CAIRO (Reuters) - Adel Abdeen says he is the secret son of Farouk, the last king of Egypt, who was overthrown in a 1952 coup and succeeded by military leaders who, he says, don’t have a clue.
Secure in the belief that he can do a better job, Adel aims to throw the illustrious name into the running in Egypt’s first democratic presidential election in 7,000 years of Pharaohs, monarchs and army strongmen.
He joins nearly 1,000 other Egyptians of all stripes and backgrounds - electricians, office workers, journalists and even an undertaker - who have queued for election papers in a bid to replace Hosni Mubarak, the former air force commander whose three decades in power ended last year in a popular uprising.
“The revolution started because the army can’t run the country. This was never their job. They have nothing to do with politics,” Adel, who is using the Farouk name in his campaign, told Reuters, holding the green flag of the monarchy. “Those who turned on the king were the army.”
Adel says his actress mother, who died when he was a child, had an affair with King Farouk. The clean-cut 66-year-old, whose Facebook page has 130 members and who calls himself the “King of Egypt and Sudan”, promises to revive the monarchy if he wins.
Although Adel may be mocked by many and laughed off by the media, his concerns are real. Like many Egyptians, he speaks of frustrations at how the country has been led and of disappointment that a military council is managing the transition to democracy.
Few will secure the 30,000 registered supporters needed to contest the election, which will be held in May and June. But their determination to get involved speaks volumes about the change in Egyptians, who until last year’s Arab Spring seemed frozen in a passive cynicism bred by autocratic rule.
While they are unlikely to stand a chance against the dozen heavy-weight politicians who have declared their intention to run, like former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and former Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, their humble backgrounds haven’t stopped them having a vision for their country.
In front of election committee headquarters, would-be candidates try to win a bit of media attention.
One tells Reuters he wants to restore the rule of the Pharaohs. Another says he is just following his destiny. A third, who shows up in slippers and a torn garment stained with mud and says he is a rag-and-bone collector, says the poor will relate to him better than they ever could to suit-and-tie politicians.
Election committee secretary general Judge Hatem Begato said they have been overwhelmed by the number of applications, which are free, and have had to print out more forms.
“Some of those who withdraw the applications want to test if there is democracy, while others believe that if given the opportunity, they can do something,” he told Reuters. He admitted that some of the hopefuls seemed to have delusions of grandeur, however.
Ahmed Mansour, an employee at an agricultural bank, said he took a bus from Qena, 450 km south of Cairo, to pick up his documents.
“This country has been done a great injustice — an era of darkness that stretched 30 years. Now, after the revolution, everyone has a right to run. That is what freedom means,” he said.
But not everyone seems motivated by the same lofty ideals. One convicted thief, now reformed, said he was campaigning on the platform that he had the experience and ability to solve the country’s security problems. When contacted by Reuters for an interview, he asked for cash in return.
Many of those who picked up applications say they are not inspired by the high-profile presidential candidates who declared their intentions to run months ago.
“All the candidates are clinically unfit to run because of their age,” said Hoda Farrag, a 42-year-old journalist from the coastal city of Alexandria. Moussa, for example, is 75. “I want to say that Egypt has plenty of alternative candidates.”
Christian Waguih Botros, 56, an electrician and father of four, wants a better alternative to fix the main problem keeping him up at night: a faltering economy.
“I waited for a candidate to show up with a strong economic program. I don’t see anyone offering any deep-rooted change,” he said in his apartment, dotted with porcelain dolls and Jesus portraits, in a working-class neighborhood of Cairo.
Botros said the media was not giving candidates like him a real chance. He is convinced that if Egyptians listened to his platform, they would rally behind him.
“Millions of people wake up everyday with nothing to eat and with no jobs,” he said. “These hungry people need to be fed. We need dramatic solutions immediately.”
Editing by Sonya Hepinstall