CAIRO Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh says he left Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood because its leaders did not believe in democracy. A year of President Mohamed Mursi's rule has strengthened his view.
Abol Fotouh, a candidate in last year's election, says Mursi is running Egypt the way the Brotherhood runs itself, valuing loyalty over competence, with dire consequences for the country.
Like other opponents of the Brotherhood's head of state, he says it is time Egyptians had the chance to choose again. Mass rallies are planned for this weekend aimed at forcing Mursi to step down and call early presidential elections.
"People are not looking for ideological government," said Abol Fotouh, a 62-year-old doctor who spent half his life in the Brotherhood. "They are looking for one that preserves their dignity, their freedom, their independence, their economy."
His comments illustrate a complaint at the centre of the political storm facing Mursi as his first year in power draws to a close on Sunday. Anger at the government's failure to deliver better living conditions is compounded by a widely held belief the Mursi presidency is a cover for a Brotherhood power grab.
The Brotherhood dismisses that notion. In a speech late on Wednesday, Mursi went as far as naming non-Islamist politicians he said had refused government jobs last year when he tried to assemble his first cabinet. Since then, ever more isolated, Mursi has appointed a growing number of fellow Islamists in official posts, fuelling accusations of "Brotherhoodization".
Abol Fotouh described it as an approach buried deep in the psyche of a movement that spent decades underground until the 2011 uprising that swept Hosni Mubarak from power.
"It's as if he is managing the Egyptian state using the management approach of an oppressed group, a group pursued by the police," said Abol Fotouh, who spent six years a political prisoner under Mubarak. "Because you are an organization on the run, you bring in the people you trust," he said.
"The management of a state cannot be like this."
A Muslim Brotherhood spokesman declined comment on Thursday.
Abol Fotouh left the Brotherhood in 2011 to chart his own political course. He launched one of the best-organized campaigns in last year's presidential election, pitching himself as a man with appeal across the national spectrum.
The only Islamist besides Mursi in the presidential race, he won the endorsement of Egypt's biggest hardline Salafi Islamist group, but also support among the secular professional classes.
His bid was ultimately undone by Brotherhood's late decision to field its own candidate - a decision some Brotherhood experts say was partly driven by its enmity towards its former member Abol Fotouh and the realization he might otherwise win.
Abol Fotouh left the Brotherhood citing his long-standing concern about its mix of religious and political activism and what he described as the current leadership's disregard for democratic values. He now backs protests against Mursi but is not eager to run again himself for the presidency.
"The current leadership, in my view, is not concerned by these issues: neither the law nor democracy," he said. "It believes in democracy as a tool to realize its goals, and I am against this," he said. "I am worried for the future of democracy in Egypt with the current leadership."
He said he was referring to some members of the Guidance Council, the Brotherhood's executive board. Speaking to Reuters earlier this month, one member of the Council rejected the claim it is the silent controlling force behind Mursi's presidency.
The member said the Council offered Mursi some advice, but added that the president rarely heeded it.
Abol Fotouh said he had offered to help Mursi with "ideas, opinion, advice" late last year during his only meeting with the president, but his opinion was never sought: "The truth is that all the discussions held with Dr. Mursi were just for show.
"He is an Egyptian nationalist, a good man with moral commitment. But in the end, unfortunately, he didn't keep his promise to be independent of the Muslim Brotherhood," he said.
"The organization is controlling him to this day ... and any talk to the contrary is neither sincere or true."
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)