As the eyes of the world turn to the eagerly anticipated and heavily scrutinized Egyptian presidential elections, two men in particular will find themselves in the spotlight. While an array of candidates representing the many constituencies of the Egyptian people are participating in the elections, a recent poll by the University of Maryland shows Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Amr Moussa are the clear front-runners. If no candidate receives a majority, as expected, the subsequent run-off election will likely require the Egyptian people to choose one of these men to be tasked with the difficult project of transitioning Egypt into the future.
Despite the different backgrounds and beliefs of the two leading candidates, both men have been mainstays in Egyptian politics for several decades — a surprising occurrence in an election motivated by revolutionary discontent with the previous regime.
Amr Moussa served as a diplomat under both Presidents Sadat and Mubarak, culminating in tenures as Foreign Minister and then Secretary-General of the Arab League. His long-time service under Mubarak has led to accusations of being part of the faloul — remnants of the regime — and his prior support for Mubarak was sharply criticized by Dr. Aboul Fotouh in a recent televised debate between the two front-runners. Yet Moussa has sought to turn this weakness into advantage, promoting a message of experience and stability that appeals to the industrialist class, Christians, secular liberals, and ordinary Egyptians who are increasingly worried about law and order issues.
Dr. Aboul Fotouh
Dr. Aboul Fotouh has until recently been on the outside looking in. Rising to national prominence as the Cairo University student leader who challenged President Sadat in a debate, Fotouh became an important figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, imprisoned at various times by the regime. Fotouh was particularly recognized as a reformist and moderate leader who sought to link the goals of the Islamist movement with more democratic principles. While he separated forcefully from the Brotherhood in 2011 by announcing an independent presidential campaign, Fotouh remains the candidate most popular among Islamists. At the same time, he has gained wider support from secular liberals by fashioning himself in the model of Recep Erdogan — the moderately Islamist Turkish President widely venerated in Egypt. Despite this increased support, the hard-line Salafist party’s recent endorsement of Fotouh revived liberals’ fears that he is closer to the Muslim Brotherhood’s conservative leadership than he publicly admits.
Domestically, both candidates pay homage to the 2011 Revolution and promote a similar array of policies focused on raising wages, progressive taxation, bolstering the faltering Egyptian economy, and bringing safety back to the streets. Moussa has in recent days strongly embraced the platform of stability and security, emphasizing his political experience and closer ties to the “establishment.” Fotouh has more emphatically positioned himself as the candidate of the revolutionaries, emphasizing social justice and sympathizing with the protesters involved in recent clashes in the Cairo neighborhood of Abbasiya. While most commentators view Moussa as more likely to gain military support, Fotouh recently stated that he would consult the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, angering many of the revolutionaries whose support he needs.
Implications for the U.S. The implications of the election on the U.S. are hard to gauge at this moment. Both candidates appear to be committed to the U.S.-Egypt relationship, though both also are likely to adopt a more assertive stance vis-à-vis American foreign policy. On Israel, Americans would be surprised to learn that Moussa is more hawkish than Fotouh, promising to take a more critical approach. Yet aside from specific issues like opening the Sinai border to the Gaza Strip, both candidates have indicated support for the Camp David accords. For the U.S., what is most important is not who wins, but whether the Egyptian people put their support behind the winner. While the next President will surely play a significant role in creating a future Egypt, free and fair elections will positively impact the region as a whole for many more years to come.