Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh last month.(Amro Maraghi/AFP/Getty Images)
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Moderate Islamist Is Egypt’s Frontrunner

Aboul Fotouh reaps benefit of Brotherhood fatigue, opponent’s Mubarak link

Marc Tracy
May 17, 2012
Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh last month.(Amro Maraghi/AFP/Getty Images)

It seems like we should be getting to know Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh (and if you’d like to, Shadi Hamid’s long profile is the place to begin). One of three leading candidates for the Egyptian presidency, whose first round of elections will be held a week from yesterday, it looks like he is achieving something of a happy medium in the Egyptian voters’ minds: not a member of the Ancien Régime, like one of the other front runners, onetime foreign minister Amr Moussa; and not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood like the third frontrunner, Mohammed Morsi.

Indeed the rise of Aboul Fotouh cannot be understood without discussing the Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest and best-organized political party. A reminder: Aboul Fotouh was a member of the Brotherhood in good standing until fairly recently, albeit on its comparatively liberal wing; when he announced for the presidency, the party, which had vowed not to run a candidate, expelled him; then they realized they had better run a candidate and did so (he got disqualified, and so now we have the rather uncharismatic Morsi).

So Aboul Fotouh gets to be an Islamist and even Brotherhood-aligned but not of the Brotherhood, right at the time when Brotherhood fatigue is sinking in: the party has controlled the parliament for most of the year and gotten basically nothing done, partly because it’s not clear how much power they have with the military still ruling (and incidentally, it’s not clear how much power the president will have, either); and also there is the matter of them going back on their promise not to run a candidate lest they have too much power; and indeed the fear that, with a plurality of parliament, the presidency would give them too much power. Add it all up, and Aboul Fotouh makes a lot of sense.

All this: good or bad for the Jews? Er, that’s a sore point. Aboul Fotouh has had some pretty dispiriting things to say about Israel and the Israeli-Egyptian peace. He has used Israel as a symbol of Moussa’s devotion to the old ways, challenging the former Arab League secretary to agree that Israel is the “enemy” (he wouldn’t) and even spread the false rumor that Moussa has an Israeli half-brother. Israel is a “racist state,” he has said, the Camp David accords a “national security threat.” There’s also the matter of Aboul Fotouh receiving the hardcore Salafists’ backing despite being further toward the middle on matters of mosque and state (more Brotherhood fatigue). Will President Aboul Fotouh keep the peace in Sinai? More likely, the military rulers will not give him the power not to.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.