Where the Salafis Go From Here

Why the Islamists Will Not Compromise

A supporter of Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fatouh holds a poster during a presidential rally in Cairo. (Asmaa Waguih / Courtesy Reuters)

Throughout the spring, many analysts covering Egypt’s presidential elections argued that Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fatouh, a Muslim Brotherhood leader until last summer, would at least secure a place in any runoff round, if not win it. In the months leading up to the vote, Abou el-Fatouh appeared to have captured a broad coalition of supporters, including several Salafi parties, which, this past January, had won a surprising 25 percent of the seats in Egypt’s new parliament. Yet their expected electoral power never materialized. Meanwhile, Abou el-Fatouh’s popularity faded, and he placed a distant fourth in the first round of voting on May 23 and 24.

Abou el-Fatouh’s downfall disappointed his many supporters, from secular revolutionaries to Christians and former Brotherhood youth. But it represented a particular defeat for the Salafi parties. They compromised their principles to back him, and his loss will likely discourage such pragmatism in the future.

From the beginning, Abou el-Fatouh attracted a diverse array of supporters. After he announced his candidacy in May 2011, the Brotherhood expelled him for violating its policy, at that time, of not fielding a contender. Even so, he retained the sympathy of many youth figures in the organization, who saw him as a champion for much-needed reform. Some even risked expulsion to endorse his campaign. As one of the first Brotherhood leaders to join the Egyptian revolution, Abou el-Fatouh also enjoyed the backing of many secular activists. And some Christians supported him in hopes that he would take a more moderate position than the Brotherhood or the Salafis on the role of religion in the state.

But Abou el-Fatouh’s real break came in April, when Egypt’s election commission disqualified Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an independent Islamist, and Khairat al-Shater, a deputy guide in the Brotherhood, from the race. For non-Brotherhood Islamists, Abou el-Fatouh and the underwhelming Mohamed Morsi became the

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