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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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