pent-up anger that exploded against Mubarak’s reign on January 25, 2011 built up over years because of festering corruption, which created a tight ruling clique around his family and cronies. It left a twisted economic development, that soared in terms of economic development indicators, but was unevenly distributed — leaving vast sections of the population — up to 40 percent— hovering near or fallen far below the poverty line.

Denying services and attention to the poor seemed to be a way the Mubarak’s regime kept such classes in constant need of handouts and dependent on a patronage system, which doled out small benefits to those who cooperated and stayed under his control. This left a debilitated public health and education system, where only those who can pay can receive better services.

His authoritarian regime, which has maintained good relations with the world, relied heavily on security agencies whose widespread torture and abuse were the immediate reason behind the uprising.

The 18 days of protests that brought his fall were not limited to the poor or the abused, they brought in a broad spectrum of classes, angered over every aspect of the stagnation and worried that it would only deepen if Mubarak’s son, Gamal, succeeded him as was widely expected.

So in the voting that began Wednesday and continues Thursday, the hundreds of thousands who lined up at the polls had a litany of dreams. Freedom to walk freely with girlfriends or boyfriends without police harassment. Improved sewage systems. Better education.

“I’ve lived under Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak,” Mahmoud Ahmed, a 70-year old businessman, said, listing Egypt’s last three presidents as he waited to vote in the impoverished Cairo district of Basateen.

“What we want to see is someone with the firmness of Nasser, the political skills of Sadat,” he said.

“And nothing at all from Mubarak.”

He said he wants the next president’s priority to hold a “real” trial for Mubarak — reflecting how many Egyptians dismiss the current trial of the ousted leader as a sham.

Mubarak has been on trial for months over charges of corruption and complicity in the killing of nearly 900 protesters during the uprising against him. As the proceedings have dragged, many have grown skeptical that the trial organized under the military rulers would constitute a fair trial. A verdict is expected on June 2 before the name of a president is announced.

For Yasmine Abdel-Rahman, a 22-year veiled student who was voting in the southern industrial district of Helwan, a religious leader can bring justice. She was voting for the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was Mubarak’s most organized opposition and has seized its place as Egypt’s most powerful political movement since his ouster.

“First thing he must do is get back the rights of all the martyrs. Many mothers’ hearts are broken,” she said.

Ali Ragab, a 27-year old who runs a photo shop in a rundown neighborhood of Maadi, agrees. But he thinks only a president that can rival the charisma and populist ideals of Nasser can do the job.

He’s voting for Hamdeen Sabahi, a veteran opposition figure under Mubarak who proclaims Nasser as his role model. Sabahi has recently risen in polls, particularly among the working class and younger generations.

“I want a leader like Nasser, who looks after the poor. I wish those days come back,” said the dreamy-eyed Ragab, born 15 years after Nasser’s death.

“We need a leader that has extraordinary skills, one that has a heart, a big brain, and can play politics. He must be all that,” he said as he helped other voters find their polling station.

Zeinab Nabil, a 28-year old mother, lost two of her triplets because of an unexplainable shortages of incubators in public hospitals. After their premature birth in September 2010, she ran from hospital to hospital for months trying to find incubators and proper care, only to be turned away.

Now she is indebted to the banks for over $8,000 from the salary of her husband, who works in another city. The only good luck she’s had is that her landlord dropped her rent by a third after the revolution because of her economic woes.

“I want the president to spare other people my troubles. I want him to fix the hospitals and provide incubators,” she said. “I want him to be just. I want him to walk among us. I want him to be human.”

None of the 13 candidates running in the first round is likely to win outright. So a run-off will be held between the top two on June 16-17, with the victor announced June 21.

The president’s powers have not yet been defined. The military rulers, the Islamist-dominated parliament and various groups and political parties of liberals and secularists have been locked in a struggle over how to write the constitution that will define the Egypt’s political system, the role of religion and the place of the military in the future.

The explosive mix of high expectations and a power struggle between political factions will set the tone for the next president’s entire term, supposed to be for four years. The stormy transition since Mubarak’s fall has piled on even more demands, with some wanting the ruling generals held accountable for mismanagement and violence during the past 16 months.

And the new president will face the constant threat of protests from a politically charged population.

“There is now an open court in Tahrir. No matter who is elected,” said Hamdi Abdel-Zaher, a 40 year old accountant, referring to Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the anti-Mubarak uprising and months of protests since against the ruling military.

Fares Kamel, a 42-year old trader in a village on the outskirts of Cairo, said despite the destruction of the image of a pharaoh among Egyptians, many still yearn for it, seeing him as a savior.

“They want to be led,” Kamel said. He thinks the president must be “a knight, who has a sword and is not afraid to use it or to die using it. We want someone with dignity, and not a filthy rich man. We don’t want a thief.”

“We want someone that loves this country, and satisfies people’s needs. God be with him.”

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>