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Bombshell in Egyptian presidential race

The campaign for the presidency of Egypt starts in less than a month, and the twists and turns get ever weirder. First came the withdrawal of Mohamed ElBaradei, ex-head of the UN's nuclear-arms inspection agency, over the army's slowness in turning power over to civilians. 

Then came a court ruling that disqualified three leading candidates: Mubarak's former right-hand man, Omar Suleiman; a prominent hard-line Islamist (on the grounds his mother was a U.S. citizen!); and the candidate endorsed by the powerful Muslim Brotherhood. The MB has since put forward a replacement candidate -- but one who is less well-known and less charismatic.

Now the latest twist: Abdul Moneim Abol Fotouh, leader of the Brotherhood's more liberal youth wing, had been booted out of the organization last year when he decided (without party approval) to submit his own candidacy. He picked up some of ElBaradei's supporters but was still running at 10 per cent or less. Saturday, however, he was endorsed by the Nour Party, a leading group in the fundamentalist Salafi coalition that took 25% of the vote in the parliamentary elections.

This is huge! Even though many hoped and expected the Brotherhood to reach out to moderates and secularists, it has failed to do so. Now the hard-line Islamists are bidding to outflank the MB by throwing their votes to a candidate even liberals can support. And Abol Fotouh still has support among disaffected (especially young) Brothers. Suddenly Abol Fotouh is looking like a serious rival to former Arab League head Amr Moussa, who had been leading in most polls.

Very, very interesting develo.pment

Read the full article at

This guy, unknown to most in the West, may well become the next president of Egypt.

Ursula Lindsey reports from one of his rallies, and you get a sense why that could be a great development:

Wael Ghonim, the Google exec who organized the youthful social-media campaign that sparked the revolution, standing on the same rally platform as fundamentalist Salafis! I didn't see that coming.

If Abol Fotouh can win the trust of both far-right Islamists and secular liberals, he might turn out to be the unifying force that Egypt needs right now. And the best counterweight to both the military leadership (still clinging to power but botching everything it touches) and the authoritarian, secretive leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood.

OK, now it's official.
The L.A. Times has thrown its endorsement behind Abol Fotouh.
I'm coming to seriously believe this guy may win in a walk.
He might even get 50% of the vote and avoid a runoff election -- though I haven't heard anyone else predicting that.


Thanks for this post, acanuck, and for the links. It is truly helpful in my attempts to get a handle on his story.

I am so cynical and so used to such disappointments that I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop in this story. I could never have predicted this kind of a coalition. I'm sure the State Department hadn't thought it possible, either, which actually gives me some hope it's legitimate AND organic AND has potential to succeed. Time will tell. But in the end? What's the lesson here? Democracy works? Who'da thunk it?

Like you, I'm hoping the lesson is that yes, democracy sometimes does -- to our utter surprise -- work. And that politics makes strange bedfellows.

My biggest surprise in all this is the political sophistication the Salafis (at least some of them) are displaying. First, to recognize the hard reality that no candidate running on their total agenda could win. Second, to think outside the box when deciding whom to endorse. There may have been signs of growing support that were not yet reflected in the polls, and now they've gotten in on the ground floor.

The Muslim Brotherhood had been slipping in popular support recently, and the Salafis may have been worrying about a nightmare scenario in which they throw their support to the MB candidate, only to see him lose to the secular Amr Moussa in the runoff vote. (Salafis and Brothers can't stand each other, in any case.)

Better to back a more liberal, reform-minded Islamist than risk having a member of the old regime in control of the presidency. (Please note: I'm totally speculating about their reasoning here.)

Part of  Abol Fotouh's appeal is his emphasis on the social-justice aspect of Islam, rather than on the rigid implementation of sharia. But that makes him a natural ally of sorts with the Salafis, who draw much of their support from the undereducated, under-served rural poor, who were virtually ignored by the Mubarak regime. Many Egyptians agree that easing their plight is a top priority.

Here's the latest on his candidacy from The Arabist blog:

And here's the latest poll result:

Amazingly, Bloomberg's headline is about the Muslim Brotherhood nominee "amost" doubling his support to 7 per cent -- and this is in a poll with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Shouldn't the headline be that the candidate of the party with a parliamentary majority is running fourth in popularity? With virtually no shot of making it into the runoff vote? WTF happened to journalistic integrity, not to mention common sense?

The Al-Ahram poll of 1,200 people was conducted April 21-24 -- well before Abol Fotouh got his surprise Salafi endorsement. So take it with a very big grain of salt. I suspect a poll taken today would show a major jump in his support.


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