Egypt’s presidential campaign kicks off

Google executive Wael Ghonim backs popular Islamist; Amr Moussa: Camp David Accords "dead and buried," though peace treaty remains.

Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa 311 R (photo credit: Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa 311 R
(photo credit: Abd El Ghany / Reuters)
Egypt’s presidential campaign kicked off Monday with a former top Muslim Brotherhood figure riding the momentum of new endorsements and an ex-foreign minister declaring the 1978 Camp David Accords “dead and buried.”
On Monday, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh earned the endorsement of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive who became the face of the popular protests that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak last February.
The candidate also received the support of al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, an extremist Islamist organization considered a terror group by the United States and European Union and responsible for attacks in the ‘90s that left more than 80 people dead, most of them tourists.
The Gama’a, which says it has renounced terrorism, is now allied with the Salafi Nour party, which took a quarter of Egypt’s parliamentary seats and issued its own endorsement of Abol Fotouh on Saturday.
Abol Fotouh also won the backing of the Wasat (“Center”) party, a self-described moderate Islamist movement led by another ex-Brotherhood official.
“Abol Fotouh managed since the start of the presidential race to help overcome differences and search for harmony and reunification and impartiality in the interests of the homeland,” Ghonim wrote on his Facebook page.
“So it was not surprising that a lot of Egyptians from different ideological currents and parties support him as president,” he continued.
“I support Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh as president of the republic for many reasons,” Ghonim wrote.
“Most important, he will be president of all Egyptians, bringing us together instead of dividing us.”
Abol Fotouh is a four-decade Brotherhood veteran who was ousted from the organization last year for defying its initial ban on members running for president. Last month, the Brotherhood reversed its decision and nominated Khairat al-Shater, but the longtime financier’s candidacy was disqualified over a prior criminal conviction.
He was later replaced with Mohamed Mursi, the chairman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.
Shadi Hamid, an expert on Egypt’s Islamist movements at Brookings Doha Center, said the Salafis’ endorsement of Abol Fotouh marks a significant split within the broader Islamist movement.
“There was a lot of talk in recent weeks about Islamists unifying their ranks and choosing one candidate to support,” he told The Jerusalem Post.
“It shows that Salafis are becoming increasingly pragmatic actors. If ideology was the main determinant, they would have gone for the most conservative candidate in the race – Mohamed Mursi – but they didn’t,” Hamid said.
“The Brotherhood finds itself in a precarious situation. Without Salafi support, it’s difficult to see how Mursi can pull this off. The optics of a Brotherhood defeat – at the hands of one of their defectors – will do considerable damage to the organization’s standing. Even though Salafis and Brothers are within the same ‘family,’ they don’t always get along.”
On Monday, Amr Moussa, Mubarak’s foreign minister and a former Arab League chief, began his campaign with a visit to the Christian Monastery of the Archangel in the Upper Egypt town of Qena. The choice appeared to be an attempt to win the favor of Egypt’s estimated 10 million Coptic Christians, many of whom fear that an Islamist-controlled government will curtail their religious and civil rights.
Asked about the Camp David Accords, Moussa said the agreement itself is “dead and buried,” but that Egypt would fulfill the terms of the peace treaty as long as Israel does the same.
“The Camp David Accords are a historical document whose place is on the shelves of history, since its clauses say the treaty’s aim is to create an independent Palestinian state,” he said, but added, that “there is an agreement between Israel and Egypt that we will honor as long as Israel honors it.”
A poll released Monday by the state-run Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies found Moussa ahead in pre-election polling. The survey found Moussa had received the support of 41 percent of voters, while Abol Fotouh took 27% and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq 12%.
Mursi came in sixth with just under 4%.
The poll found Abol Fotouh did especially well in Cairo, while Moussa did better in the southern Egyptian governorates of Qena and Assiut.
The nationwide survey of 1,200 people was conducted between April 21 and 24 – before Abol Fotouh had received this week’s high-profile endorsements.
Campaigning will last until May 21, after which voters will go to the polls on May 23 and 24 with a run-off expected in June. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, is expected to hand over power to an elected government by July 1.
On Sunday, a Salafi spokesman told Egyptian media that Mursi stands little chance of becoming president.
“With all due respect to Dr. Mursi, he has been at a disadvantage in terms of media coverage because he was fielded at the last minute,” said spokesman Abdel Moneim al-Shahat.
“Plus, the media has launched a campaign against him.”
Shahat dismissed as “ridiculous” allegations that the SCAF had pressured Salafis not to back the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate.
“This did not happen and will never happen and we can never accept it,” he said.
Some 74 Salafi MPs chose Abol Fotouh as a candidate in an internal election, compared to just seven for Mursi.
Abol Fotouh, 60, has presented himself as a champion of moderate Islamism, insisting he espouses a vision of Islamic law suited to Egypt’s diverse society. Critics say he has yet to clarify exactly what that means.
Speaking to Al Jazeera English on Sunday, the candidate said the peace treaty with Israel would be maintained, but only insofar as it serves Egypt’s interests.
“It will be revised. The articles in it which are in Egypt’s interests will be kept; those which are detrimental to Egypt’s interests will be taken out,” he said.