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Thousands of Islamists packed Tahrir Square last

Friday for the first time in nearly five months.

The Muslim Brotherhood and the conservative Salafis

had stayed off the streets since dominating parliamentary

elections late last year.

But with presidential elections six weeks away, both

Islamist 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 Omar

Suleiman, the shadowy former intelligence chief under

ousted leader Hosni Mubarak.

In the end, all three presidential hopefuls are now officially

out of contention.

On TUESDAY, the Egyptian Presidential Elections

Commission CONFIRMED THE DISQUALIFICATION

OF 10 candidates, including the two Islamists and

Mubarak’s COHORT.

Out of the fray, this man is emerging as one of the new

favorites to be Egypt’s next president.

500 miles south of Cairo and far from the political tumult,

Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh campaigned in this small

Upper Egyptian city in relative obscurity.

A moderate Islamist who appeals to so-called Liberals

and Seculars, Abol Fotoh has flown under the radar of the

international media.

But boosted by a campaign driven by thousands of young

volunteers, and aided by the disqualifications of his leading

competitors, Abol Fotoh has quickly become one of the

frontrunners in what could be Egypt’s first free and fair

presidential elections.

SOT2: There are liberals who support him. Islamists

endorse him. Lots of political parties are supporting

Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh. There is no certain

ideology for people to follow him. He’s not like the

Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis.

VO3: A 60-year-old physician, Abol Fotoh was one of the

most prominent members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

But in the last decade, his socially progressive views and

calls to make the Muslim Brotherhood more democratic

made him enemies among the group’s leadership.

Shortly after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Abol Fotoh

defied a Brotherhood dictum NOT TO SEEK THE

PRESIDENCY, AND DECLARED HIS CANDIDACY

INDEPENDENT OF THE ORGANIZATION.

The Muslim Brotherhood hierarchy expelled HIM from the

organization.

But Abol Fotoh’s REMOVAL from the Brotherhood only

bolstered his reputation among many Egyptians, who have

become disillusioned with the organization’s cooperation

with the ruling military regime.

Abol Fotoh is arguably the only candidate with a chance of

winning the election who can claim to represent the youth

at the forefront of the Egyptian Revolution.

Even many Ultras, the militant soccer fans who have led

street protests since being brutally attacked at a match in

Port Said two months ago, have declared their support for

Abol Fotoh.

SOT3: We support Dr. Abdel Moneim because he

was the first person after the Port Said massacre.

He was the first one there and stood by people trying

to ease their pain. Although he doesn’t have any

authority or anything, he stood by the Ultras and

visited the families. He did all this as an Egyptian

citizen even though he is not president yet.

VO4: ABOL FOTOH has promised that his vice-president

would be less than 45 years old as would be 50 percent of

the members of his administration.

But Abol Fotoh’s BASE EXTENDS BEYOND Egypt’s

rebellious youth.

Here in upper Egypt, while there may be little media

coverage, Abol Fotoh is mobbed in the street and

thousands turn up for his speeches.

His impeccable Islamist credentials have won him support

among the urban poor and rural population, despite the

Brotherhood’s opposition to his candidacy.

In contrast to THE BROTHERHOOD LEADERSHIP

AND TO OTHER high-profile POLITICIANS, since the

revolution, ABOL FOTOH has consistently stood by anti-

government street protests while DENOUNCING abuses

of the Military Council.

HE HAS PLEDGED CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF THE

ARMED FORCES, AND HAS DEMANDED RETRIALS

FOR THOUSANDS OF CIVILIANS SENTENCED IN

MILITARY TRIBUNALS. Abol Fotoh has promised

to overhaul Egypt’s notorious Interior Ministry and end

impunity for former officials of the Mubarak regime, AS

WELL AS FOR members of the ruling military junta.

SOT1: Who robbed us of our wealth? Wasn’t it under

their control? The billions that were stolen. Who killed

our sons? Didn’t they do it? Wasn’t that their plan?

Who made the state security break into your homes

in Upper Egypt, intimidate women and terrify the

children, just so they can arrest an upper Egyptian

man?

VO: WHEN NEWS reaches the makeshift speaking hall

that Mubarak’s feared former spy chief Omar Suleiman

is banned from the race, THE CROWD CHEERS…AND

ABOL FOTOH RESPONDS.

SOT1: Omar Suleiman is out! He just got excluded,

he was excluded just now. God is Great! The

signatures are forged. All of them are!

SOT2: Down with all the remnants of the old regime!

Down with Mubarak’s entire regime! The heads were

removed, but its roots still exist in the government.

And they are still running the security apparatus. So

they will be brought down, God willing. We will bring

them down, God willing.

VO: It’s not the first time Abol Fotoh has attacked Egypt’s

authoritarian leaders.

In 1977, he famously angered then President Anwar

Sadat by criticizing his administration during a public

appearance, a bold breach of protocol that could have led

to his arrest or worse.

As it turns out, Abol Fotoh would be imprisoned for his

political activities three times in the next three decades.

In 1981, under Answer Sadat, he was jailed FOR TWO

MONTHS as part of a CRACKDOWN ON ISLAMISTS.

AND UNDER HOSNI MUBARAK, ABOL FOTOH

WAS A POLITICAL PRISONER FOR FIVE YEARS

BEGINNING IN 1996 AND FOR ANOTHER FIVE

MONTHS IN 2009

EVER self-effacing, ABOL FOTOH rarely talks about his

experience in prison.

BUT HE DOES NOT HOLD BACK WHEN

CRITICIZING US POLICY IN THE REGION.

HE HAS QUESTIONED EGYPT’S RELIANCE ON

US AID AND HE HAS VOWED TO OPEN THE

EGYPTIAN BORDER WITH GAZA.

SOT: The reason for the biggest financial disaster in

the United States, in the last two to three years, are

the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that they can’t get

out of. And the new regime in the U.S. realized the

folly of that idiot named Bush. They realized how he

sunk

the U.S. in a huge financial crisis. but they hardly

seem to be trying to get out of it.

VO: While other candidates are both loved and hated

depending on the demographic, Abol Fotoh has managed

to be all things to all people…

And he HAS ASSEMBLED an eclectic team to run his

campaign.

His CAMPAIGN MANAGER works for the multinational

company 3M and his political advisor is a leftist academic.

And unlike other Islamist candidates, Abol Fotoh’s

campaign has attracted A LARGE NUMBER OF women

AND Coptic Christians to its ranks.

SOT1: It’s Abol Fotoh or nothing. And I’m a Christian

and we want him. Because he brings together

Christians and Muslims.

VO1: In Edfu, Abol Fotoh visited doctors and

lawyers…but he spent half the day talking with workers at

state-owned factories.

SOT1: We see that you are an Islamist man, a

moderate man, a liberal man, a man for all Egyptians.

We have seen this since the beginning of your

campaign on television. And everyone sees this. –

God bless you, brother. And God willing you win.

VO1: THE FLOUNDERING EGYPTIAN ECONOMY

IS 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 JOBS

AND WORSENING LIVING CONDITIONS.

Abol Fotoh HAS MADE education and health care the

pillars of his domestic PLATFORM, pledging to multiply

the budgets for both.

Economic and social hardship was at the root of the

revolution as much as a desire for civil and political rights,

and Abol Fotoh’s social justice platform has resonated

with many Egyptians.

SOT1: Where are my rights? I want my rights. I want

my friends to obtain theirs too. And the slums, where

the poor conditions are heartbreaking, while others

have billions and trillions.

VO: While Abol Fotoh’s prospects are stronger than ever,

the electoral road ahead is uncertain and unpredictable.

Abol Fotoh still lacks the name recognition of other

leading candidates and he does not have the organized and

expansive support base such as that commanded by the

Muslim Brotherhood.

And nobody is discounting the possibility of fraud or other

intervention by the military council.

Stand-Up: With Omar Suleiman, Hazem Salah Abu

Ismael, and Khairat Al-Shater out of the race, three other

candidates appear to pose the biggest challenges to Abdel

Moneim Abol Fotoh.

Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and prime

minister under Mubarak.

And Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s back-

up candidate.

Amr Moussa, former Arab League secretary general and

foreign minister under Hosni Mubarak who has tried to

distance himself from the former regime.

Amr Mousa officially launched is campaign on Wednesday

in a slum on the OUTSKIRTS OF Cairo.

MOUSSA IS A HOUSEHOLD NAME SINCE HIS DAYS

AS MUBARAK’S FOREIGN MINISTER.

HIS CAMPAIGN IS WELL-FUNDED AND HAS NO

LACK OF MEDIA COVERAGE.

For more than a year, Moussa has been picked as a favorite

to win the election, and at least one poll gives him a

sizeable lead.

SOT:

VO: BUT WHILE Moussa HAS TRIED TO DISTANCE

HIMSELF FROM MUBARAK, MANY EGYPTIANS

STILL SEE HIM AS A FELOOL, OR REMNANT, OF

THE OLD REGIME.

SOT: Amr Moussa came today to our neighborhood,

to our slum. He came to mock us, laugh at us. We

want to tell him…He comes here, after 30 years of

never seeing a neighborhood like this, he comes here

to mock people for the sake of the presidency. Where

was he before? And this guy Amr Moussa, isn’t he

from 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 PERCENT

OF THE VOTE IN THE FIRST ROUND ELECTION

SLATED FOR MAY 23 AND MAY 24, A SECOND

ROUND OF BALLOTING BETWEEN THE TOP TWO

CONTENDERS IS SCHEDULED FOR JUNE 16 AND

JUNE 17.

Reed Lindsay, for The Real News Network, in Cairo,

Egypt.