The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most highly-organized political grouping, stepped out of its low-profile image only after Hosni Mubarak's ouster as president for four decades was assured by the rampaging protesters in Tahrir Square. On Feb. 9, two days before he stepped down, the prominent Brotherhood leader, Moneim Abou el-Foutouh, 60, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed:
"Contrary to fear-mongering reports, the West and the Muslim Brotherhood are not enemies. It is a false dichotomy to posit, as some alarmists are suggesting, that Egypt's choices are either the status quo of the Mubarak regime or a takeover by "Islamic extremists." First, one must make a distinction between the ideological and political differences that the Brotherhood may have with the United States. For Muslims, ideological differences with others are taught not to be the root cause of violence and bloodshed because a human being's freedom to decide how to lead his or her personal life is an inviolable right found in basic Islamic tenets, as well as Western tradition. Political differences, however, can be a matter of existential threats and interests, and we have seen this play out, for example, in the way the Mubarak regime has violently responded to peaceful demonstrators…
"Our track record of responsibility and moderation is a hallmark of our political credentials, and we will build on it. For instance, it is our position that any future government we may be a part of will respect all treaty obligations made in accordance with the interests of the Egyptian people."
The Brotherhood denies seeking power, but puts up a candidate
Then, on Feb. 22, Abou el-Foutouh told the Washington Post: "It is not our aim to take power, it is just to participate."
This was the Muslim Brotherhood's official line then and two months later, it is still pitched to foreign visitors and journalists in Egypt. However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources report that behind the public spiel, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership perfected plans in the second week of April for putting up its own candidate in the upcoming Egyptian presidential elections.
That candidate is none other than the very same highly-articulate Abdel Moneim Abou el-Foutouh, now depicted as a progressive.
Our sources say that to throw off objections from parties at home and abroad, the Brotherhood decided to run him as an independent although he will campaign with all the MB's organizational and financial resources behind him.
Exactly a year ago, in April 2010, before anyone conceived of an Egyptian uprising, some local Muslim websites released biographical material on El-Foutouh which is presented here:
In the 1960s, he was a very fierce opponent of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who persecuted the Muslim Brotherhood and promoted Egyptian and Arab nationalism.
Then, in the early 1970s, Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh enrolled at Cairo University’s medical school. Back then, the bearded young student did not approve of coeducation, music or watching football. He dismissed all forms of entertainment as evil acts which distract Muslims from observing their faith.
As a medical student, Abou el-Fotouh co-founded the first al-Jamaat al-Islameyya cell at Cairo University’s School of Medicine.
After a radical youth, El-Foutouh is depicted as Brotherhood progressive
During those years, he was fiercely opposed to President Anwar Sadat's drive for peace with Israel. Abou el-Foutouh’s frustrations found expression in a widely reported confrontation with the president: At a meeting with student union leaders, he accused Sadat of targeting Muslim preachers and unlawfully crushing student protests in the wake of the 1977 bread riots
And a month before Sadat's October 1981 assassination, he was picked up in the wave of arrests ordered by Sadat among Muslim elements in Egypt.
In recent years, Abou el-Foutouh is described as having mellowed somewhat. He is quoted as campaigning for liberal and democratic values within the highly conservative Muslim Brotherhood. In many interviews, he goes against its standard doctrines by maintaining that women and Coptic Christians are entitled to run for the presidency of a Muslim country.
Last year, his exclusion along with other moderate figures from the group’s Guidance Bureau made headlines and spawned speculation that hawkish Islamists had gained control of the nation’s oldest Islamic organization.
In his memoirs, A Witness to the History of Egypt’s Islamic Movement, published in March 2010, el-Foutouh singled out the pivotal moment when he described thousands of radical students as choosing to join the Muslim Brotherhood which he termed comparatively moderate.
The generals tap Tantawi to run against the MB candidate
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Cairo sources report that notwithstanding his avowedly moderate views, Muslim Brotherhood leaders decided to put el-Foutouh up for election after analyzing the popular referendum on constitutional reform held in Egypt on March 19, 2011.
More than 14 million – 77% of the responders – favored the Brotherhood's call for immediate reforms while only 23% wanted changes postponed.
The reforms approved would limit the presidential tenure to two four-year terms, impose judicial supervision over elections, oblige the president to appoint a deputy, set up a commission to draft a new constitution after the parliamentary election and ease candidates' access to the presidential election.
Brotherhood strategists were surprised to find that most of the 14 million Egyptians opting in its favor were in fact members of their organization or other Islamic groups, both radical and moderate. They calculated that a moderate candidate like Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fotouh, had a good chance of winning the presidency by the same margin.
Its decision stirred talk in the Supreme Military Council ruling Egypt up until elections of the need for the generals to put up a candidate to challenge the MB's man. Some of them have approached the Council chairman Field Marshall Mohammed Tantawi to suggest that he step down from the council in time to throw his hat in the ring for president. Tantawi did not reject the idea out of hand.