More than 14 months on from an uprising that ousted the former regime of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood is in power and establishing its political strength in parliament. Once dubbed the future reformist of the Brotherhood, the independent candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh now faces the ire of the country's leading political movement, whose own candidate has just been banned. Joseph Mayton reports
Ironically, it was Aboul Fotouh's announcement that he was to make a run for Egypt's top job that cost him a position in the leadership of the Brotherhood in mid-2011. The Brotherhood had repeatedly stated they would not field a candidate for the presidency, but in April all that changed.
The Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), in an effort to buttress the power of the military junta – which continues to show obstinacy towards relinquishing power – reneged on its previous promises and announced Khairat el-Shater would take on the mantle of its presidential aspirations.
For Aboul Fotouh, a former friend turned foe, it was expected. He believes the Brotherhood and its party are quickly learning the inner workings of politics, much to their detriment. "Honesty is important for Egypt at this stage, and my campaign is about transparency and justice for all Egyptians," he said in a recent interview. "For me, it is not important. I have faith in the people of Egypt, and they will see this as a political move."
Aboul Fotouh has been an unlikely unifier in recent months, following months of tensions and violent protests in the country. A former Islamist, he is now winning the hearts and minds of multiple groups within Egyptian society and politics. Aboul Fotouh is seen as the moderate candidate and is largely the frontrunner in the current race for the president, but the entrance of Shater somewhat changed the dynamic.
From Islamist to moderate candidate: Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, seen here delivering a speech during his presidential campaign, is standing as an independent candidate and already has a large following across the political spectrum
FJP candidate banned from election
Analysts believed Aboul Fotouh would be the candidate the Brotherhood would eventually throw their weight behind ahead of the May vote, but then the Islamic group decided to try and fill the top job from within the party, sparking controversy over the future of politics in the country and whether Egypt has returned to a state of power politics and inner meanderings that suit those in power.
"I am not worried about what the Brotherhood is doing. They are a political group now and have lost their way a bit, but it is a learning experience for all of us in the transition to democracy," Aboul Fotouh argued. "We are just getting going and there are going to be ups and downs on this path," he added, not directly addressing the issue of the Brotherhood refusing to maintain its promise of not fielding a candidate, as a politician aiming for the public's vote would.
The entire situation changed dramatically, however, on 14 April when the FJP's chosen candidate, Khairat el-Shater, was banned from standing in the presidential elections along with nine other candidates.
In a surprise decision on 14 April, the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, Khairat el-Shater, and nine other candidates were excluded from the Egyptian presidential election, throwing the race wide open
An unlikely unifier
On the ground in Cairo, many agree that Aboul Fotouh is their candidate, and he already has a large following, with posters plastered across main streets. Heba, a 23-year-old university student believes Aboul Fotouh is the hope for Egypt because of his ability to win over both liberals and conservatives.
"As a woman, I believe he is a great man to lead Egypt because he supports women's rights and has a great way of supporting justice and speaking out against the violence and the wrongs of the government and the military," she said.
For Aboul Fotouh, his aim is not to change politics per se, but to bring democracy and the peoples' voice to the country after decades of silencing by the former regime. He believes that his candidacy will be a spark that will allow the youth to have a voice in the new Egypt.
"It is a good thing and a means of self-expression that must be encouraged," he said of the role of the youth in speaking out on what they would like to see for the future of Egypt. "My candidacy is about maintaining the revolution and what it meant and still means for Egyptians on a daily basis. Egypt is a large country, and perceptions and ideas are always changing so we, as the leaders, must respect and try to make dialogue between the different groups more able to become a reality. We, as leaders and candidates must learn and express our future goals in their vision."
Belief in the right to choose
|Egypt's former vice president and former spy chief Omar Suleiman decided to stand for president of Egypt, claiming that his supporters pleaded with him to do so; on 14 April he too was barred from the election
But that is where he differs from the Muslim Brotherhood, he believes, especially on women's issues and Christians, two embattled groups in the country.
"I am not going to sit and tell people what to do in their lives and how to do it, so I am different from the Brotherhood. I believe in a lot of things that are similar to the Brotherhood and the FJP, but I also believe in personal rights and the rights of the people to choose, which is where I am not like the other conservatives who have a firm belief in what Egypt should look like," he argued.
"I try to speak for the people, not at the people. If that is what they want, then I will do my best as president, but we have a long time to go still," he added.
And it is that belief that has spurred support in unexpected areas of society, where both conservatives and liberals have begun to show their backing for Aboul Fotouh, who first came to politics while at Cairo University in the 1970s under the Brotherhood banner. Today, nearly four decades later, Aboul Fotouh is an independent and could be Egypt's next president.