Thousands of Islamists packed Tahrir Square lastFriday for the first time in nearly five months.The Muslim Brotherhood and the conservative Salafishad stayed off the streets since dominating parliamentaryelections late last year.But with presidential elections six weeks away, bothIslamist groups filled Tahrir in a show of force.Muslim Brothers lobbied for their candidate, Khairat Al-Shater, while the Salafis pushed for their favored choice,Hazem Salah Abu Ismael.Both groups gathered to denounce the candidacy of OmarSuleiman, the shadowy former intelligence chief underousted leader Hosni Mubarak.In the end, all three presidential hopefuls are now officiallyout of contention.On TUESDAY, the Egyptian Presidential ElectionsCommission CONFIRMED THE DISQUALIFICATIONOF 10 candidates, including the two Islamists andMubarakâs COHORT.Out of the fray, this man is emerging as one of the newfavorites to be Egyptâs next president.500 miles south of Cairo and far from the political tumult,Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh campaigned in this smallUpper Egyptian city in relative obscurity.A moderate Islamist who appeals to so-called Liberalsand Seculars, Abol Fotoh has flown under the radar of theinternational media.But boosted by a campaign driven by thousands of youngvolunteers, and aided by the disqualifications of his leadingcompetitors, Abol Fotoh has quickly become one of thefrontrunners in what could be Egyptâs first free and fairpresidential elections.SOT2: There are liberals who support him. Islamistsendorse him. Lots of political parties are supportingDr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh. There is no certainideology for people to follow him. He's not like theMuslim Brotherhood or the Salafis.VO3: A 60-year-old physician, Abol Fotoh was one of themost prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood.But in the last decade, his socially progressive views andcalls to make the Muslim Brotherhood more democraticmade him enemies among the groupâs leadership.Shortly after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Abol Fotohdefied a Brotherhood dictum NOT TO SEEK THEPRESIDENCY, AND DECLARED HIS CANDIDACYINDEPENDENT OF THE ORGANIZATION.The Muslim Brotherhood hierarchy expelled HIM from theorganization.But Abol Fotohâs REMOVAL from the Brotherhood onlybolstered his reputation among many Egyptians, who havebecome disillusioned with the organizationâs cooperationwith the ruling military regime.Abol Fotoh is arguably the only candidate with a chance ofwinning the election who can claim to represent the youthat the forefront of the Egyptian Revolution.Even many Ultras, the militant soccer fans who have ledstreet protests since being brutally attacked at a match inPort Said two months ago, have declared their support forAbol Fotoh.SOT3: We support Dr. Abdel Moneim because hewas the first person after the Port Said massacre.He was the first one there and stood by people tryingto ease their pain. Although he doesnât have anyauthority or anything, he stood by the Ultras andvisited the families. He did all this as an Egyptiancitizen even though he is not president yet.VO4: ABOL FOTOH has promised that his vice-presidentwould be less than 45 years old as would be 50 percent ofthe members of his administration.But Abol Fotohâs BASE EXTENDS BEYOND Egyptâsrebellious youth.Here in upper Egypt, while there may be little mediacoverage, Abol Fotoh is mobbed in the street andthousands turn up for his speeches.His impeccable Islamist credentials have won him supportamong the urban poor and rural population, despite theBrotherhoodâs opposition to his candidacy.In contrast to THE BROTHERHOOD LEADERSHIPAND TO OTHER high-profile POLITICIANS, since therevolution, ABOL FOTOH has consistently stood by anti-government street protests while DENOUNCING abusesof the Military Council.HE HAS PLEDGED CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF THEARMED FORCES, AND HAS DEMANDED RETRIALSFOR THOUSANDS OF CIVILIANS SENTENCED INMILITARY TRIBUNALS. Abol Fotoh has promisedto overhaul Egyptâs notorious Interior Ministry and endimpunity for former officials of the Mubarak regime, ASWELL AS FOR members of the ruling military junta.SOT1: Who robbed us of our wealth? Wasn't it undertheir control? The billions that were stolen. Who killedour sons? Didn't they do it? Wasn't that their plan?Who made the state security break into your homesin Upper Egypt, intimidate women and terrify thechildren, just so they can arrest an upper Egyptianman?VO: WHEN NEWS reaches the makeshift speaking hallthat Mubarakâs feared former spy chief Omar Suleimanis banned from the race, THE CROWD CHEERSâ¦ANDABOL FOTOH RESPONDS.SOT1: Omar Suleiman is out! He just got excluded,he was excluded just now. God is Great! Thesignatures are forged. All of them are!SOT2: Down with all the remnants of the old regime!Down with Mubarak's entire regime! The heads wereremoved, but its roots still exist in the government.And they are still running the security apparatus. Sothey will be brought down, God willing. We will bringthem down, God willing.VO: Itâs not the first time Abol Fotoh has attacked Egyptâsauthoritarian leaders.In 1977, he famously angered then President AnwarSadat by criticizing his administration during a publicappearance, a bold breach of protocol that could have ledto his arrest or worse.As it turns out, Abol Fotoh would be imprisoned for hispolitical activities three times in the next three decades.In 1981, under Answer Sadat, he was jailed FOR TWOMONTHS as part of a CRACKDOWN ON ISLAMISTS.AND UNDER HOSNI MUBARAK, ABOL FOTOHWAS A POLITICAL PRISONER FOR FIVE YEARSBEGINNING IN 1996 AND FOR ANOTHER FIVEMONTHS IN 2009EVER self-effacing, ABOL FOTOH rarely talks about hisexperience in prison.BUT HE DOES NOT HOLD BACK WHENCRITICIZING US POLICY IN THE REGION.HE HAS QUESTIONED EGYPTâS RELIANCE ONUS AID AND HE HAS VOWED TO OPEN THEEGYPTIAN BORDER WITH GAZA.SOT: The reason for the biggest financial disaster inthe United States, in the last two to three years, arethe wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that they can't getout of. And the new regime in the U.S. realized thefolly of that idiot named Bush. They realized how hesunkthe U.S. in a huge financial crisis. but they hardlyseem to be trying to get out of it.VO: While other candidates are both loved and hateddepending on the demographic, Abol Fotoh has managedto be all things to all peopleâ¦And he HAS ASSEMBLED an eclectic team to run hiscampaign.His CAMPAIGN MANAGER works for the multinationalcompany 3M and his political advisor is a leftist academic.And unlike other Islamist candidates, Abol Fotohâscampaign has attracted A LARGE NUMBER OF womenAND Coptic Christians to its ranks.SOT1: It's Abol Fotoh or nothing. And I'm a Christianand we want him. Because he brings togetherChristians and Muslims.VO1: In Edfu, Abol Fotoh visited doctors andlawyersâ¦but he spent half the day talking with workers atstate-owned factories.SOT1: We see that you are an Islamist man, amoderate man, a liberal man, a man for all Egyptians.We have seen this since the beginning of yourcampaign on television. And everyone sees this. -God bless you, brother. And God willing you win.VO1: THE FLOUNDERING EGYPTIAN ECONOMYIS AT THE HEART OF THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE,EVEN IN TOURIST DESTINATIONS LIKE LUXOR,WHERE ABOL FOTOH CAMPAIGNED ON SUNDAY.PEOPLE HERE COMPLAIN OF A LACK OF JOBSAND WORSENING LIVING CONDITIONS.Abol Fotoh HAS MADE education and health care thepillars of his domestic PLATFORM, pledging to multiplythe budgets for both.Economic and social hardship was at the root of therevolution as much as a desire for civil and political rights,and Abol Fotohâs social justice platform has resonatedwith many Egyptians.SOT1: Where are my rights? I want my rights. I wantmy friends to obtain theirs too. And the slums, wherethe poor conditions are heartbreaking, while othershave billions and trillions.VO: While Abol Fotohâs prospects are stronger than ever,the electoral road ahead is uncertain and unpredictable.Abol Fotoh still lacks the name recognition of otherleading candidates and he does not have the organized andexpansive support base such as that commanded by theMuslim Brotherhood.And nobody is discounting the possibility of fraud or otherintervention by the military council.Stand-Up: With Omar Suleiman, Hazem Salah AbuIsmael, and Khairat Al-Shater out of the race, three othercandidates appear to pose the biggest challenges to AbdelMoneim Abol Fotoh.Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and primeminister under Mubarak.And Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhoodâs back-up candidate.Amr Moussa, former Arab League secretary general andforeign minister under Hosni Mubarak who has tried todistance himself from the former regime.Amr Mousa officially launched is campaign on Wednesdayin a slum on the OUTSKIRTS OF Cairo.MOUSSA IS A HOUSEHOLD NAME SINCE HIS DAYSAS MUBARAKâS FOREIGN MINISTER.HIS CAMPAIGN IS WELL-FUNDED AND HAS NOLACK OF MEDIA COVERAGE.For more than a year, Moussa has been picked as a favoriteto win the election, and at least one poll gives him asizeable lead.SOT:VO: BUT WHILE Moussa HAS TRIED TO DISTANCEHIMSELF FROM MUBARAK, MANY EGYPTIANSSTILL SEE HIM AS A FELOOL, OR REMNANT, OFTHE OLD REGIME.SOT: Amr Moussa came today to our neighborhood,to our slum. He came to mock us, laugh at us. Wewant to tell him...He comes here, after 30 years ofnever seeing a neighborhood like this, he comes hereto mock people for the sake of the presidency. Wherewas he before? And this guy Amr Moussa, isn't hefrom the old regime? Wasn't he foreign minister?And then head of the Arab league? Isn't he a "felool"(remnant)?VO: If no candidate wins MORE THAN 50 PERCENTOF THE VOTE IN THE FIRST ROUND ELECTIONSLATED FOR MAY 23 AND MAY 24, A SECONDROUND OF BALLOTING BETWEEN THE TOP TWOCONTENDERS IS SCHEDULED FOR JUNE 16 ANDJUNE 17.Reed Lindsay, for The Real News Network, in Cairo,Egypt.
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