Egypt’s election campaigning kicks off; Abul Fotouh buoyed by Salafi, Wasat backing


Egypt’s official campaign period for the presidential election will begin Monday and will last until May 21, though candidates have broken a campaign ban imposed by the Presidential Election Commission for months, Egyptian media reported, as the country’s al-Wasat Party decided to support Abdul Muniem Abul Fotouh in the looming presidential race.

The historic free election to decide who replaces fallen autocrat Hosni Mubarak is shaping up as a ballot box struggle between Islamists who were oppressed by the deposed president, politicians who at some point were part of his government and liberals and leftists seen to have little chance of winning.

The fund provided for the campaigns are monitored by the commission as well as the Central Auditing Authority through bank accounts opened by the candidates, Egypt’s daily al-Masry al-Youm reported on Sunday, citing judicial sources.

The sources added that candidates who get outside funding for their campaigns would face prison for no less than a year and a fine ranging between LE5,000 and LE20,000 ($900 to $3,500), or both.

The same punishments would be applied to candidates spending more than the amount allowed by the commission, al-Masry al-Youm quoted the judicial sources as saying.

The sources warned that the presidential candidates who receive funds for their campaigns from abroad would face two to five years in prison, in addition to the confiscation of such funds.

According to the report published by al-Masry al-Youm, the main restrictions for the campaigns include the use of religious symbols, exposing the private lives of candidates and their families, undermining citizens’ confidence in the election and threatening national unity. Violation of these rules would be punishable by prison for no less than a year and a fine between LE10,000 and LE100,000 ($1,500 to 15,000), or both.

Last week, Farouk Sultan, head of the Presidential Election Commission, told al-Masry al-Youm that as of April 30, the commission would allow three slots per day for each candidate on the official local and satellite TV channels and radio stations. He pointed out that paid advertisements would be prohibited.

The first round of Egypt’s presidential elections will take place on May 23 - 24 and the president will be named on June 21 after a runoff-voting round, if needed, on June 16 - 17.

Meanwhile, al-Wasat Party decided on Sunday to endorse the presidential bid of Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh.

The decision was unveiled after 63 % of the members of the moderate Islamist party voted for the former Muslim Brotherhood leader, while 23 % voted for Islamic intellectual and judicial expert Selim al-Awa, the online edition of Egypt’s al-Ahram daily reported citing a party press release.

The prominent Islamist activist, Abul Fotouh, was expelled from the Brotherhood shortly after announcing his intention to run for president in June 2011, thereby going against the group’s decision at the time not to field a presidential candidate.

Blow to Muslim Brotherhood

The Brotherhood later backtracked on their decision and announced Khairat al-Shater as their candidate – the man who is widely believed to be responsible for Abul Fotouh’s expulsion from the Brotherhood, according to al-Ahram report.

The Muslim Brotherhood's main candidate, Mohammed Mursi, suffered a blow on Saturday when an influential hardline Salafi movement endorsed his main Islamist rival Abul Fotouh for president.

The Nour Party of the Salafi movement, which espouses a puritanical version of Islam, on Saturday endorsed Abul Fotouh for the presidency, according to Reuters.

That should bring to Abul Fotouh many of the votes that propelled the Salafis into second place behind the Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.

Abul Fotouh, 60, has presented himself as a moderate Islamist, holding out a vision of Sharia (Islamic law) that promotes the interests of Egypt’s diverse society, though critics say he has yet to clarify exactly what that means.

His support base includes some of the liberals who had supported Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog who withdrew from the race in January.

The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, had been dismissive of the Salafi parties that were set up last year. But after deciding at the end of March to throw its hat into the presidential ring, the Brotherhood sought to rally the Salafis to its side.

But as it has courted the conservative right, the Brotherhood has faced ever sharper criticism from liberal reformists and others who say it has rowed back on promises that it would not seek to dominate the post-Mubarak era.

One area of dispute has been who should draft a new constitution that could well curb presidential powers, casting doubt on how much authority the incoming head of state will have. Another unresolved question is how much power the long influential military might continue to wield behind the scenes.

(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)