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Winning by losing in Egypt?

With the May 23-24 elections in Egypt just around the corner another runoff is looking likely in the presidential race with no clear leader yet to emerge. But one thing is clear: the top Islamist in the race won’t be the Muslim Brotherhoods’s candidate…sort of.

Instead, it’s the the ‘liberal’ Islamist candiidate Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh that somehow managed to secure the endorsement of the salafists late last month following the mass candidate purge that left the salafists without a candidate. He is also an ‘ex’ Muslim Brotherhood leader that was expelled from the MB just last year when he proceeded to run for office after the MB officially declared that it would not be fielding a presidential candidate (this was, of course, before the MB went ahead and fielded a candidate in spite of their earlier pledges). So just how much distance is there between Mr. Abol Fotouh and the MB? And how on earth did the ultra-fundamentalist salafists end up backing the supposed ‘liberal’ Islamist that doesn’t appear to favor a strict implementation of sharia law. That’s a good question:

NY Times
Support From Islamists for Liberal Upends Race in Egypt
Published: April 28, 2012

ABU HOMOS, Egypt – Egypt’s most conservative Islamists endorsed a liberal Islamist for president late Saturday night, upending the political landscape and confounding expectations about the internal dynamics of the Islamist movement.

The main missionary and political groups of the ultraconservatives, known as Salafis, threw their support behind Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a dissident former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood known for his tolerant and inclusive view of Islamic law.

The endorsement goes a long way toward making Mr. Aboul Fotouh the front-runner in a campaign that could shape the ultimate outcome of the revolt that ousted the former strongman, Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. Aboul Fotouh’s liberal understanding of Islamic law on matters of individual freedom and economic equality had already made him the preferred candidate of many Egyptian liberals.

His endorsement on Saturday by the Salafis now makes him the candidate of Egypt’s most determined conservatives, too. Known for their strict focus on Islamic law, the Salafis often talk of reviving medieval Islamic corporal punishments, restricting women’s dress and the sale of alcohol, and cracking down on heretical culture.

The decision was announced by officials of the preaching group the Salafi Call and on the Web site of its allied party, Al Nour. Neither group gave a definitive reason for their pick.

But Salafi leaders described their decision in part as a reaction against the presidential candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the powerful and established Islamist group that now dominates Parliament. Though more moderate than the Salafis, the Brotherhood also favors the fashioning of an explicitly Islamic democracy in Egypt, and on social and cultural issues the group is closer to the Salafis than Mr. Aboul Fotouh is.

But the Salafi endorsement also appeared to provide an unexpected validation for Mr. Aboul Fotouh’s argument that mixing preaching and politics would be “disastrous” for both Islam and Egypt, as he put it in an interview last week with El Rahma, a major Salafi satellite channel.

Mr. Aboul Fotouh, a physician who led the Brotherhood-dominated medical association, was a founder of a 1970s student movement that revitalized Islamist politics here. He was expelled from the Brotherhood last year for defying the decision of its leaders to bar members from running for president or engaging in politics outside its own political party.

So Mr. Aboul Fotouh was a founding member of the 1970’s students movement in Egypt that was crushed by Mubarak after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. And even Gama’a al-Islamiya(Jama’a al-Islamiya) – one of the militant spinter groups to emerge from that era – is backing him. This is the same group that terrorized Egypt in the 90’s and even merged with al-Qaeda in 2006(the group denies it but there’s a video that says otherwise). This history as a leader from that critical era when the MB spit into a larger network of affiliated splinter groups might partially explain some of Mr. Abol Fotouh’s broad Islamist appeal when all sides agree that there is no meaningful ideological difference between Abul Fotouh and the MB:

Islamist stakes claim to Egypt middle ground

By Tom Perry

CAIRO | Mon Apr 30, 2012 3:05pm EDT

(Reuters) – Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh was jailed by Hosni Mubarak but has emerged as a front-runner for his old job as president of Egypt, staking claim to the political centre in this nascent democracy with a moderate Islamist platform that has found broad appeal.

A senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood until he parted ways with the group last year, he is part of the generation of Islamist activists that spawned al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Both doctors, they spent time in adjoining jail cells in 1981. For the most part, that’s where the similarities end.

Abol Fotouh presents himself as a champion of moderate Islam, yet he has been able to win the backing of hardliners thanks partly to a political brain which many say sets him apart from the Brotherhood. Even some liberals, impressed by his reformist zeal, say they could vote for the bespectacled 60-year old.

As a student leader in the 1970s, Abol Fotouh is remembered for confronting President Anwar Sadat in a debate, famously telling him he was surrounded by hypocrites.

In 1981, he was arrested by the Sadat government in a crackdown against dissidents. Under Mubarak, his activism landed him in jail twice for a total of more than six years.


Campaigning under the slogan “Strong Egypt”, Abol Fotouh has stressed the need to finish the country’s unfinished revolution by rooting out remnants of the Mubarak era from the state.

He pledges to increase health and education spending, to make Egypt’s army the most powerful in the region and to turn its economy into one of the 20 strongest in the world. His program says he will adhere to Islamic law.

Like other candidates, he has called for a review of Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, which he says was “imposed” on Egypt.

While the Brotherhood has faced broad criticism for alienating other parties in the year since Mubarak was toppled, Abol Fotouh is credited with reaching out across the political spectrum.

His efforts appear to be paying dividends. While the Brotherhood’s Mursi has tried to cast himself as the only Islamist in the race, Abol Fotouh managed to convince leading hardline Salafi groups they should endorse him instead.

The Nour Party, a Salafi group that won a fifth of the seats in parliament, has endorsed him. So too has al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, a Salafi group that took up arms against the state but disavowed violence in 1997.

The Wasat Party, a centrist party run by ex-Brotherhood members who left in the 1990s, has also endorsed Abol Fotouh.

A member of the Brotherhood’s executive board from 1987 to 2009, Abol Fotouh still commands respect in the group. His candidacy is also endorsed by Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradawi, a cleric held in high regard by Brotherhood followers.

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.

That’s how crazy Egyptian politics has become in the last month. Even Sheik al-Qaradawi is backing the ‘liberal’ Islamist in the race. And the MB’s replacement candidate Mohamed Morsi – following the ejection of candidates last month including the MB’s el Shater and the salafist Hazem Salah Abu Ismail – has fallen behind even a Mubarak-era figure and was polling fourth or fifth going into Wednesday’s elections:

Egypt presidential race gets new twist: Mubarak-era figure surges
Presidential hopeful Ahmed Shafik, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, rises in the polls days before the election. He may not win but could become a spoiler.
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times

May 20, 2012, 9:11 p.m.

CAIRO – The race for Egypt’s president is tightening as a surge by a former prime minister has raised fresh conspiracy theories that remnants of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak’s regime are angling for power.

The first round of voting begins Wednesday, but many Egyptians are still undecided in what is largely a contest between Islamists and two men connected to the old regime. The drama has been intensified by a last-minute swell in popularity for Ahmed Shafik, a retired air force general appointed prime minister in the weeks before Mubarak’s government fell last year.

Recent polls suggest a close election that will probably lead to a runoff. The top contenders are Amr Moussa, a secularist and former foreign minister, and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a liberal Islamist. Gains by Shafik and Hamdeen Sabahi, a left-leaning nationalist, have jolted the race, highlighting varying political ideologies and growing suspicions over Islamist candidates.

The expected scenario is that Shafik may be a spoiler, draining votes from Moussa and boosting Aboul Fotouh, who is struggling to appease liberals and ultraconservative Salafis. The enthusiasm Aboul Fotouh’s self-described consensus candidacy attracted months ago has diminished in recent weeks over doubts that he can represent such diverse, and often antagonistic, political and religious interests.

What is less clear, however, is the fate of Mohamed Morsi, a California-educated engineer running as the Muslim Brotherhood candidate. Polls suggest that Morsi has dropped to fourth or fifth place over a backlash against the Brotherhood, which controls nearly 50% of the seats in parliament, for breaking political promises and its lack of inclusion.

But the Brotherhood is the best organized political machine in the country. It is respected by many Egyptians for its years of opposition to Mubarak and a network of social programs that stretch from inner-city neighborhoods to the provinces. Morsi is likely to do well among the poor and Islamic conservatives, whom he has heavily courted at campaign stops.

So the MB appears to be poised for a surprisingly poor showing in the presidential race over growing suspicions and concerns over the MB’s domination of Egypt’s new government…sort of.


4 comments for “Winning by losing in Egypt?”

  1. I stand corrected….it looks like the MB’s candidate might be heading for the two-man runoff in June. Turnout has been lower than expected on the second day fo voting and that’s the kind of scenario that helps the candidates with the largest organizations:

    Washington Post
    Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate doing well on day two of Egypt’s presidential election
    By Ernesto Londono, Leila Fadel and William Wan, Updated: Thursday, May 24, 10:35 AM

    CAIRO – As Egyptians turned out to vote on the second day of a landmark presidential election Thursday, early indicators showed the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate taking the lead among the presumed front-runners.

    The Brotherhood is the most organized and efficient political force in Egypt, and Mohammed Morsi’s campaign team went so far as to predict a possible outright victory, despite the damage done to the group’s reputation after it backtracked on a pledge not to put forward a presidential candidate.

    “We are the front-runner, and we hope we can conclude this today and get 50-plus” percent, said Mourad Mohammed Aly, a media adviser to Morsi, although that outcome remained unlikely.

    With turnout reportedly lower than on Wednesday, all five front-runners voiced optimism about their prospects even as several acknowledged Morsi’s relatively strong early showing. The campaign of former Arab League chief Amr Moussa also put Morsi in the lead, with 25 percent of the vote, and Moussa just behind him with 23 percent, based on exit polls at 13,000 polling stations.

    So it looks like the MB is one step closer to complete takeover of Egypt’s government at a time when the constitution is to be rewritten. The next phase of Egypt’s nascent democracy should be interesting:

    Muslim Brotherhood pushing its religious agenda more boldly
    Associated Press
    Updated 09:52 p.m., Friday, May 18, 2012

    CAIRO – At a campaign rally for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president, a hardline cleric and TV preacher sang Mohammed Morsi’s praises before thousands massed in the stadium of an industrial city in Egypt’s Nile Delta.

    “We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate coming true at the hands of Mohammed Morsi,” the cleric, Safwat Hegazy, blared from his podium.

    The capital of the Caliphate and the United Arab States is Jerusalem, God willing,” he added, as thousands cheered and waved the Brotherhood’s green flag, chanting, “The people want to implement God’s law.”

    On the campaign trail for the presidential election, now only days away, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken a sharp turn rightward, becoming bolder in saying it wants to bring a state where religion and Islamic law play a major role – and insisting that it has the right to rule.

    As a result, it has moved away from the more moderate face that it promoted since even before the fall of Hosni Mubarak 15 months ago. During campaigning for parliament elections late last year, the Brotherhood insisted that implementing Islamic law was not its immediate priority, instead speaking vaguely of an “Islamic background” to government. It also sought to assuage fears that it seeks to take over the country by promising to work with other, liberal factions.

    Critics and former Brotherhood members say the greater assertiveness represents the 82-year-old group’s true face, brought by hard-liners who during the past decades have squeezed out moderates and taken control of its leadership. Those hard-liners, the former members say, are more confrontational, more determined to impose Islamic strictures and less likely to share power with others.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 24, 2012, 1:41 pm
  2. Looks like the MB won’t have to win by loosing. Just good ol’fashioned winning will do.

    Mursi is going to take it.

    Egypt’s primary election results stun revolutionaries
    By Nancy A. Youssef and Hannah Allam
    McClatchy Newspapers
    Published: Saturday, May. 26, 2012 – 12:00

    “Many liberal and leftist revolutionaries, who are notoriously disorganized, said
    they were disappointed – but not necessarily shocked – at the preliminary results.
    After all, they said, the Muslim Brotherhood’s steamroller election machine
    boasted seemingly endless resources and a massive get-out-the-vote campaign in
    even the most far-flung provinces.”

    I guess we know the X-factor that overcame the “notoriously disorganized” and managed
    to bring hundreds of thousands into the streets to topple and 30 year autocrat. Funny how
    things go to shit when the Intelligence Services aren’t backing you.

    “Revolutionary candidates thought the Facebook and Twitter community is
    Egypt, which it’s not,” said Emam, the women’s advocate.


    Posted by GrumpuRex | May 28, 2012, 11:04 am
  3. @Grumpus: Yep, it’s looking like the June runoff is going to be the most depressing race that was possible given the candidates. Egyptians get to choose between giving the Muslim Brotherhood pretty much complete control over the government during a time when the constitution is about to be remade OR the they can vote for the guy that ordered the club wielding camel thugs last year. Have fun trying to find the ‘lesser of two evils’ in that mess.

    It’s too bad they can’t vote for the Greater Evil Greater Evil.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 28, 2012, 4:17 pm
  4. A number of questions have arisen regarding the integrity of the vote given the somewhat surprising results last week in Egypt. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th place finishers are all alleging widespread vote rigging, but to no avail. And one of those candidates, the ‘ex’-Muslim Brotherhood candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, said things were so bad that he would have contested the results even if he had been the winner. So there was a clear sense of illegitimacy in the wake of the results. And then Supreme Presidential Council ruled that out any recount. Within four days. Perhaps not surprisingly, this didn’t go over well:

    Angry crowd targets HQ of Egypt’s ‘candidate for stability,’ citing vote fraud
    Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, has cast himself as the presidential candidate who can restore stability to Egypt. But last night’s protests underscore how polarizing he is.

    By Kristen Chick, Correspondent / May 29, 2012


    Protesters angry at the first-round results of Egypt’s presidential election set fire last night to the campaign headquarters of one of the two candidates who will advance to a runoff, and took to the streets in protest in Cairo and Alexandria.

    An angry crowd broke into the building that houses the Cairo campaign headquarters of Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under former President Hosni Mubarak before he was ousted in last year’s popular revolt.

    The violence took place just hours after the government body overseeing elections announced Mr. Shafiq would face Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, in a mid-June runoff. The crowd threw campaign literature from inside into the street before apparently lighting fire to part of the building. Firefighters quickly put out the blaze.

    “There was fraud – this never would have happened without fraud,” said a protester who gave his name as Mohamed. A crowd of around 1,000 chanted slogans against Shafiq, Morsi, and the military rulers. “I can’t support Shafiq, and I can’t support Morsi,” he added. Protesters said they were also angry that they had to choose between a member of the former regime or a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has sought to dominate the Egyptian political scene.

    Yesterday the Supreme Presidential Election Council announced it had rejected all appeals filed by candidates who alleged that violations and fraud had affected the vote count. The election commission’s decision cannot be appealed. Such a speedy rejection – just four days after polls closed, seemingly without time for a thorough investigation of the allegations – angered some. Candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who came in fourth, said he would have rejected the election results even if he had come in first place. He cited violations that included his campaign representatives being kept from observing the vote counting, and bribes paid to voters.

    Some questioned the commission’s integrity after it disqualified several leading contenders in April. The head of the commission, Farouk Sultan, was appointed by Mubarak to head of the Supreme Constitutional Court in 2009. Critics say he is a loyalist to the former regime, pointing to his swift rise to such a lofty post. Though Shafiq was one of those disqualified, the commission reinstated him while denying appeals from others.

    Well, on the plus side, Jimmy approves…sort of:

    Carter says minor violations in Egypt’s vote
    SARAH EL DEEB, Associated Press
    Updated 12:16 p.m., Saturday, May 26, 2012

    CAIRO (AP) – Former President Jimmy Carter said Saturday that monitors noted violations during Egypt’s presidential elections but that the vote was generally acceptable and the irregularities won’t impact the final results.

    The Atlanta-based Carter Center had 102 monitors at polling centers across Egypt for the landmark vote – the first since longtime leader Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year in a mass uprising. Preliminary results showed a tight race at the top between the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, and Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq. The top two finishers will advance to the June 16-17 runoff.

    Carter said his group was not able to monitor the entire process because authorities only granted his mission’s observers permits a week before the race. The Carter Center said in a statement that the observers were not able to witness the aggregation of the ballots, which “severely undermines the overall transparency of the election results.”

    The third place finisher, Hamdeen Sabahi, has demanded a recount, citing violations that he has yet to disclose.

    Carter said the violations – such as a lack of privacy for voters and the observers’ lack of access to the final vote counting – won’t affect the ultimate results.

    “I don’t think the mistakes and errors and improprieties that we have witnessed in the last few days will have a negative impact on the runoff,” he told reporters. However, he stressed that his center is only able to make a “limited” judgment on the elections because of the limits on their mission.

    He said he was hesitant about accepting the mission because of the limits placed on it, but in the end decided to go ahead with it because he personally has been “deeply involved” in the Egyptian transition process from the outset. The Carter Center also monitored Egypt’s parliamentary elections, which stretched from last November to February 2012.

    He said the presidential election was a “great step forward” from those earlier votes, which were largely viewed as free.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 29, 2012, 11:11 pm

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