Neighbors / The Mubarak Test

Mansour Hassan, a rising star of Egyptian politics, played no role in former President Hosni Mubarak's regime. But some of his close associates did - and that may yet be enough to sink his presidential candidacy.

Well-known Egyptians are announcing plans to run for president in the June election at a dizzying pace. Yet even from his sickbed in prison, ousted President Hosni Mubarak is still having an impact on the field of candidates.

Yesterday, as Egypt marked the first anniversary of Mubarak's removal from office, scandal was brewing over the candidacy of the latest rising star in the country's political firmament, Mansour Hassan.

Mubarak statue - AP - 14.3.12

Hassan is largely unknown in the media, and for good reason: He has been absent from the public arena for over 30 years, after having served as minister of information and culture in Anwar Sadat's cabinet.

Some in Egypt recall that Sadat once proposed appointing Hassan as his deputy in place of Mubarak - to which a furious Mubarak responded by refusing to leave his house. But due to Sadat's assassination in October 1981, Hassan never actually became vice president. And Mubarak, who replaced Sadat, saw to it that Hassan was thenceforth kept out of public office. So instead, Hassan built a career as a manufacturer of perfume and cosmetics.

Now, due to having been sidelined by Mubarak's regime, he is considered "clean" and fit to run for president. Nevertheless, it seems as if Egypt's guardians of the gate are uneasy: Even before Hassan had filed his candidacy forms, opponents arose from within the ranks of the various secular protest movements.

On Saturday, Dr. Abdel Kader al Hawary, a member of the protest movements' coordinating committee, declared the movements would oppose Hassan's candidacy because he is the father-in-law of Mohammad Lutfi Mansour. The latter was a transport minister in the Mubarak era, but fled to England due to his business links with former housing minister Ahmed Maghrabi, who is currently serving a prison sentence for corruption.

Hassan is also the grandfather of Yassin Mansour, who also fled to London after having taken a $5 million loan from the government bank, which he has not yet repaid.

But what has most upset the protest movements is Hassan's announcement that if elected, he would appoint Sameh Saif al-Yazal, a retired army officer, as his vice president. Al-Yazal is remembered in Egypt for having defended the Mubarak regime during the 18 days between the mass demonstration at Tahrir Square and Mubarak's decision to step down.

The "Mubarak test" now being used to determine a candidate's fitness for the presidency is reminiscent of the periods that followed the fall of Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar Gadhafi in Libya, when anyone with any substantive link to the outgoing administrations in those countries was disqualified. One hopes the stage of settling personal accounts will eventually be replaced by one in which candidates are evaluated on their merits, but it is still too early for that.

Thus just as it has been in other countries, it seems the question will not be who would make the best president, but who will succeed in negotiating the array of political pressures that are pushing in numerous conflicting directions. Any president will have to win the support of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, while also placating the leaders of the protest movements and charting a course that will mollify the American administration.

According to media reports, Hassan does enjoy the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as of the liberal, secular Wafd party, and has also gained the trust of the army. Some Egyptian commentators even claim to know for a fact that his candidacy is the result of a deal hatched between the army and the Brotherhood. But it is worth bearing in mind that until a few weeks ago, Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby was considered a shoo-in candidate who had the support of both the Muslim Brotherhood and the army.

And while the presidential campaign has just begun to heat up, the Muslim Brotherhood is already working to secure the resignation of Kamal el-Ganzouri's government and replace it with a government under its own leadership. Its members see no reason not to reap the fruits of their huge victory in the parliamentary elections, in which they won 47 percent of the seats, by taking the reins of power from the army. They are even threatening that if the army does not dismiss Ganzouri's government and allow them to put together a new one, they will submit a motion of no-confidence in the government.

But their political rivals believe the Muslim Brotherhood has already reached an agreement with the army, under which the movement's deputy supreme guide, businessman Khairat El-Shater, will be assigned to put together the next government, and in exchange, the Muslim Brotherhood will not insist that the military's budget be subjected to parliamentary oversight.

Whether these reports are true, or are simply intended to besmirch the Brotherhood by depicting it as "collaborating" with the army, it is clear that the Brotherhood is well versed in the political game: It knows where and when it must display flexibility and where and when it can force its will on other parties. But there is nothing new in that. The Muslim Brotherhood has practiced the art of politics ever since it was founded in 1928. Now, its members are merely harvesting the fruits.