A prominent ministerial favorite of ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak leads the opinion polls ahead of Egypt’s forthcoming presidential elections.
But former foreign minister Amr Moussa’s main rival, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh (right), once a senior leader of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, today picked up endorsements from a radical Islamist group and a liberal cyber activist celebrated for his role in the Tahrir Square protests.
Abol Fotouh, who today cited Turkey’s Justice and Development party (AKP) as a model for restoring Egypt’s dignity, won the backing of former Google executive Wael Ghonim and Gamaa Islamiyya, the once-banned sect responsible for the 1981 assassination of president Anwar Sadat and the 1997 Luxor massacre. Their support adds to the momentum gained after the ultraconservative Salfist Nour and moderate Islamist Wasat parties endorsed his candidacy over the weekend.
Some 41 percent of voters support Moussa, according to a poll released Monday by the government-controlled Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Abol Fotouh took 27% and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq 12%, while Mohammed Mursi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, came in sixth with under 4%.
The nationwide poll of 1,200 people was undertaken between April 21 and 24 – before Abol Fotouh received the latest endorsements.
“We now have a two-horse race between (former Arab League secretary-general) Amre Moussa and Aboul Fotouh,” said prominent analyst and journalist Hisham Kassem:
The Salafis, with their endorsement, may be angling for more influence if Aboul Fotouh becomes president and also point to that party’s own tensions with the Brotherhood. But he questioned whether the endorsement will scare off liberals who have also backed Aboul Fotouh.
Mursi will not even enjoy unqualified support from within the Brotherhood’s ranks, say observers.
“There is division even inside the Brotherhood,” said Said Sadek, a professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo. “The young Brotherhood supports Aboul Fotouh. He is representing moderate Islam.”
Turkey’s ruling AK party, led by the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had “brought back the Turk’s dignity. And this is what we are seeking — people with dignity, and not people who fear of speaking out,” Fotouh told Gulf News today.
A member of the Brotherhood’s executive from 1987 to 2009, Fotouh does not believe his record will alienate voters, he said, and rejected claims of a tension between Islamist parties and the West.
“I believe my program and views demonstrate the moderate, enlightened, and progressive Islamist trend, a trend which respects human rights, seeks its advancement, facing the (attempts) to marginalize the status of women in our Arab region, and stresses that citizenship is the basis for duties and responsibilities,” he said.
Those who raise the specter of Islamist rule are “using the same scarecrow, or playing the same broken record that was used by the ousted dictators,” he said. ‘Islam and the Islamic trend [are] a genuine trend in the region and can’t be ignored.”
Fotouh still commands respect from his former comrades, reports suggest, and his candidacy is supported by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, arguably the Brotherhood’s most influential spiritual leader.
“In terms of ideology, there is little difference to me between Mursi and Abdel Moneim. As for the organization, of course there is a difference, but the idea is the same,” Helmi el-Gazzar, a Brotherhood member of parliament, told Reuters.
Some of his critics say Abol Fotouh is trying to be all things to all people. But he says there has been no change in his views since he quit the Brotherhood.
In an April 23 interview, Abol Fotouh said: “I have not changed my principles or ideas regardless of my administrative link: whether I was Brotherhood or now I am outside the administration of the Brotherhood.”
He added: “I don’t think there is a fair liberal, or a fair Salafi, or a fair leftist, who says Dr. Abdel Moneim says one thing and hides another.”
The Salafis’ support for Abol Fotouh marks an important cleavage within the Islamist movement, says Shadi Hamid, an analyst at Brookings Doha Center,
“There was a lot of talk in recent weeks about Islamists unifying their ranks and choosing one candidate to support,” he said.
“It shows that Salafis are becoming increasingly pragmatic actors. If ideology was the main determinant, they would have gone for the most conservative candidate in the race – Mohamed Mursi – but they didn’t,” Hamid said.
According to Khalil al-Anani, an expert on Islamist movements at the UK’s Durham University, al-Nour’s decision “could encourage other Salafi groups to back Aboul Fotouh and create a future alliance with him. We have to see,” he tells the Washington Post:
He added that if other Salafist groups follow, it could consolidate the ultraconservative political movement. But Salafists still face significant challenges. The Nour party appears to be unraveling, with a number of members resigning in recent weeks, some even giving up on politics to return to preaching.
At the same time, many Salafists have said that they are boycotting the vote over Abu Ismail’s disqualification. The Jurisprudence Commission for Rights and Reforms, a panel of top, mostly Salafist scholars and clerics, backed the Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, last week, making it unclear whether the Nour party’s decision would seal the rank-and-file Salafist vote for Aboul Fotouh.
“Salafists are now one of the new power centers in Egypt, and their decision will shape Egypt’s polity for years to come,” Anani said.
The Salafists’ move reflects both an unsuspected pragmatism and a determination to diminish the Brotherhood’s growing political weight.
“The Brotherhood have the best [political] program…. but there are dangers when one group controls all the levers of power,” said Yasser Brohami, a senior cleric in the Salafi Call:
In a presidential race that has so far been marked by unexpected twists, there is no guarantee that the support of the Salafi Call will be enough to lift Mr Aboul Fotouh to victory. Although the group has a political arm, the Nour party, which holds a quarter of the seats in parliament, analysts say the movement is fragmented and possesses nothing like the Brotherhood’s well-oiled political machine.
“[Salafi Call] fear that if they support the Brotherhood they will always be the [junior] partner,” said Amr Ashour, director of middle east studies at Exeter university. “Also there is the idea of backing a president who they think they can influence. Mursi [the Brotherhood candidate] already has a strong backbone in the shape of his group.”
The Brotherhood has alienated potential allies by pursuing a largely self-interested and sectarian strategy, observers suggest, consistently breaking promises to operate inclusively
“The Brotherhood finds itself in a precarious situation. Without Salafi support, it’s difficult to see how Mursi can pull this off,” Brookings analyst Hamid told The Jerusalem Post. “The optics of a Brotherhood defeat – at the hands of one of their defectors – will do considerable damage to the organization’s standing. Even though Salafis and Brothers are within the same ‘family,’ they don’t always get along.”
Abouel Fotouh Receives Multiple Endorsements
The Salafi Dawa and its political wing, the Nour party, announced on Saturday their endorsement of Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh for president. Nour party leader Mohammed Nour stated in a press conference that Aboul Fotouh had won in three separate polls conducted among the Nour party’s members of parliament, members of its high board and the Salafi Dawa Shura Council. Aboul Fotouh defeated two other Islamist candidates in the vote: the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi and Islamist thinker Mohammed Selim al-Awa. Salafi Dawa spokesman said that the group believed that Aboul Fotouh has a better chance of defeating front-runner and former Arab League head Amr Moussa. Aboul Fotouh also received the endorsement of the Wasat party after 63% of the party’s members voted for him in a party poll on Sunday. Political activist Wael Ghonim also announced on his Facebook page on Monday that he was supporting Aboul Fotouh, saying he would be “a president for all Egyptians who will gather people, not divide them.” In addition, al-Jama’a al-Islamiya’s Shura council and its political wing pledged support for Aboul Fotouh on Monday.
“Egypt’s Wasat Party endorses Abul-Fotouh presidential bid”, Ahram Online (English) 04/30/12.
“Salafis endorse Abouel Fotouh, say Morsy’s chances are low”, Egypt Independent (English), 04/29/12.
“Wael Ghonim endorses Abouel Fotouh for president”, Egypt Independent (English), 04/30/12.
“In another blow to the Brotherhood, Jama’a al-Islamiya endorses Abouel Fotouh”, Egypt Independent (English), 04/30/12.