With Egyptians barely a month away from picking their first president since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year, Aboul Fotouh is positioning himself as the only candidate capable of bridging the country’s seemingly yawning divide between Islamist and secular. The question is whether consensus has much appeal in the polarized new politics of Egypt.
Aboul Fotouh is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s dominant Islamist group, and is running as a reform-minded independent. Although the race includes candidates who have not made religion a central part of their campaigns, it is increasingly shaping up as a choice among various strains of Islamist thought. Of those, Aboul Fotouh represents perhaps the most moderate alternative.
On the other end of the spectrum has been Hazem Abu Ismail, a favorite among Saudi-influenced hard-liners known as Salafists, who once remarked that unveiled women should not call themselves Muslims. Abu Ismail was effectively disqualified Thursday, after the election commission determined that his mother had been an American citizen.
Aboul Fotouh’s biggest rival for the votes of moderate Islamists is likely to be the Brotherhood hopeful, Khairat el-Shater, who was added to the ballot last week after the group broke its long-standing pledge not to field a presidential candidate.
Ironically, Aboul Fotouh was ousted from the Brotherhood after decades of membership because he wanted to run for president. Amr Moussa, the liberal former foreign minister and Arab League chief, is also a contender, though his ties to the old regime make him anathema to many Egyptians.
So far at least, Aboul Fotouh is well behind in the polls. But he is betting that his seemingly incongruous coalition of supporters — liberal youths, Coptic Christians who fear the rule of a hard-line Islamist, and Islamists disenchanted with the Brotherhood — might add up to enough votes to propel him to victory. Because he can’t afford to offend any of those blocs, his message has been broad and his exact agenda difficult to discern.
“Real sovereignty belongs to the people, and the only master in this nation are the Egyptians, with no first man or first lady,” Aboul Fotouh told the cheering crowd at his campaign kickoff in Cairo’s Azhar Park, his face beamed onto jumbo screens. “The only masters are the people, and, regardless of belief, gender, color or social class, people are equal before the law.”
A sense of the future
Although Aboul Fotouh’s platform may be vague, analysts say he represents something important as Egypt struggles to transition to democracy after decades of autocracy.