Two horse race in final stretch for Egypt presidency

Tue May 1, 2012 8:34am GMT

By Edmund Blair and Sherine El Madany

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt enters the last stage of its first democratic presidential race on Monday with its field narrowing to a two-horse race between the urbane former head of the Arab League and a charismatic Islamist medic jailed for years under Hosni Mubarak.

A poll published in state-run al-Ahram daily on Monday showed veteran diplomat Amr Moussa in the lead, followed by Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, who has emerged in recent days as the leading Islamist candidate after securing the support of the ultra-conservative Salafist movement.

Both men are well ahead of 11 other candidates and, for now, look the most likely to face each other in a second round. That would give Egyptians a stark choice about the future of the Arab world's most populous state.

Moussa, 75, served for a decade as Mubarak's foreign minister before taking over the leadership of the Arab League, and must win over voters sceptical of the old elite.

Abol Fotouh, 60, grew to prominence in the 1970s as a student activist opposing Egypt's military rulers and was jailed in the 1990s as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which he split from last year. He needs to maintain the support of Islamists, while reassuring secular Egytians he will not impose a radical transformation on society.

Monday marked the official start of campaigning for the election, although candidates have been canvassing voters for months. A first round will be held on May 23-24, followed by an expected second round run-off in June.

Though they appear to be the clear leaders, it is still not certain Moussa and Abol Fotouh will make it to the second round: many voters are undecided and polls have no track record of accuracy. The Muslim Brotherhood has a candidate challenging Abol Fotouh for Islamist votes, and can never be written off.

"Nobody can talk about forecasts because in Egypt there are no scientific opinion polls. They are all impressions," senior Brotherhood official Essam El-Erian told reporters.   Continued...

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