In Translation: "The army's job is to protect us from foreign enemies, not each other"

Once again, the team at Industry Arabic brings us a new installment in our In Translation series. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is a Brotherhood leader who left the organization to run as a moderate Islamist candidate in the 2012 presidential election. He is the leader of the Strong Egypt party. His party campaigned both against the Brotherhood's constitution, and against the one that recently passed (a few of its members were just given 3-year sentences for handing out flyers encouraging a No vote). We include the original headline and introduction, although it is rather inaccurate and tendentious -- Aboul Fotouh spends most of the interview criticizing the army's intervention and does not actually suggest that the Brotherhood is supporting potential presidential candidate General Sami Anan, just that they would sooner vote for him than for Aboul Fotouh himself. 

Aboul Fotouh in a conversation with Al-Ahram: “I reject the participation of the religious current in the political process…Morsi is a failure…what happened at the Presidential Palace was a crime”

Interview – Zeinab Abdel Razzak and Karima Abdel Ghani

Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the chairman of the Strong Egypt Party, has announced that he will not be running for presidential elections. [He stated] along with this announcement what he felt were strong justifications, while others feel they were a cover for the decline in popularity of the Islamist current on the Egyptian street. Others still went so far as to say it was part of a prior agreement to clear the field for Sami Anan to be the Muslim Brotherhood candidate.

However, in his conversation with Al-Ahram, Aboul Fotouh asserted that his popularity in the Egyptian street had doubled, and that if he were to run in the upcoming elections, he would receive many times more votes than he had in the previous election. He stated that he rejects the Islamist current’s support for him and outright opposes the presence of Islamists in political life. Concerning the Brotherhood, Aboul Fotouh confirmed that the organization is “prepared to stand behind Sami Anan and not behind me.” As for reconciliation, he indicated he had made efforts in this regard, but was met with intransigence from both sides, though he is continuing his efforts.

The heated discussion with Aboul Fotouh revolved around these and other thorny issues, rubbing him the wrong way at times. In any case, however, frankness is the overarching quality of this interview.

Why are you not running in the upcoming presidential elections?

I made this decision early on, more specifically when I called for early presidential elections. At that time I made it known that I would not be running, as the Muslim Brotherhood had harshly attacked me because I called for the early elections. They accused me of seeking to run myself. However, my call was prompted by President Mohammed Morsi’s weak performance and failure to keep his promises. I felt it necessary to save our country and our nation from chaos. This is what I had been calling for throughout the three months leading up to June 30. We were rushed and I was personally shocked on July 3, thus I differentiate between June 30 and July 3.

Don’t you think that the army's intervention at the request of the masses protected the country from a civil war and all-out massacres?

Claiming that what happened on July 3 transpired in order to face down the prospect of a civil war is untrue. I reject such claims, since we don’t have Sunnis and Shiites or Christians and Muslims that are going to kill each other.

We do not deny that the people had rejected Morsi. I shared this opinion with them; however, there are democratic mechanisms through which to express this rejection.

There is a difference between political and judicial accountability. This does not mean that every time we get a failure of a president we call on the army to come in and remove him.

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Aboul Fotouh drives a wedge into MB

This is the highest level defection we've seen so far, and is representative of 1) how divisive the decision to field a presidential candidate was for the wider MB leadership; 2) how the top leadership around Khairat al-Shater is failing to impose strict obedience in the group. Hassan Beshbashy, a top FJP member, told AMAY about the defection from Morsi:

Beshbasy also called on members of the Brotherhood to back Abouel Fotouh, who he said was the "strong honest and consensus candidate backed by all the national and Islamic movements."

He told Al-Masry Al-Youm that many of the Brotherhood senior leaders held similar positions, including the Brotherhood leader Mostafa Komshaish and he expected many of them to officially announce their support of Abouel Fotouh in the coming few days.

. . .

There is talk, Beshbasy said, of launching a movment of Brotherhood leaders supporting Abouel Fotouh, under the slogan 'Brotherhood Coalition Backing Abouel Fotouh.’

The group has said members are not bound to vote for the group’s official candidate, Morsy, but have the freedom to choose which the candidate they see best fit.

"We have all the respect and appreciation for Mohamed Morsy, the FJP candidate," Beshbashy said.

He justified not backing Morsy, saying, "Morsy's candidacy represents a political suicide and a threat to the national security because the Brotherhood's acquisition of the presidency, Parliament and Cabinet would lead to the demolishing of the Islamic project with the first factious protest.”

He said some of the recent hard-line rhetoric from group and party leaders would not benefit the Muslim Brotherhood or the country. He said talk such as that of returning to the caliphate system was dangerous and might lead to disagreements with other countries.

That's the most important thing about Aboul Fotouh's candidacy: he is bringing to the fore the contradictions inside the MB, forcing a debate with the hardliner leadership controlled by Shater and his allies, and eroding a tradition of strict obedience that no longer makes sense when the movement is not banned or persecuted.

Why the Muslim Brothers will brook no dissent

The news that the leading Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is being expelled from the movement should come as no surprise. It's true that in doing so, the MB is losing a widely respected figure that many see as the more moderate, acceptable face of the Brotherhood. Aboul Fotouh frequently appears on television, and has influence as the head of the Arab Medical Union, a professional syndicate. He is also a leadership figure for the vocal minority of young Muslim Brothers and their sympathizers who want to see the group change with the times. But is he becoming a major thorn in the Brotherhood's side for his desire to run for the presidency.

This is not primarily because the MB feels it is too early to field a presidential candidate, even if that's part of the picture. It is first and foremost about electoral strategy and a long-term plan to increase its political influence.

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