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Aboul Fotouh Courts Egypt's Broad Political Base

  • Elizabeth Arrott

CAIRO - Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is being touted as a frontrunner in next week's presidential election in Egypt. It will be the first presidential vote since Hosni Mubarak was forced from office last year.

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Aboul Fotouh was a longtime Muslim Brotherhood member who broke with the group to run his independent campaign. He has done what few Egyptians thought possible, by projecting a calm and unifying presence during a tense and polarized time.

A self-described moderate Islamist, the head of the Arab Medical Union appeals to the vast middle of Egypt's Muslim majority. But he has also attracted fundamentalist Salafis, while having a political adviser who is an unveiled, female Marxist.

Aboul Fotouh rose to fame as a student who dared to debate President Anwar Sadat. And despite five years as a Mubarak-era political prisoner, he uses humorous puppets in his campaign ads.

How can he be seemingly all things to all people? Aboul Fotouh says his supporters are united in seeking social justice, equality and freedom.

Speaking at a political conference in Cairo, he said some people want to portray his Islamic program as contradictory. But, he adds, it combines "noble and humanitarian values."

Presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh appeals to a wide section of Egypt's electorate, Cairo, May 15, 2012. (Y. Weeks/VOA)

Presidential hopeful Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh appeals to a wide section of Egypt's electorate, Cairo, May 15, 2012. (Y. Weeks/VOA)

However, some aspects of Aboul Fotouh's program might not appeal to everyone. His rhetoric, for example, challenges Egypt's 30-year peace agreement with Israel. At a recent debate, he described Israel as an enemy. He has also questioned whether Islamic militants were responsible for the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Aboul Fotouh says he wants to keep the conversation on improving the daily lives of Egyptians. Before the revolution, the economy was stagnant. Since the uprising, most change has been for the worse. Some question whether Aboul Fotouh is up to the task of reversing the trend.

University student Shereen Mustafa says she does not support Aboul Fotouh because he does not have a background in politics and she has never seen anything he has done. That leaves her doubtful about his achievements in the future.

But the independent candidate wants Egypt to break from the politics of the past, with the next president trading cronyism and corruption for an economy based on abilities.

Aboul Fotouh says he envisions a type of technocracy, with the president inspiring, monitoring and empowering specialists as they carry out their work. He says Egypt is rich enough in human and natural resources that, with proper management, it could be one of the 20 richest countries in the next decade.

For some, that is that kind of pledge that draws such a diverse group of supporters. For others, it seems that Aboul Fotouh has promised too much.