“I’m breaking the picture of the president as an infinitely knowledgeable, god-like sort,” says Mona Prince, an elbow propped against the table. Ruler, an English writing teacher in a frayed white baseball top, drinks two brews amid our meeting.
“I’m a person – and the president is an individual!” she snickers.
The message that leaders, even current president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, are fallible, is popular among other prospective candidates too. “We primarily want to send a message that no president is immortal in office – that there are other candidates and there is competition,” says Anwar el-Sadat, the nephew and namesake of Egypt’s iconic former president.
Yet in a country where current president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi won the last election with 96% of the vote, prospective candidates are not aiming for victory. Simply getting on the ballot and presenting an alternative to Egypt’s current dictatorial politics will be a win in their eyes. Since coming to power in 2013 and then winning an election in 2014, Sisi has positioned himself as the personification of Egypt’s security and potential prosperity, while cracking down on any form of opposition. Despite little confidence that the 2018 presidential race will be fair, a handful of likely candidates are bold enough to try to convince the Egyptian public that change is possible.
“No presidential candidate would dare post a photo with a glass of wine or whatever in his hand – even though they do drink,” she says. “It’s not about promoting drinking in the society. I’m just being honest! I don’t post pictures of myself praying so that people know I’m religious. That’s not what qualifies me to be president. I’m here to do a job, not speak for God.”
Prince was already no stranger to controversy, or the public eye. She is currently suspended from her position at Suez University after teaching her students John Milton’s Paradise Lost, leading the university to accuse her of “spreading destructive ideas”, and “glorifying Satan”. Earlier this year, the university began a disciplinary hearing – still ongoing – after she posted a video of herself dancing on Facebook. Not only could Prince lose her job, but if the university brings further legal charges against her, she could be prevented from running for president at all.
Much of the criticism of Prince in the local media targeted her gender, dismissingher for “revealing her personal life”, and arguing that her public dancing and photos of her in a bikini were unsuitable for a professor. She remains defiant, saying that this criticism deepened her motivation to run fo
Former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who lost to Mohammed Morsi in 2012, has hinted he intends to run again in 2018, teasing the Egyptian public and television hosts by telling them earlier in September that he will announce “within a week or 10 days”. Shafiq, a former prime minister and commander of the Egyptian Air Force, is associated with the country’s powerful military and deposed autocrat Hosni Mubarak. However he is yet to return from his five-year exile in the United Arab Emirates, even after his name was removed from airport watchlists.
Despite the increasing hurdles, opposition candidates have cause to criticise the current president. A 2016 poll from Egypt’s Centre for Public Opinion Research found a 14% drop in Sisi’s popularity due to rising prices caused by the economic turmoil. Meanwhile, a group of Egyptian MPs have been pushing for Egypt to extend the president’s term to six years, arguing he needs more time to achieve his long-promised economic reforms.
The primary challenge for any candidate will be getting on the ballot, an act that requires a petition of at least 30,000 signatures from 15 governorates. Prince claims that her 110,300 Facebook followers to her personal page – her campaign page has 7,230 at the time of writing – will make getting the requisite number of signatures achievable, unlike when she last ran, in 2012. “It’s an achievement if I manage that,” she says.
But as for how he feels about voting for one of his best customers, Saeed demurs. “As a guest and a customer, she is nice and friendly. But to be responsible for a country then no. This is not easy,” he says. “I wouldn’t vote for her. Whoever runs for this position should have experience.”
Prince remains defiant, and is planning to start campaigning in earnest later this year. “Some people call me crazy, but we need a little bit of craziness in our lives,” she says. “We need this hint of craziness in a president. Someone daring.”