Presidential election campaigns began early in Egypt as candidates vie to succeed former President Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down last February in the wake of the January 25th revolution.
The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has not announced a date for presidential elections, but has indicated that the election will take place no later than November. This has not stopped the candidates from being intensely active in the provinces in an effort to rally support for their campaigns.
Seven have so far announced their intention to run for president, most of whom do not belong to existing political parties and intend to enter the election as independents.
The seven candidates are: Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, former president of the International Atomic Energy Agency; Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League; Hisham Bastawisi, vice president of the Court of Cassation; Hamdeen Sabahi, a political activist; Ayman Nour, president of the El Ghad Party; former Lt. General Magdi Hatata, ex-chief of staff of the Egyptian army; and Buthaina Kamel, a journalist.
In a referendum, Egyptians approved constitutional amendments March 19th that require an independent candidate to garner 30,000 signatures from 15 provinces for the nomination to be accepted by the High Elections Commission, while party candidates only need their party to have at least one seat in parliament.
Over the past few weeks, the provinces have witnessed fierce competition between the campaigns of ElBaradei, Moussa, and Bastawisi to rally supporters and build electoral bases in regions largely ignored by Egyptian politicians in past election campaigns.
In Minya province in Upper Egypt, dozens of ElBaradei volunteers took to college campuses and invited students to join the campaign, distributing thousands of leaflets featuring ElBaradei and his political positions.
"Our campaign is focusing on the provinces with the purpose of conducting thorough examinations of the problems and providing clear solutions in Dr. ElBaradei's electoral programme, which will be announced soon," said al-Baradei campaign activist Abd al-Rahman Samir.
He said that among ElBaradei's goals are "rebuilding and reforming the administrative structure of the state, fighting and uprooting corruption, and reforming education along lines that serve the economy and development in Egypt."
ElBaradei faces stiff competition in the Upper Egypt provinces from Bastawisi's campaign, which is focused primarily on building a strong electoral base in Upper Egypt. Bastawisi toured the province of Asyut last week, where he met with campaign volunteers and grassroots leadership in the city.
Bastawisi is the vice president of the Court of Cassation and a reformist who was long opposed to the regime of former President Mubarak. He gained popularity during the past six years because of his calls to preserve the independence of the judiciary and to allow it to fully oversee the parliamentary and presidential elections. He also called for international monitoring of the elections.
Bastawisi said in press statements that he would stand as a candidate for president "to complete the achievement of the objectives of the January 25th revolution, and return Egypt to its position among developed countries". He added that his platform would side with the poor and slum dwellers.
Amr Moussa enjoys popularity in the Egyptian street because of his positions on "Arab reunion" and his role during the January 25th revolution as a member of the Committee of Wise Men, which conducted dialogue with the regime to convince Mubarak to step down.
Attorney Ahmed Nassar, a Moussa campaign activist in Alexandria, said the campaign began networking the clusters represented by the major groups in the city, such as unions, clubs, public bodies, and universities to support Moussa as a presidential candidate.
"There will be co-ordination with other national forces, excluding any element of the former ruling National Democratic Party," he said.
The campaign of candidate Hamdeen Sabahi is also active in several Egyptian provinces. Sabahi is a journalist and former parliamentarian with the Nasserist party.
Sabahi is currently editor-in-chief of the al-Karama newspaper, issued by the Hizb al-Karama Party (Dignity Party), which is awaiting a political license to operate. Sabahi resigned from his post in the Nasserist party a few years ago to found a new party that combines liberal thought with social justice.
Sabahi pledges in his platform to make "Egypt the world's eighth strongest economy within the next eight years, as happened in Brazil and India."
His election programme also includes more public freedoms and guaranteeing political rights including the right of belief, opinion, and expression through peaceful means.
The three other presidential candidates, Nour, Hatata and Kamel, have yet to start their campaigns.
Parliamentary elections for the People's Assembly, the lower house of parliament, and the Shura Council are scheduled for next September, to be followed by the election of a founding committee charged with drafting a new constitution within six months.