CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s presidential hopefuls have had to zip their lips before voting starts, but there is no stopping the songs that pump up their virtues in styles ranging from hip-hop to folk.
For the first time Egyptians get to pick their leader in voting on Wednesday and Thursday in a fiercely contested race enlivened by another novelty - online music videos.
Many of them are the work of underground musicians who flourished since the popular uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak last year and who can capture political moments too fleeting for the mainstream music industry to latch onto.
“Our revolution will not fade,” goes a tune like a football chant, written in support of Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, seen by some as a flag-bearer for revolutionary values.
“Oh vote for a strong Egypt. Our path is long but we will reach freedom,” sing the Abol Fotouh Ultras, a reference to football fans called “ultras”, who guarded street barricades against attacks by police and Mubarak supporters in the revolt.
The online tunes backing one or another of the 12 candidates attract tens of thousands of viewers and were often played at campaign rallies, which came to an end on Sunday under election rules. Some songs echo on the streets as mobile ringtones.
Pop singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim is backing former Arab League chief Amr Moussa in another of his catchy political lyrics.
“I love Amr Moussa, the sincere, the sensitive. God willing, he will succeed and this is the president.” Abdel Rahim, or Shabola as he is known, sings in his folk style. “A first-class politician and the world can testify.”
It follows his 2001 tune “I hate Israel and I love Amr Moussa” - a big hit with a public that appreciated Moussa’s tough talk against Israel when he was foreign minister.
Soon afterwards, Moussa moved to the Arab League in what was seen as a Mubarak ploy to clip the wings of a potential rival.
Under 30 years of Mubarak’s rule, Egypt’s regional political clout may have waned. But the Arab world’s most populous nation remains a musical and cultural powerhouse in the Middle East, its creativity on display through the variety of election tunes.
Lyrics cite many of the values voters say they want in their new leader, such as integrity and reforming energy.
They also reflect the diversity of candidates from an establishment figure like Ahmed Shafiq, 70, Mubarak’s last prime minister, to the youngest, 40-year-old Khaled Ali, seen as championing the revolutionary values of Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
“Egypt needs a working hand to carry it above. We are waiting for you, oh Ahmed Shafiq,” goes one song backing the former airforce chief as the man to save Egypt from “crisis”.
In contrast, Ali’s supporters sing of dreams for change, even if they realise he stands little chance in the election.
“I want someone to listen to me or at least once to encourage me,” goes a swift-paced song by musicians Ahmed Figo and Sadat al-Alamy. “We want someone to bring our rights.”
“Our dream is filled with passion. Sing my friend, our voice is louder than the bullets. We are done with silence. The revolution continues and Egypt is free,” they sing.
A song sung by chorus of children praises the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi for his promise to cleanse Egypt of corruption and crime. “With our hands, we will create a renaissance and Mursi is here to help us. He is carrying our burdens on his shoulders,” the ditty runs.
The merits of leftist Hamdeen Sabahy as the “image of the people and the Nile” are relayed in a song based on a poem by Gamal Bakheet that repeats his “one of us” campaign slogan.
“My voice is to one of my own blood who would not let me live in misery,” it goes. “My voice is to the free word. It was said a million times: before, during and after the revolution.”
Editing by Alistair Lyon