Aboul Fotouh is a more gripping orator than Moussa, with a
gruff, gravelly voice that he controls well, shifting cadence to maintain his audience's
attention. "If this country succeeds, the whole Islamic world succeeds," Aboul
Fotouh shouted, provoking cries of exultation. He talked extensively about
sharia, in a way apparently calculated to burnish his Islamist credentials
while reassuring his left flank that he opposes such literal interpretations as
severing the hands of thieves. Aboul Fotouh's stump speech played to his
Islamist base rather than to his revolutionary and secular sympathizers.
A Muslim Brotherhood member in the audience named Yousef Eid
Hamid, 38, said he was campaigning for Aboul Fotouh in defiance of his
organization's strict orders to vote for Morsi. "We are not machines," he said.
"You cannot love a candidate, and then just change."
Backroom deals with the military will likely be decisive in determining
how the winner can govern, but retail politics seem to be taking root for now.
During Thursday night's debate, the two front-runners, Moussa and Aboul Fotouh,
dug at each other's records. Aboul Fotouh portrayed Moussa as a corrupt, weak
stooge for Mubarak who will continue the old regime's authoritarian ways.
Moussa attacked Aboul Fotouh as a fire-and-brimstone Islamist who founded a
radical group in the 1970s and now disingenuously presents himself as a moderate.
Egyptians crammed cafes to watch. During a half-time
walkthrough (the debate lasted more than four hours, from 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.)
at the Boursa pedestrian arcade behind the Cairo stock exchange, I met several
people who had voted for the Muslim Brotherhood for parliament but were leaning
toward the anti-Islamist Moussa for president.
"I will give the Muslim Brotherhood domestic policy, but I
want to keep them far away from security and foreign policy," said Abdelrahim
Abdullah Abdelrahim, 44, an import-export businessman built like a bouncer.
"These Islamists want to march on Al Quds" -- Jerusalem -- "and wage war. It's
not the time for this."
He went on to mock the Salafi legislator who tried to sound
the call to prayer in parliament, and his Noor Party colleague who tried to
claim his nose job bandage was really the scar from a politically motivated
assault. "People are more tired than before," Abdelrahim said as he lost
another round of dominoes to a friend.
At the presidential rallies in the Delta, I met numerous
voters who were shopping or just checking out the opposition. Leftist
revolutionaries, committed to minor candidates guaranteed not to reach the
second round, listened to stump speeches to consider whom they'd be willing to
hold their noses and vote for in a runoff. Confirmed skeptics came, in case
they might change their minds.
Arguments broke out. At the end of one Moussa pit stop in
Dikirnis, an older man dismissed the candidate as a "felool," or remnant of the
old regime. Another man pushed him hard in the abdomen: "He is not a felool!
Amr Moussa is a great man!" The critic scuttled off to his nephew's pastry
shop, where he continued his invective against Moussa. The nephew, 37-year-old
Ahmed Burma, smiled benevolently. "My uncle jumped on the revolutionary
bandwagon," he said. "But I'm supporting Amr Moussa. I run a business with 90
employees. Let's give this guy a chance to work."