Now that the Republican primaries in the U.S. have been decided in favor of Mitt Romney, and Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande are facing off in France, perhaps the most critical presidential ‘primaries’ of all are being fought out in Egypt. Everything is at stake here, arguably not just for Egypt, but for the region and the world. The future of the Arab Spring hangs in the balance, with three possible scenarios: Egypt’s elections return a hardliner Islamist for president, setting it on the path of Ayatollah Iran, confirming the worst fears of the West; or the military re-asserts its role in the power balance, along the lines of traditional Turkish politics; or, in a case of Mubarak redux, an old regime loyalist is brought in to protect the interests of the beleagured business elite.
Egypt’s military rulers on Wednesday lifted a ban preventing Ayman Nour from running for the presidency, opening the way for a presidential bid by the liberal politician who came a distant second to Hosni Mubarak in a 2005 election. Nour mounted the most serious challenge to Mubarak that year. He was sentenced a few months later to five years in prison on charges of forgery that were widely viewed as trumped up as part of a political vendetta. Under Egyptian law, a former convict cannot run for the presidency until five years after the end of their jail term – Nour was released in February 2009 on health grounds. But the pardon issued on Wednesday will allow him to run.