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The Salafists, while still allied with the FJP, find themselves in disarray as a result of their charismatic leader’s ousting from the presidential race. Many members of the Nour party plan to stay at home on election day, while others complain that they are being marginalized by the Muslim Brotherhood. Still others want the movement to give up on politics and concentrate on reforming society so that it reflects fundamentalist Muslim tenets. There have been several resignations from the Nour party in recent months reflecting these feelings.
That’s why the Nour party backing of Fotouh is more a tactical move than related to any particular stand on the issues by the former Brotherhood member. Nour, as any political party, wants to back a winner and Fotouh is emerging as one of the favorites among the 13 remaining candidates for the presidency. While the FJP candidate, Mohammed Mursi, won the endorsement of the ultra-conservative clerical association, the Jurisprudence Commission for Rights and Reforms, the Nour party leadership went with Fotouh as a hedge against what they see as the growing dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood — an organization they see as too eager to acquire political power.
Fotouh is being described as a “progressive,” or a “liberal” by most news organizations. And in Egyptian society, one might say that this was accurate, although he would be an ultra-conservative candidate — even in some Arab countries. His claim to “moderation” arises partly from the fact that he was kicked out of the Muslim Brotherhood for announcing his intention to run for the presidency of Egypt. At the time, the Brotherhood had forsworn fielding a candidate for that office, a decision that was reversed only recently.
But Fotouh has some other moderate credentials that appeal to liberals and secularists. His main disagreement with the Muslim Brotherhood centers on his belief that the Brotherhood should not have entered the political fray. Fotouh told al-Jazeera that he was “against the Muslim Brotherhood’s participation in party politics.” Further,
The Brotherhood should not become a political party nor should it have a political party. Because its founder, Hassan al-Banna, founded the Muslim Brotherhood as an Islamic social welfare movement which raises awareness of Islam without competing for government…. It is wrong to mix this missionary and awareness-raising work with party politics[.]
In addition to this, Fotouh has appealed to the liberal parties with his talk of a pluralistic, diverse approach to government. “His vision for Egypt is a civic state on an Islamic basis,” reports al-Jazeera:
A civilian state according to Islamic thought must have a constitution written by the people which defines the roles and responsibilities of all authoritative bodies. You can call this a modern state, a civilian state, a democratic state…. Islam does not discriminate based on gender, religion, color and the new constitution must not either. The appointment of people to office or other government jobs must be based on merit and capability and not gender or religion or even political inclination.
To Western ears, Fotouh’s words are incomprehensible. Islam does not discriminate based on gender? Or religion? This would come as news to the hundreds of millions of Muslim women denied even basic protections under Islamic law, as well as Coptic Christians in Egypt who have seen their churches burned, their clergy murdered, and their religious practices legally barred by Islamic clerics.
Perhaps that’s how the liberals and more secular elements of Egyptian politics see Islam. But even many of the moderate parties don’t entirely trust Fotouh which is why some of them are backing the candidacy of former Mubarak foreign minister and head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa.
Fotouh’s path to “moderation” is a strange one. In the 1970s, he was a revolutionary Islamist who believed that violence was permissible in order to establish an Islamic state. He was a member of a violent cell, al-Gamaat al-Islamiyah, but has since renounced his participation in that group and condemned its members for their intolerance and “intellectual terrorism.”
According to a BBC profile, he claims that contact with the Muslim Brotherhood “moderated his views.”
His campaign program is moderate in tone. According to the BBC:
His plans include establishing a minimum standard income, restoring security within 100 days of taking office, re-equipping the Egyptian military from sources not funded by the United States and appointing a young vice-president, aged under 45.
He also wants to establish an anti-discrimination body that would represent religious and ethnic minorities in employment and education. Despite writing in the Washington Post the West should not fear the rise of Islamism in Egypt, he has brushed aside questions about the peace treaty with Israel, saying, “It was being given excessive attention and that the future of Egypt did not depend on it.”
The military would probably accept Fotouh if he were elected, given his standing as someone independent of the Muslim Brotherhood. But that doesn’t mean he would be any more “moderate” than any other Islamist whose stated goal of destroying Israel remains unchanged.
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