Secular Candidates Take Lead in Egyptian Presidential Race


Egyptians will go into voting booths on May 23-24 to choose their next  president, a critical moment in the struggle between secularists and Islamists  for the future of Egypt. If no single candidate gets a majority of the vote, as  will probably be the case, the top two vote-getters will compete in a final  contest on June 16-17. The latest polls show secular candidates taking the lead  ahead of the election.

The most recent poll  by the Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies shows that secularists  are in first and second place: Former Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa  (31.7%) and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq (22.6%). Moussa’s support fell by  about 8% over the past week, attributable to his gaffe during a debate where he  said that Iran is an Arab country. Shafiq’s support grew by about 2.6%. Some of  Moussa’s support went to Hamdeen Sabahi, a ferociously anti-American secularist,  came in fifth place in the poll. His support grew by about 5%, bringing him to  just below 12%.

However, two polls show Shafiq in the lead. The Information and Decision  Support  Center, which is run by the government, has  him at 12% and Moussa at 11%. The poll is substantiated by another  one done by the Baseera Center of the Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper.  It has Shafiq at 19.3% and Moussa at 14.6%.

Amr Moussa is the long-time frontrunner. He was a Foreign Minister under  President Mubarak, an ally of the U.S. He believes that Sharia Law should only  provide a loose template for governance. In his debate with Abdel Moneim  Aboul-Fotouh, an Islamist, he emphasized  that his rival wants to enforce Sharia rules, while he only wants to apply  “general principles” of Sharia in accordance with the current Mubarak-era  constitution.

Moussa is hostile to Israel but in his debate with Aboul-Fotouh, he only described  it as an “adversary,” while his opponent called Israel an “enemy.” A cable  released by Wikileaks reveals that  U.S. officials feel that he downplays the threat from Iran, though he has  condemned the Iranian regime’s interference in internal Arab affairs. Iran condemned him  after he predicted that the Arab Spring would spark a revolution against the  regime.

There is less information available about the views of Shafiq. He was Prime  Minister from January until March 2011 and has a long military career. He is  courting the persecuted Coptic Christian minority, even suggesting  that he’d choose a female Christian as his deputy if he wins. He has been endorsed  by the Copts of the U.S.A. and the Coptic Solidarity Organization.

The secularists have benefited from a sharp  fall in Islamist popularity. In February, 43% of Egyptians supported the  Muslim Brotherhood, 40% supported the Salafist Nour Party and 62% felt that it  is positive to have a strong Brotherhood presence in parliament. A Gallup poll  in April found that the statistics fell to 26%, 30% and 47% respectively.

It is unclear if Moussa or Shafiq is the frontrunner but several polls show  them as the top two candidates. If the vote on May 23-24 reflects these polls,  then Egypt will have a run-off on June 16-17 between two secularists, shutting  out the Islamists from the presidency. It will be extremely interesting to see  how Islamists react to that choice if that should happen.

The two major Islamist candidates, former Muslim Brotherhood official  Aboul-Fotouh and the Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, are tied for third  and fourth place in the Al-Ahram poll. His support increased from 9.4% last week  to 14.8%, while Aboul-Fotouh’s collapsed from 24.5% to 14.6%.  Two other  polls contradict these results, though. The Baseera  Center poll has  Aboul-Fotouh at 12.4% and Morsi in fifth place at 9%. In this poll, the Muslim  Brotherhood is even behind Sabahi, who had 9.5%. The Information and Decision  Center also has Aboul-Fotouh ahead.

Aboul-Fotouh argues that he is the consensus candidate that can bridge the  gaps between the secularists and the Islamists. He is the most complicated  candidate. He used to b a member of the al-Gamaat al-Islamiyah terrorist group  but left and rejects the group. He served in the Muslim Brotherhood for a long  time but was kicked out when he announced his candidacy because, at the time,  the Brotherhood said it would not field a candidate.

On the positive side, he advocates  some liberal Islamic viewpoints. He feels that women and Christians should be  allowed to run for president. He is against punishing Muslims who leave the  faith and banning pro-atheism books and alcohol. He states that the Islamic  Caliphate is a stage of history that has passed and need not be revived. He also  pledged to require that the Brotherhood declare its sources of financing and  register as a religious organization and not a political party.

On the other hand, he called Israel an “enemy” in his debate with Moussa. His  platform is based  on “the application of Sharia Law as a comprehensive concept for achieving the  fundamental interests of the people.” He did not leave the Muslim Brotherhood  because of theological differences. “I still belong to the Muslim Brotherhood  school of thought,” he said. He also stated,  “Contrary to fear-mongering reports, the West and the Muslim Brotherhood are not  enemies.”

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“Islam is The Solution”Slogan of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt