The Muslim Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party controls both chambers of parliament, has been keeping everybody guessing about its favorite in the upcoming presidential elections, expected to be the first free and fair presidential vote in Egypt’s history.
Supporters of and sympathizers with the Muslim Brotherhood are holding their breath.
But they are not the only ones.
Opponents of the Brotherhood, and Islamists in general, as well as supporters of all presidential hopefuls are also waiting for the decision.
The Brotherhood had previously vowed, repeatedly, not to field a contender for the most coveted post and not to back any Islamist candidate.
It, consequently, dismissed one of its senior leaders, Abdel Moneim Abu el-Fotouh, for not toeing its official line and insisting to run for candidacy.
But with Abu el-Fotouh emerging as one of the main front-runners ─ commanding the support of many young Brotherhood members ─ and its failure to convince any major public figure to contest the election as it had previously hoped to, the Brotherhood is in quite a fix.
It’s most likely that the group will either support no candidate, leaving the decision up to the free will of its members, or renege on its promise and field one of its leaders.
Although that decision seems to be awaited by many, for different reasons, I do not think the Brotherhood’s influence will be as important and decisive as it was in legislative polls.
They won the parliamentary elections, just like they did in most labor unions and professional syndicates votes, fair and square.
But that does not mean their presidential pick can count on the same voters.
Beside its supporters and sympathizers, many people voted for contenders in the legislative elections because they had previous experience and unblemished reputations, not because they were Brotherhood members.
Others who wanted to vote for Islamists, just any Islamist, chose Brotherhood candidates because they did not know or trust Salafists, the previously untested Islamists who only ventured into politics after the revolution.
Still, very few Brotherhood candidates won outright, while the vast majority had to go through tight run-offs.
Christians, liberals, leftists and even secularists voted for them in the second round because they thought they were choosing the lesser evil, the other being Salafists or loyalists of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.
But the presidential race is a different story and any Brotherhood’s favorite will have a very tough ride.
Conservative voters have plenty of Islamist choices, including front-runners Abu el-Fotouh and Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafist with a Muslim Brotherhood background.
The two were key figures of the January 25 revolution and enjoy support among many revolutionaries.
As for those who voted for Brotherhood candidates in the legislative polls because that was the lesser evil, from their viewpoint, they will have more options in the presidential polls.
They have candidates such as Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister during the Mubarak era who, while not favored by many revolutionaries, is still very popular, and leftist Hamdin Sabahi, a key figure of the revolution and a long-time Mubarak critic.
Many voters, who are either sympathizers with the ousted regime, haters of the revolution or simply people won by sweet promises of restoring long-lost security, would be choosing between Omar Soliman, Mubarak’s vice president and long-time intelligence chief, and Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last premier.
With such a full house of candidates, no force in Egypt will alone be able to decide the presidential battle.
While the support of the Muslim Brotherhood is to be reckoned with, at the end of the day free-willed Egyptian voters will, for the first time, determine their next president, and certainly in the run-off.
(Ayman Qenawi is a writer and editor based in Cairo.)