Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh: Egypt’s next leader?
By OREN KESSLER
The former Brotherhood figure insists he holds moderate views; critics claim he’s trying to be all things to all people.
Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh may well be Egypt’s next president.
candidate has managed to position himself as a moderate – as he is usually
described in Western media – while still winning the endorsements of even the
most hard-line of Egypt’s Islamist movements.
This week, Abol Fotouh won
the endorsements of Salafi Islamists and al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, an extremist
group designated a terrorist organization by the US and EU. But he also won the
backing of Wasat (“Center”) – a self-styled moderate Islamist group – and Wael
Ghonim, the Google executive who became the face of the young activists who
toppled former president Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of protests last
Abol Fotouh, 60, is a physician and a former senior Muslim
Brotherhood figure who left the group last year after it barred its members from
running for president – a decision it later reversed.
A poll released
this week by the state-run Al-Ahram Center showed him in second place behind
ex-foreign minister Amr Moussa and far ahead of the Brotherhood’s candidate
The poll, however, was conducted before the string of
endorsements Abol Fotouh received this week. Elections are scheduled for later
this month, with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) scheduled
to hand over power by July 1.
“The notion that Abol Fotouh is a moderate
is a product of Western observers’ best hopes, and not an honest analysis of the
man’s biography and record,” said Eric Trager, an Egypt expert at the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy.
“Abol Fotouh left the Brotherhood on
account of his disagreements with the organization’s political strategy – not
because of ideological disagreements. We saw this most clearly after the Maspero
Massacre, when Abol Fotouh blamed Copts for protesting at the ‘wrong place and
wrong time,’ and also blamed ‘foreign conspiracies.’” Last October, Christian
protesters took to Cairo’s streets to demonstrate against the demolition of a
church in southern Egypt that authorities said had been built without a license.
Troops and security forces attacked the protesters, causing 28 deaths – the
majority Coptic Christians.
“Wael Ghonim’s endorsement is a reminder that
last year’s revolt was not liberal, but anti-Mubarak,” Trager said. “Of the
leading presidential candidates, Abol Fotouh has the strongest anti-Mubarak
credentials, because he has been the most persistent critic of the SCAF, which
activists like Ghonim correctly see as an extension of the Mubarak regime. They
are thus indifferent to his Islamism, because the pursuit of a secularist Egypt
was always a secondary goal.”
Abol Fotouh first gained notoriety in Egypt
for a Cairo University debate in 1975 with Anwar Sadat, who like his successor
Mubarak clamped down hard on organized Islamist activity.
then a medical student, denounced Sadat as a “hypocrite,” prompting the
president to demand he be removed. In September 1981 – a month before Sadat’s
assassination in Cairo – Abol Fotouh was arrested for membership in an Islamist
group and served a short prison sentence.
From 1996 to 2001 he was again
imprisoned, this time by the Mubarak regime, for belonging to the
Upon his release, he became the head of the Arab Medical
Union, a pan-Arab grouping of pious and politically active physicians.
February of last year – days before Mubarak’s resignation and several months
before leaving the Brotherhood – Abol Fotouh penned a Washington Post op-ed
entitled “Democracy supporters should not fear the Muslim
“The Brotherhood has already decided not to field a
candidate for president in any forthcoming elections.
We want to set the
record straight so that any Middle East policy decisions made in Washington are
based on facts and not the shameful – and racist – agendas of Islamophobes,” he
“Contrary to fear-mongering reports, the West and the Muslim
Brotherhood are not enemies. It is a false dichotomy to posit, as some alarmists
are suggesting, that Egypt’s choices are either the status quo of the Mubarak
regime or a takeover by ‘Islamic extremists,’” he wrote.
In June, aides
to Abol Fotouh told the New York Times he supported the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace
treaty and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In a 2009
interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News, the then-Brotherhood official gave
assurances that his movement would respect the treaty with Israel and encourage
Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state.
But speaking in Arabic at a
press conference this month, Abol Fotouh dismissed the entire interview as a
Speaking last week on Egyptian television, Abol Fotouh
said his views have not changed since his days with the Brotherhood.
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 said.
“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