A.M. Aboul Fotouh

Article excerpt

Byline: Dan Ephron

The irresistible Islamist.

In college he helped found Al-Gama'a Al-Islamiyya, a group still on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations. In the early 1980s he was imprisoned alongside al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri. This week the Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is hoping to become Egypt's first democratically elected president. And his supporters include some of the liberals who led Egypt's revolution 16 months ago.

The peculiarity says something about Egypt these days. The liberals who ousted longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak after 18 days of protests--the bloggers, the tweeters, even the Google executive Wael Ghonim--have all been sidelined, and the battle is now between the Islamists and the remnants of the old regime. Enter Fotouh, the man who helped lead Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood for 25 years before separating from the group last year and today is considered more liberal and less doctrinaire than other Islamists. His vision of Egypt as an Islamic democracy run by technocrats rather than ideologues has prompted comparisons to Turkey and created an aura around Fotouh as Egypt's Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It has also helped him win some disparate endorsements, from the archconservative Salafi party on one side of the political map and Tahrir leftists on the other, including Ghonim himself. The latest polls show Fotouh running neck and neck with Amr Moussa, Mubarak's longtime foreign minister and later head of the Arab League.

In an interview with Newsweek, Fotouh criticized the United States for supporting Arab dictators over the years and for chronically siding with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians. …