- The Washington Times - Monday, May 21, 2012

An Islamist who believes that the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States were an American conspiracy is the front-runner in Egypt’s presidential race, a new poll shows.

Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, formerly a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, led the field of 13 candidates with 32 percent of the vote in a survey released Monday by the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

Mr. Abolfotoh expressed his views on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in an interview last year with Egypt scholar Eric Trager.

Mr. Trager, now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, quoted Mr. Abolfotoh as saying:

“It was too big an operation …. They [the United States] didn’t bring this crime before the U.S. justice system until now. Why? Because it’s part of a conspiracy.”

Egyptians will vote Wednesday and Thursday in their first presidential election since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak last year. If none of the candidates wins a majority, the two top vote-getters will compete in a runoff next month.

A ‘liberal Islamist’?

The 61-year-old Mr. Abolfotoh, who left the Brotherhood last year, has been dubbed a “liberal Islamist” by some reporters partly because he said he believes that a Christian should be able to run for president - a view that put him at odds with the Brotherhood’s leadership.

In a recent Egyptian television interview, Mr. Abolfotoh qualified that position. He said that, while parties are free to nominate whomever they want, Egypt “cannot have a president who does not have an Islamist orientation.”

The Washington Institute’s Mr. Trager said that “the notion that Abolfotoh is some kind of progressive is farcical.”

“He is a longtime Muslim Brother, a founder of the Islamist student movements of the 1970s, and somebody who still calls for implementing the Shariah,” he said. “His falling out with the Brotherhood was over differences regarding strategy and internal administration, not ideology.”

Mr. Abolfotoh has been endorsed by al-Gama’a al-Islamiya, a jihadist group the State Department designated as a terrorist organization.

“Given that he was endorsed by a terrorist organization and has called the peace treaty with Israel a national-security threat, it is highly unlikely that Egypt’s foreign-policy will remain friendly to U.S. interests if he’s elected,” Mr. Trager added.

Mr. Abolfotoh’s candidacy has seen several lucky breaks lately.

First was the disqualification last month of hardline preacher Hazem Abu Ismail from the race. The Salafist Nour Party, which had backed Mr. Abu Ismail, later threw its support to Mr. Abolfotoh.

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