What Egypt's Leading Islamist Presidential Candidate Thinks About Christians
He also believes that the sometimes-violent confrontations over church construction occurred because such buildings require nearly-impossible-to-obtain special permits. "Egyptians," he said, "do not need [more] churches or mosques; they need farms, scientific research centers, colleges, factories, houses."
Pluralism is welcome in Egyptian society, he said, noting that his "Christian brothers" were living in a self-imposed ghetto prior to the 2011 revolution. But they are now "present in the Egyptian community, participating in … the [Muslim Brotherhood-supported] Freedom and Justice Party and other parties, doing their work.
"Christians initially only made their voices heard in church but now have become vocal in the community of all.
"The nation belongs to all Egyptians, whether they are Christians or Muslims, men or women, Islamists or have leftist or liberal ideologies."
The candidate does not reject his Muslim Brotherhood background. But he said, "I run as an independent, not representing any political party or power. I have no administrative or organizational business with the Muslim Brotherhood now. But this does not mean that a person should give up his ideologies. I'm still proud of my progressive, enlightened, moderate Islamic ideologies, and that has been known about me for 42 years.
"I work in public activism with these ideologies and visions, which fight extremism, violence, and seek to build the nation and rapprochement of all citizens in the service of this country."
He does not endorse the concept that Muslims have a superior role in society. "Muslims and Christians are equal. God in the Holy Qur'an protects human dignity and that includes all humanity. Unfortunately the West has drawn incorrect conclusions because of ultra-conservative Islamists."
The relations between the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party and Abol Fotoh are far from ideal. "The Brotherhood should not be engaged in party politics and competing for power, but it does because the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party are mixed."
The Muslim Brotherhood has fielded its own now-disqualified candidate (Shater), and the organization publicly opposes the candidacy of Abol Fotoh. Some observers believe this is political posturing. But even if this stance of the Brotherhood is true, the public dispute between Abol Fotoh and the Muslim Brotherhood will divide the Islamist vote. The Brotherhood also has a backup candidate: Mohammed Morsi, chair of the Freedom and Justice Party.
There will be a runoff election in June if no candidate gains a clear majority.
Abol Fotoh supports a mixed parliamentary-presidential system. "I support that the parliament should have a supervisory role over the executive power." This role would give the parliament greater power than they had before during the decades following the revolution of 1952.
The Egyptian economy is in shambles and the state is on the brink of bankruptcy. Abol Fotoh said Egypt first of all needs internal and external security for building up the economy. Fear is that a bankruptcy will drive prices up, which in turn will create a revolt of the poor who can be easily manipulated by extremists. He said addressing the needs of the poor would be an important priority upon becoming president. Fighting chronic poverty will require funds that Egypt's national government currently does not have.
Abol Fotoh does not recognize the state of Israel. "War is not in the interest of Egypt, but in talks with Israel the interests of Egypt should have priority." In all international relations, including with the United States, he said, "Relations must be to the benefit of Egypt. U.S. aid to Egypt serves U.S. interests in Egypt, and therefore both need to be in relation to each other."