According to an unscientific online poll, a new Islamist candidate is gaining steam in Egypt’s presidential race named Mohammed Selim al-Awa. He presents himself as a democratic “reformist” with no political affiliation, but he has made several concerning statements and is suspected by some experts of being the favored candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Facebook page of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which has governed Egypt since the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, has a poll asking respondents who they will vote for in the presidential election. With over 100,000 votes, Mohammed el-Baradei came in first with 35 percent. Mohammed Selim al-Awa came in second. Amr Moussa, considered the strong front-runner, came in fourth. Only one-fifth of the Egyptian population has Internet access, so it is not representative of the population as a whole, but the survey indicates that al-Awa is a force to be reckoned with.
Al-Awa styles himself as a reformer who promotes a moderate, modern version of Islam. He argues that Western democracy is the best representation of the Islamic principle of “shura,” or consultation. He says he promotes critical thinking towards religion, as his father raised him to “question even the interpretation of a Qur’anic verse or a prophetic saying and not to take it for granted. I learned from him to steer away from the dogmatic understanding of religion.”
He opposes the Ground Zero Mosque, arguing “it is not necessary. They can have a center or a mosque anywhere else. It symbolizes nothing. Nobody should want to offend.” Al-Awa rejects the notion that the U.S. is at war with Islam, and has sided with the members of the Muslim Brotherhood who left the organization to form the Wasat Party. He opposes the Iranian-style of governance, and criticizes the Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties because they “indoctrinate blind obedience.”
This does not mean the West should celebrate al-Awa. His father was a follower of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood. He was inspired to become involved in politics because of his father’s discussion groups with Brotherhood members. One meeting, which al-Awa mentions as a defining moment for him, was with Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Nazi Muslim who worked closely with Adolf Hitler.
Al-Awa says that his father left the Muslim Brotherhood after it killed civilians, but he does not reject the group’s goals. When asked about the Brotherhood’s objective of establishing an Islamic state based on Sharia law, he said, “I think their project—as defined by Hassan el-Banna…is the project of Prophethood, not of Brotherhood. I mean, it was the project of Islam itself and no one can object to this vision but when it comes to translating it into actions…”
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