- Title: EGYPT: Frontrunners campaign ahead of presidential poll
- Date: 1st May 2012
- Summary: ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT (FILE, 2012) (REUTERS) VIEW OF SUPPORTERS OF THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AT ELECTION RALLY MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SUPPORTERS WAVING YELLOW MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD FLAGS MURSI SHARING DAIS WITH THE GROUP'S PRIMARY CANDIDATE WHO WAS DISQUALIFIED, KHAIRAT AL SHATER AL SHATER ADDRESSING THE RALLY POSTER OF MURSI MURSI ADDRESSING THE RALLY CHILDREN AMONG MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD SUPPORTERS WAVING FLAGS
- Embargoed: 16th May 2012 13:00
- Location: Egypt
- Country: Egypt
- Topics: Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA7CW4ZCCWHUT8QX4JNOT6KPLH5
- Story Text: While campaigning in landmark Egyptian presidential elections began officially on Monday (April 30), the frontrunners in the race to succeed ousted President Hosni Mubarak have been out on the campaign trail for months.
With just over three weeks to go before Egyptians go to the polls, an initial field of several hundred candidates has been whittled down to an official list of just 13.
The presidential elections, like parliamentary elections last year, are shaping up as an ideological contest between liberals and Islamists who have dominated Egypt's post-Mubarak political landscape.
Political stalwart Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister, is shaping up as the favourite with a recent poll by the state run Ahram Center giving him 40 percent of the vote. Close behind is moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Futouh with nearly 27 percent.
The top contenders have been traversing Egypt since Mubarak's fall, trying to win over an electorate frustrated by the country's economic and political stagnation in the wake of his ousting and an ongoing security vacuum.
Moussa has been capitalizing on the wide name recognition he garnered as foreign minister in the 1990s, when political lore had it that Mubarak dismissed him for becoming slightly too popular.
Banished to the Egyptian political wilderness as head of the Arab League for ten years, Moussa has presented himself as the only statesman in a field of political novices.
He recently told reporters that Egypt needs a man like him in its moment of crisis.
"The country is in a major crisis, and a major crisis would not justify at all a president who will ask around - 'what should I do on this point or that point?' and gaining experience as he goes. Egypt needs to rebuild the country after the major shrinking in its fortunes," he said.
Moussa's campaign is also focused on appealing to a growing part of the electorate that is unnerved by the rise of the Islamist parties who won an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament at the expense of liberal parties whose supporters spearheaded the revolution.
The urbane former diplomat has been at pains to set himself apart from Islamist rivals that include the former head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Mursi, who replaced disqualified Muslim Brotherhood heavyweight, Khairat al-Shater.
"You can use whatever you want to use, but for me I believe it is (his opponents) a religious background, that's right, and for me it is a nationalist background - I believe that Egypt has been injured and Egypt has been mismanaged and Egypt should not get into an experiment that has not been tried before in order for us to enter into a period of confusion," he said.
The run up to Egypt's first post-Mubarak presidential elections has offered up a season of political melodrama of the highest order, with frequent unexpected political twists and turns.
The race was first shaken up by the sudden meteoric rise of ultra-conservative 'Salafi' sheikh, Hazem Slah Abu Ismail. The Muslim Brotherhood then went back on months of promises that they would not field a candidate with the dramatic entry into the race of the Muslim Brotherhood's former deputy spiritual leader Khairat al-Shater. Not to be outdone, Mubarak's former spy chief Omar Suleiman, the bete noir of reformers, then tossed his hat in the ring.
All three, as well as Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, were then booted out of the race by the presidential elections' commission which cited various technical violations of the election laws.
Shafiq has now been controversially reinstated, infuriating supporters of those still excluded, particularly the Islamists.
The Nour Party of the Salafi movement, which espouses a puritanical version of Islam, on Saturday (April 28) swung their support behind Abol Fotouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood member ejected from the mainstream Islamic movement last year.
Abol Fotouh has presented himself as a moderate Islamist, holding out a vision of sharia (Islamic law) that promotes the interests of Egypt's diverse society.
His support base includes some of the liberals who had supported Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog who withdrew from the race in January.
With a slick and efficient campaign machine, Abol Futouh offers a stiff challenge to Moussa and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The endorsement of Abol Futouh by the Salafi's Nour Party has dealt a blow to the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi, who is languishing at 3.6 percent according to the Ahram poll.
Abol Futouh has tried to differentiate himself from his major rivals, emphasizing his credentials as a genuine revolutionary and longtime opponent of Mubarak in contrast to Shafiq and Moussa.
"My brothers and sisters we are approaching the presidential elections project, which the gang of (ousted president) Hosni Mubarak, is conspiring against. This gang is still present, or rather its members are still present in the government, and in the security services, because the revolution brought down the heads but the legs and roots of this regime are still present and they require a purifying revolution that will not take place until after the election of a president to lead the people in the continuation of this cleansing," he has said.
Abol Futouh has been sharply critical of the ruling military council which took over from Mubarak and which has been widely accused of mismanaging Egypt's transition and using many of Mubarak's repressive tactics against its critics.
The Salafist endorsement is likely to bring to Abol Fotouh many of the votes that propelled the Salafis into second place behind the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's parliamentary elections.
Salafist groups have staged nearly continuous protests since the ejection of Abu Ismail who was disqualified because his mother held dual US-Egyptian citizenship.
The presidential elections have presented an extraordinary political trial for the Muslim Brotherhood. The group's decision to field a candidate led to a strong backlash from opponents and supporters alike and they have struggled to reassure Egyptians afraid that the group is trying to dominate the political scene.
While Shater's exclusion was a blow, their second choice candidate, Mursi, is now enthusiastically campaigning and seems to be wagering that the support of the Muslim Brotherhood's faithful and genuine religious conservatives will pull him through.
Mursi has been at pains to emphasize that the group will remain true to its Islamist roots.
"We committed to the programme that we are announcing, and which we have announced in the party's programme, and which we announced in the parliamentary elections platform, and which we announce now in the renaissance project which is detailed and focused and is a reflection of the philosophy that 'Islam is the solution', which we had adopted previously and which we still do. Our ideology is a clear Islamic ideology -- a modern Egyptian state, nationalist, democratic, constitutional, in which the people are the source of authority," he said recently.
As the Muslim Brotherhood courts the conservative right, it has faced ever sharper criticism from liberal reformists and others who fear that they may have removed Mubarak's all powerful ruling party only to see the Muslim Brotherhood take its place.
Egyptians go to the polls on May 23 and there will be a runoff in mid-June if no candidate wins more than 50 percent.
And while the candidates may disagree on almost everything else, they all agree that with the country at a crossroads, the stakes could not be higher in Egypt's coming presidential elections.
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