Egyptian liberals, Copts, Ultras hop on Abul-Fotouh's presidential bandwagon

Zeinab El Gundy, Saturday 19 May 2012

Renegade Islamist candidate's electoral campaign for Egypt president is one of the largest - with some 96,000 members - and the most diverse in terms of its members' political orientations

Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh
Abul-Fotouh surrounded by actress Athar El-Hakim, Islamist MP Essam Sultan, Football star Nader El-Sayed, Nour Party members at mass rally 18, May 2012 (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

The electoral campaign of moderate-Islamist presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh is considered one of the largest in terms of volunteer numbers, which have currently reached some 96,000 according to campaign organisers. The campaign is also the most diverse in terms of the socio-political backgrounds and views of its members.

Abul-Fotouh’s political adviser is Rabab El-Mahdy, a Marxist political science professor; his media adviser is liberal journalist Ali Bahnaswy; his economic adviser is economics professor Samer Atallah, a liberal and a Christian; and his campaign manager is Mohamed El-Shahawy, a doctor and former Muslim Brotherhood member. A recent rally in Cairo for Abul-Fotouh witness liberal activist Wael Ghoneim and head of Salafist party Al-Nour, Emad Abdel-Ghafour

Despite Abul-Fotouh’s patently Islamist credentials – he, too, was once a leading Brotherhood member – his campaign has attracted several Christian volunteers. Several prominent Christian figures have also publically endorsed his campaign, including Sherif Dous and Manal Maher.

Mina Fayek, a Christian Abul-Fotouh campaign volunteer in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis, told Ahram Online that he had volunteered in order to support Abul-Fotouh's "moderate stream" of political Islam in hopes of pre-empting extremism and the polarisation of Egyptian society.

"Even though his campaign has been endorsed by extremist parties like the [Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya's] Building and Development Party, I support him because he represents the common ground between Egypt's different political groups and parties," Mina said.

Notably, unlike most other presidential campaigns, most of the members of Abul-Fotouh's campaign team are young people under 40 years of age. Many are university students.

In terms of financing, Abul-Fotouh recently said that his official campaign had spent at least LE7 million on advertising and publicity. Some critics, however, believe this figure to be too low, given the candidate's double-decker campaign bus and all of the posters, t-shirts and other promotional merchandise being distributed by the campaign.

According to regulations set by Egypt's Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission, spending for each presidential campaign should not exceed LE10 million – a number that most presidential hopefuls, including Abul-Fotouh, believe is too low to run a comprehensive campaign in a country as large as Egypt.

Abul-Fotouh campaign officials say the bulk of campaign funding comes from personal donations by volunteers and supporters.

Along with Abul-Fotouh's official campaign, there are also numerous volunteers and supporters from parties and movements that have officially endorsed him for president. Among these are the Salafist Nour Party, the Wasat Party, the Building and Development Party, and the Salafist Calling, all of which have recently organised rallies and events across the country to promote Abul-Fotouh.

On Thursday, the Nour Party held a campaign rally for the Islamist candidate in the city of Quweisna in Egypt's northern Menoufiya Governorate. The event was attended by prominent Islamic scholars, as well as prominent liberal activist Wael Ghoneim, who has also publically stumped for Abul-Fotouh.

And earlier this year, Egypt's Masrena youth movement – which boasts not less than 10,000 members – also threw its weight behind Abul-Fotouh. Since then, the movement has organised several events to promote their candidate of choice, also helping to distribute his campaign literature among the public.

In addition to these supporters, there are two other popular Abul-Fotouh campaigns that function independently of the official one. These campaigns, which are financially independent, have reportedly established branches in several Egyptian governorates.

Notably, these campaigns also have branches in several Arab Gulf countries, including Qatar and Kuwait, where numerous Egyptian expatriates support the Islamist candidate.

Along with hanging posters, distributing flyers and talking to the public, members of these popular campaigns also produce video clips promoting Abul-Fotouh – including short documentaries and even pro-Abul-Fotouh pop songs – which they post online.

In the months leading up to the presidential race, these popular campaigns would often dispatch their members to local cafes, where they would speak to patrons about Abul-Fotouh and his campaign programme.

Abul-Fotouh even boasts his own 'Ultras' club along the lines of the politicised football fan clubs – like the Ultras Ahlawy and Zamalek's Ultras White Knights – that emerged during and after last year's Tahrir Square uprising. The 'Ultras Abul-Fotouh,' which reportedly have a presence in several governorates, use familiar elements of Egypt's football-fan culture – including Ultras-style songs, banners and slogans – to promote the moderate-Islamist presidential hopeful.

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