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Why did Abul-Fotouh fail in the presidential elections?

With expectations across the board that Abul-Fotouh would make the runoffs, his poor performance was one of the unexpected outcomes of Egypt's presidential race

Zeinab El Gundy, Friday 25 May 2012
Abu El Fatouh
Egyptian presidential candidate and former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Dr. Abdel Moneim Abu El Fatouh (Reuters)
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After seen as one of the frontfronners in Egypt's presidential race, with many expecting that he would make the runoff, Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh's poor showing in the as yet unfinalised results placing him in fourth place has contradicted the expectations of both observers and analysts.

The failure to secure enough votes to make it to the runoffs is a surprise given that his campaign was seen to represent a cross-section of the Egyptian political powers from extreme left to extreme right in what Abul-Fotouh called the project of "Strong Egypt."

Many people had expressed doubts about Abul-Fotouh and his ability to unite everybody from liberals to Islamists, from leftists to Salafists, considering this to be political manipulation rather than a sincere attempt to end polarisation in Egypt.

Abul-Fotouh’s Islamist background and long membership in the Muslim Brotherhood, the endorsement from Islamist parties like Al-Nour Partyand Al-Wasat Party, as well as his alleged appeal to sections of the youth of the Brotherhood, prompted a number of observers to believe that he would take a significant number of votes that would otherwise go to Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi. But this did not happen.

Although the Salafist Al-Nour Party and the Salafist Calling as well Al-Jama’a Al-Islamiyya and its political arm declared their support to Abul-Fotouh's presidential campaign, according to observers the rank-and-file of these parties were not behind the leadership's decision. Several preferred Morsi over Abul-Fotouh as Morsi is more conservative, and Abul-Fotouh had main comments with regard to freedom of worship and women’s rights than run contrary to Salafist beliefs.

The Brotherhood and allied Salafist sheikhs targeted Abul-Fotouh accusing him of defying the orders and rules of Islam, in op-eds published in the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice newspaper, the Brotherhood website, as well as in speeches at the electoral rallies Morsi.

Many Salafists had supported presidential candidate Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail before he was excluded from the presidential race on the basis that his mother had acquired American citizenship. Many of these Abu-Ismail supporters did not vote for Abul-Fotouh, some preferring Morsi for his conservatism, and others boycotting the vote entirely believing the elections to be a sham after what they perceive as the unfair exclusion of their candidate.

Abu Ismail himself refused to reveal last week who he would vote for but according to news reports he voted for Abul-Fotouh.

When Abul-Fotouh lost Alexandria and Imbaba, both seen as Salafist strongholds, to rival presidential candidate Nasserist Hamdeen Sabbahi, it became clear which way the results overall would go. 

On the other hand, the endorsements from Salafist parties many liberals, Christians and pro-revolutionaries who might otherwise have voted for him, fearful that he was more Islamist and less liberal than they had thought. This pushed many towards Sabbahi who saw a huge surge in his popularity in the two weeks prior to the polls.

Abul-Fotouh's illustrious past in the Brotherhood worked against him for those who fear the Brotherhood, and for those disappointed by the performance of the Brotherhood's political arm the Freedom and Justice Party in parliament.

The presidential debate between Abul-Fotouh and Amr Moussa also impacted negatively on his popularity, with both candidates failing to satisfy. Many undecided voters were disappointed with Abul-Fotouh's performance and believed that he came off more as an Islamist candidate. His defensiveness towards Amr Moussa also worked against his attempt to present himself as a strong presidential candidate.

A question frequently asked of Abul-Fotouh was whether he would be capable of being the candidate that would unite disparate forces and political trends. According to the election results, the answer is no.

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