Egyptian Candidate Tells Palestinians to Accept Israel?
Egyptian Candidate Tells Palestinians to Accept Israel?

Co-Authored by Ben Barrack, talk show host and author of the upcoming book, Unsung Davids.

One of the presidential hopefuls running for Egyptian elections to be held on 23 and 24 May 2012 is Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

Israel’s most-watched news program Ulpan Shishi was even more hopeful, going out of its way to capture statements from Aboul Fotouh in English.

In the interview, Aboul Fotouh went as far as to state that “we say to Palestinians 'you should recognize the State of Israel'.” He even expressed the view strongly that the Camp David Accord “should be respected.”

The Arabic reveals otherwise. In a press conference, Aboul Fotouh announced that the entire interview was fabricated:

It was 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. The Palestinian cause is not an Arab-Zionist struggle but it is an Egyptian Security issue. We need to stand steadfast against this exchange, because this exchange is not only dangerous to Palestinians but the entire Arab world. The one who fabricated this report was another candidate.”

But the interview Aboul Fotouh did with Israeli Television is impossible to deny and his statements denouncing Israel and Camp David, which we discovered, can be seen here:

Al-Fotouh’s main competitor is Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, a telegenic Salafist who admires Iran, wants to abolish the peace treaty with Israel, end trade with the West, and have women work at home. In a television interview, he sought leverage against Fotouh, saying:

“Palestine is from the River to the Sea.”

The Weekly Standard carried an instructive piece about Ismail in September, warning that he was a viable candidate. TheNew York Timesnoticed Ismail too; the State Department has also come around to thinking he could win.

Another candidate – former Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa – is trying to bring the youth to his side by pointing out that he went to Tahrir Square during the revolution.

However, young revolutionaries consider Moussa to be a dinosaur who served as foreign minister under the Mubarak regime. While foreign minister, Moussa was scathing in his criticism of Israel, which made him a popular figure on the Egyptian street. In 2001, he was chosen as secretary-general of the Arab League, a position he held until 2011. There was speculation that he was removed from national politics because Mubarak was threatened by his growing popularity.

Despite Fotouh's expulsion from the Muslim Brotherhood last year, when he defied the group's initial decision not to put forth a candidate, he has received substantial backing from the Brotherhood. The family of late Brotherhood leader, Hassan Gouda – one of the Brotherhood founders in Beni Suef and member of the Guidance Office (1982 to 2003) – recently announced his full endorsement of Aboul-Fotouh.

Notorious Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi – the foreign liaison of the Brotherhood and most influential cleric in the Middle East – endorsed Foutouh while portraying him as the next Moses. In one interview, Qaradawi used the example of Jethro’s daughter in Midian, pointing to how she “chose the strong man (Moses) who fears Allah.” He even used Joseph’s story in Egypt, about how he asked the Pharaoh to trust him with the storehouses.

“We need someone who has patience when treating the interests of other people,” Qaradawi said. “I prefer Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.”

Interestingly, al-Qaradawi denied support for any presidential candidate last summer.

Khayrat el-Shater, a 61 year-old, multi-millionaire businessman who was the Muslim Brotherhood's deputy head and de facto CFO until last week, when he resigned from the Brotherhood (with its blessings) to run for president, has not gained much traction, although his candidacy was acceptable to the Obama administration, partially as a hedge against a possible Abu Ismail victory.

El-Shater lacks a public persona that can appeal to voters, despite his blasting of the US for preventing “the Islamic nation in its entirety” from eliminating “the usurper Zionist enemy.”

The primary difference between Salafists like Ismail and former Muslim Brotherhood loyalists is that the latter believe in Muruna or the lifting of prohibitions for higher callings, while portraying modernity. Muruna is about going to great lengths to gain Islamic interests by using deception - such as pretending to be a moderate - in order to lower the guard and gain the support of the infidels.The former use no such deceit.

Both groups seek the same ends, just differ on the means.

Aboul Fotouh’s campaign is much more organized; he enjoys surreptitious support from the Brotherhood but not all Salafist movements support Abu Ismail. Aboul Fotouh has the best chance of winning among candidates from the opposing school of thought, for his ability to attract voters of both religious and liberal backgrounds.

He appears moderate and is accepted within different social classes, particularly new forces born after the popular uprising. While Amr Moussa ranked first in newspaper coverage across Egypt, Aboul-Fotouh ranked first in television talk shows. He is flamboyant and resembles Omar Sharif in appearance. He is perceived to offer Egypt stability.

While Hazem Salah Abu Ismail has gained the support of conservative, non-political forces and lower classes alike – the latter typically vote for leftist candidates – he could face trouble. Reports claiming that the presidential candidate's mother, Nawal Abdel Aziz Noor, holds US citizenship have been widely circulated. Such a condition would prohibit Abu Ismail from running for president, as Egypt's election law requires that candidates' parents and spouses hold Egyptian citizenships exclusively.

Meanwhile, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh appears to be winning the Muruna vote.