Egyptians in Canada cast a wary eye on history, fearful of what vote will bring

Associated Press

MONTREAL - As Egyptians await the results of their country's first truly democratic presidential election this week, some anxious expats in Canada worry about the aftermath.

The first round of voting featured 13 candidates ranging from liberals to ultra-conservatives might have presented a wide array of options but expats have limited hopes regardless of who wins.

Samaa Elibyari, an Egyptian established in Montreal since the 1970s, called it a historic moment for which the country is unprepared.

"(Hosni) Mubarak never gave anyone else the chance to experience what it was like to lead a country," she said, "so we're left with all these inexperienced candidates who may or may not have what it takes to run a truly democratic society."

The road to this landmark election has been beset by disqualifications. Ten of the 23 nominees originally in the running were dismissed for "legal irregularities."

About 10 per cent of Egyptians live outside the country, including 60,000 in Canada, and their sense of relief over the arrival of democracy is tinged with worry.

Elibyari has been paying close attention to the debates, on television and YouTube, and she also receives updates on a regular basis from the candidates' representatives stationed across Canada.

She is wary of the superficial promises she's heard.

"I'm generally concerned with candidates who say they can raise minimum wage," Elibyari said.

"The massive gap between the rich and the poor will not likely be closed in the near future. The practical problems, such as the transportation crisis, haven't been addressed yet. I think these promises are only catering to popular sentiment."

On May 10, millions of Egyptians tuned into two private satellite channels to watch the country's first-ever presidential debate.

Two of the frontrunners, Amr Moussa and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futouh, participated in a marathon event that lasted close to four-and-a-half hours. A variety of promises were made by both candidates as they tried to appeal to their secular and Islamist fanbases.

Despite the stated interest from Egyptians living in Canada, only a tiny fraction of eligible voters in Montreal turned up at the Egyptian Consulate to vote last week, according to Adel Iskander, president of the Egyptian Canadian Friendship Association. He estimates no more than 10 per cent voted.

With nothing more than a provisional constitution in place, some wonder how the next president will even be able to carry out his functions.

A professor emeritus of political science at Concordia University, Henri Habib, believes the lack of guidelines will pose a serious threat to Egypt's next president.

"The candidates have no idea what kind of power they're going to inherit," he said.

"If I were in their position, I would want to know what kind of power I'm getting. In my opinion the real power remains with the 20 members of the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces), who are supposed to relinquish power at the end of June but, then again, who wants to do that?"

Karim Ali, a student living in Toronto for the past two years, is so discouraged by the lack of organization within government that he never bothered to cast a ballot.

"I didn't vote because I'm not convinced by this election," he said.

"How can you elect a president when the guy doesn't even know what his job description is? Flimsy guidelines make people worried, and anything can happen."

The focus in Canadian media outlets on the election's global issues — like Egypt-Israel relations, or the power of Islamism — has superseded other important issues of the vote.

Thomas Woodley, president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, believes the international media focus has been misguided.

"Why are people debating whether Egypt is going to end up with an Islamist government?" he said.

"These elections are more nuanced than that and it's important not to stray from the point, which is that Egypt is finally having a presidential election."

The 15-month transition period, in which lawlessness and crime have been serious concerns for public safety, is coming to an end.

The leading candidates so far are Amr Moussa, former secretary-general of the Arab League; Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, formerly a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Ahmed Shafiq, ex-prime minister of Egypt.

None of them is expected to get more than 50 per cent of the vote — so a run-off with the top two candidates will almost certainly take place next month.

The results for the first round of voting are expected on May 29.

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