Supporter of Salafi presidential candidate Abu Ismail 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS /Asmaa Waguih)
For two weeks – from March 31 to April 14 – the Muslim Brotherhood appeared
poised to capitalize on its sweep of Egypt’s parliamentary elections to ride
straight into Cairo’s presidential palace.
After initially announcing it
would not field a presidential candidate, the group last month reversed its
decision and said veteran financier Khairat al-Shater would represent the
84-year-old Islamist movement in May’s presidential ballot.
weekend Egypt’s electoral committee dropped a bomb: Shater, fellow Islamist
Hazem Salah Abu Ismail and ex-spy chief Omar Suleiman were all disqualified from
running – Shater due to an outstanding prison sentence, Abu Ismail over his late
mother’s US citizenship and Suleiman for failing to gather enough signatures of
support from voters in the southern province of Assiut.
erstwhile frontrunners now barred from competing, the race for the presidency
has narrowed to three: the nationalist ex-foreign minister Amr Moussa, the
Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi and former Brotherhood official Abdel Moneim Abol
Moussa launched his campaign Wednesday evening from a Cairo slum,
Al-Ahram newspaper reported. The former Arab League chief’s populist nationalism
endears him to many ordinary Egyptians, but his close association with deposed
president Hosni Mubarak’s regime may prove a significant liability.
Wednesday, Moussa promised economic reforms and the protection of women’s
rights. “Post-revolution Egypt will not be a country in which women are stripped
of their rights and freedoms,” said Moussa, who also enjoys close ties with the
country’s powerful military.
Mursi is chairman of the Freedom and Justice
Party, founded by the Brotherhood a year ago after the decades-long ban on the
group was lifted in the wake of Mubarak’s February 2011 ouster.
61-year-old engineer has modest name recognition among Egyptians. From 2000 to
2005 he led the Brotherhood’s unofficial bloc in parliament (under Mubarak,
largely a rubber-stamp body), and like other leading Brothers has served jail
time for his membership in the group.
Earlier this month the Freedom and
Justice Party announced Mursi as its “backup candidate” should Shater’s
candidacy be annulled.
“Mursi was the backup for a reason,” Shadi Hamid,
an expert on the Brotherhood at the Brookings Center Doha, told Reuters. “Shater
was the only one among them who looked remotely presidential. It’s a big
blow to the Brotherhood.”
The Brotherhood has skillfully exploited the
same social-media tools employed by youth activists who toppled Mubarak after 18
days of protests. On Saturday – the day Shater’s ban was announced – it launched
the Facebook page “Mohamed Mursi for president of the republic.”
now has 2,600 “likes” (a grassroots page called “I’m not voting for Mohamed
Mursi” has a similar number), a far cry from Shater’s more than 100,000 Facebook
Mursi has remained evasive over whether he supports Egypt’s
1979 peace treaty with Israel. Speaking to CNN last year, he said the
Brotherhood would put the matter to a public referendum.
“We are not
against Jews; we are against Zionism,” he said, adding that he believes
Palestinians have the right to “armed resistance” against
“Resistance is acceptable by all mankind. And it is the right of
people to resist imperialism,” he said.
Abol Fotouh is more of a known
quantity among Egyptians, having already earned the endorsement of Yusuf al-
Qaradawi, the influential Qatar-based cleric who is the Brotherhood’s chief
The 60-year-old physician launched his campaign a year ago
after he was expelled from the Brotherhood for defying its orders to members
against running for president. Many voters who may otherwise have voted for
Shater or the Salafi Abu Ismail may choose Abol Fotouh rather than the
Brotherhood’s official candidate.
A Brotherhood member since the 1970s,
he sat on its executive committee (or “Guidance Bureau”) for two decades aside
from a five-year prison term from 1996 to 2001. Today Abol Fotouh is head of the
Arab Medical Union, a pan-Arab association of religiously minded and politically
When in 2009 Henrique Cymerman of Israel’s Channel 2
News interviewed the then- Brotherhood official, Abol Fotouh assured him his
movement would respect the treaty with Israel and encourage the Palestinians to
recognize the Jewish state. Speaking in Arabic at a press conference this month,
Abol Fotouh dismissed the entire interview as a “fabrication.”
said that I told an Israeli journalist that I accept Camp David, that
Palestinians need to recognize Israel and that Israelis need to recognize
Palestine. There is no truth to this. This all has been fabricated,” he said.
“The Palestinian cause is not an Arab-Zionist struggle but an Egyptian security
issue. We need to stand steadfast against this exchange [of recognition],
because it is not only dangerous to Palestinians but the entire Arab
world.”Reuters contributed to this report.