FAYOUM, Egypt (Reuters) - Who better for president than a plain-talking, female former talk show host eager to tackle the corruption and nepotism blamed for Egypt’s national malaise?
So says glamorous TV anchor Bothaina Kamel, one of the more unusual candidates to replace 82-year-old strongman Hosni Mubarak after a popular revolt ended his three decades in power.
Kamel, 49, rose to fame with her radio call-in show Eterafat al-Leyali (Night Confessions) in which Egyptians spoke freely of sexual abuse, infidelity and mistreatment by relatives.
She now aims to be Egypt’s first elected female leader, saying her experience of engaging with people from all walks of life will appeal to voters frustrated at a growing rich-poor divide, the impunity of corrupt officials and pressure to conform to a strict moral code.
The military generals who now rule Egypt have promised to hold parliamentary and then presidential elections later this year.
Mubarak, his sons and several political allies are under investigation for graft and abuse of power. Popular opinion seems torn between desire to punish them and unease at the damage the probes are doing to Egypt’s image.
“I think it’s good to talk about everything. It’s not good to try to cover the truth,” said Kamel, who plans to set up a reality TV channel that will follow her electoral campaign.
“Transparency is very important,” she said. “We are beginning a new era. If there hadn’t been a revolution, I would never have run in the presidential elections.”
Night Confessions was banned after a state committee for religious issues said it damaged Egypt’s reputation and “implied that all Egyptians were involved in sinful relations”.
Kamel said it was the most popular show in the Arab world but the government pushed newspaper editors to lobby against it. Callers to her show included young men and women struggling to find a job, and victims of domestic abuse.
“People would contact me by phone or by letter to talk about everything, from homosexuality in upper Egypt to prisons, poverty, corruption, bribes and terrorism,” Kamel told Reuters while campaigning in Fayoum, a provincial city south of Cairo.
Kamel says her priority is fighting poverty and corruption, issues she said were deliberately avoided by the media under the influence of Mubarak’s now defunct National Democratic Party.
A founding member of Egyptians Against Corruption, she has begun a “Campaign for Saving Egypt” which lobbies for strong civil institutions free of graft, back-scratching and nepotism.
“I am also demanding that in (November) parliamentary elections there are web cams in voting booths to transmit the images all over the world,” she said.
Touring Fayoum’s dusty alleyways past crippled beggars, children and goats, Kamel asked residents what they expected of Egypt’s next leader and scribbled the replies in a notebook.
Dressed stylishly in a red printed tunic, she struck a contrast with rival candidates such as Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei, opposition politician Ayman Nour and prominent judge Hisham al-Bastawisy.
“I don’t think there is any candidate who can do what I do and that’s my ability to reach out to people intimately,” she said. “I may be a woman, but women’s rights are not my only focus. I want the rights of all Egyptians.”