1st May, 2012
India would have more than a cursory interest in Egypt’s presidential election Monday. Several opinion polls have shown two frontrunners – former foreign minister and Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa and the islamist leader Abdel Moneim Abol-Fotouh. Moussa of course was a former ambassador to India (1983-86). But then, Moussa has been openly disdainful of the shifts in the Indian foreign policy in the past decade.
Prima facie, Moussa would be appealing to the West as a secular, liberal-minded, urbane personality who they have dealt with. But that is by far simplifying matters. For example, Israel detests him and he reciprocates in equal measure. (This was one main reason why he was removed from the foreign-minsiter’s job and sent into ‘exile’ as the boss of the toothless Arab League.) True, he is well-known on the world stage as a gifted diplomat, and he is without doubt an experienced bureaucrat who would know how to exercise executive powers. But it will remain an irony if Moussa gets to lead the revolution in Egypt.
For, he is a quintessential establishment figure, the very antithesis of the spirit of the tumult bordering on chaos and the revolutionary fervor on Tahrir Square, although he was smart enough to size up the winds of change and distance himself from the Hosni Mubarak legacy. His plea today is simple: he did faithfully whatever job he held in the Mubarak regime, nothing more nothing less, but he wasn’t really one of ‘them’.
It may stretch credulity, but secular-minded Egyptians who are alarmed
over the surge of the Islamists would have no option but to suspend judgment and take Moussa for his word. The alternative is Abol-Fotouh, whose credentials in the barricades are indeed impeccable as an inveterate opponent of the Mubarak regime — and even the Anwar-Sadat regime.
He used to belong to the Muslim Brotherhood for many decades until last year when he was expelled. He is standing as an independent candidate whom, curiously, the Salafists have decided to support. But he is a grassroots politician who is highly regarded as a man of the masses and commands the respect of even liberal-minded people.
Conceivably, Abol-Fotouh would also get support from large sections of the Brothers if there is no clear winner in the frist round on Monday and a runoff takes place in June, as seems almost certain, Behind the Salafists stands Saudi Arabia. The profile of Abol Fotough
by the Said-owned Al Arabiya as a moderate Islamist will be of interest.
It is going to be a close race but the advantage lies with Abol-Fotough. Everything depends on the preference of the Brothers in the runoff. If the Brothers pitch for Abol-Fotough and there is a consolidation of the Islamist constituency, he will ‘float like a butterfly and sting like a bee’, as Muhammed Ali sang about his halcyon days on the boxing ring.
And if that happens, Egypt will have a parliament dominated by the Islamists and an Islamist head of state with executive powers, which will be a cohesive Islamic regime that is capable of putting behind the country’s drift. And it will also be a resurgent Egypt that will insist on reclaiming its leadership role in the region. Which would doubtless change the course of the Middle East’s history and politics beyond recognition.