The Strong Egypt Party said today that authorities are hindering efforts by its leader Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh to communicate with the public.
Abul-Fotouh, a former leading figure of the Muslim Brotherhood, who left the group after the 2011 revolution and ran as an independent candidate in last summer’s presidential elections, was scheduled to give a talk on Wednesday at Ismailiya University.
“The university administration has been trying to cancel the lecture, but there is still considerable pressure from the students to hold the talk,” said Karim Hassan, coordinator of the Strong Egypt Party’s student wing.
On Tuesday, despite promises by “some” at the university not to block the Abul-Fotouh talk, the Strong Egypt leader had to cancel his trip “after his office had received tips from Ismailiya students suggesting that the talk would be blocked any way.”
This is not the first time that Abul-Fotouh, who has been very critical of the performance of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, has faced problems while trying to give talks in governorates outside Cairo.
On Monday a group of students at Helwan University held a protest to demonstrate their frustration at the last minute cancellation of a talk by the Strong Egypt leader at their university – again after hurdles put in place by the university administration.
During the past few weeks, in several other universities in the Delta and Upper Egypt, Abul-Fotouh was denied access to address a keen audience of youth, who make up the vast majority of his hardcore supporters, with excuses offered from the administration of the concerned universities varying from “security concerns” to “insufficient preparatory measures.”
In some cases, an outright “Abul-Fotouh shall not speak here” was thrown in the face of the organisers.
Hassan says that the experience has become “almost routine.”
“We get cancelled; we get moved from one lecture hall to another; or we get to pass by after much annoyance.”
Last week, the Luxor office of Strong Egypt was confronted with yet another image of the anti-Fotouh mood when a local party officer, Ahmed Dessouki, attempted to make a reservation for the party leader at a government-owned hotel but was offered a flat refusal.
“I had checked the room and agreed on the rate with the reservation officer but then when I met the hotel manager to make sure that all the necessary arrangements were taken care of, I was offered the flat, shocking statement that ‘Abul-Fotouh has no place at this hotel,’” Dessouki told Ahram Online.
He added that the concerned hotel manager was “frank.”
“He told me that he has much respect for Abul-Fotouh and even asked me to convey his respects but he also said that ultimately the decision is not his and that he had direct orders to block any reservation for Abul-Fotouh and to alternatively demand astronomical rates should the party insist on having a room,” Dessouki added.
Ultimately, Abul-Fotouh was given a room at a much more expensive private sector hotel.
Mohamed Osman, from Strong Egypt’s political bureau, told Ahram Online that “these things” would not deter the party leader from conveying his message “loud and clear.”
Abul-Fotouh, who is often accused by critics of being “Muslim Brotherhood in disguise,” has been unequivocal in labeling Morsi’s performance “a failure.”
Having been outspoken against the president’s style of management and selection of aides, he finally has been calling for early presidential elections.
“I think there is an issue that the regime is facing in dealing with the opposition in general but especially with this bloc of the opposition which is associated with the political Islam faction – at least from the point of view of the regime itself,” said Osman, himself a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who, along with many others, joined Abul-Fotouh when he exited the 85-year-old organisation.
In fact, Abul-Fotouh is not the only opposition figure who had his events in Egyptian universities cancelled or disrupted. Earlier in April a number of Egyptian students, reportedly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, shouted chants against Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabbahi during a panel discussion at Shubra Engineering Faculty, accusing the former presidential candidate of betraying Egypt's 25 January revolution.
Sabbahi, who is one of the founders of the opposition National Salvation Front, is also a former presidential candidate and a vocal critic of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Also in April, blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, along with Khalid Tellema of the leftist Tagamou Party, received a last minute cancellation of a forum organised at Menoufiya University in Egypt's Nile Delta.
Strong Egypt does not strictly define itself as an Islamist party – at least not in the sense of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). It, however, does have obvious Islamist leanings, due to the character of its leader and the unmasked Islamist preference of many of its members and supporters.
“This is not something that we obsess about; we are just committed to the key demands made by the 25 January revolution: bread, freedom, human dignity and social justice. The regime for its part is disturbed by a party that embraces the responsibility of pursuing these demands while not being at odds at all with the Islamic terms of reference,” Osman said.
“It makes it harder for them to discredit us because unlike the obvious liberal – the regime calls them secular – parties, Strong Egypt is hard to qualify as opposed to Islam, or, for that matter to the Islamic terms of reference.”
In its discourse, the Brotherhood and its political wing, the FJP, attempt to project itself as the only moderate Islamist option, on the assumption that the Salafists are not at all moderate and the liberal and leftist parties are not at all religious. Having coopted Al-Wasat Party, which is a gathering of earlier Muslim Brotherhood defects, the Muslim Brotherhood’s toughest challenge today is to discredit Strong Egypt and its leader Abul-Fotouh.
“There have been so many attempts to discredit us, but we are committed to what we are doing and we are reaching out to the people so that they can see for themselves what we are all about,” Osman said.
Strong Egypt had opposed Morsi on four critical issues: a controversial presidential declaration that was issued last November to grant the president provisional extra-judiciary powers; the constitution, which was subject to much criticism; the selection of Hisham Qandil as prime minister; and fiscal and economic policies.
Most recently Abul-Fotouh had demanded the state budget that was adopted away from the constitutional-stipulated debate be revisited. “The budget is a key issue and our party has to make its voice heard,” Osman said.
According to Osman, Strong Egypt is not simply opposing the Brotherhood for the sake of it. “I would like to reiterate that we openly supported Morsi in the second round of the presidential elections,” he said.
Morsi ran in the final round of the presidential contest last June against Ahmed Shafiq, a former prime minister under Mubarak. The support offered to him by Strong Egypt was part of a wider national consensus to avoid having the former regime re-instated directly.
Abul-Fotouh came second in many pre-election polls but fourth in the election itself, amid endless leaks about direct intervention from the ruling military and from the Muslim Brotherhood to hamper the leading candidates.
In the case of Abul-Fotouh, the leaks included rumours of a flood of cash from the strong man of the Brotherhood, Khairat El-Shater, to buy the votes of Abul-Fotouh supporters.
Neither Abul-Fotouh nor Strong Egypt brought up the matter publically. Instead, a few weeks ago Abul-Fotouh offered the name of El-Shater as a member of a proposed committee that he said should attempt to formulate an exit for the country out of a clear political and economic impasse.
The rivalry between Abul-Fotouh and El-Shater goes back to their youth in the Brotherhood.
In some quarters of the current and former Muslim Brotherhood community it is qualified as “the inevitable rivalry of two leaders, with each wanting to dominate” while others qualify it as a battle between two schools of thought within the Muslim Brotherhood: the mainstream of Hassan El-Banna, the group’s founder, which Abul-Fotouh is said to endorse; and that of the hardliner Sayyed Qutb, which is embraced fully by El-Shater. The latter is thought to represent the dominant current within the movement at present.