With the Egyptian presidential elections approaching on May 23, it is becoming increasingly clear that the race will come down to three candidates.
Although 13 candidates  have remained to compete in the first round after a contentious disqualification process, the actual competition is between three of them, two of whom will probably have to fight it out in a second round.
“The three musketeers,” as they are currently known, are former general secretary of the Arab League Amr Moussa; the president of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) Mohamed Mursi; and Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, who split from the MB and has the support of some liberals and Islamists, in addition to his popular base.
Opinion polls, although rarely conducted, show that Moussa is ahead, followed by Abul Fotouh. There is no doubt that Moussa still benefits from popularity garnered during his stint as Egyptian  foreign minister.
He became more popular than the deposed president, Hosni Mubarak. It was said that this was the reason behind his removal from his ministry and transfer to the Arab League’s general secretariat.
Abul Fotouh was able to boost his presidential hopes to a great extent after receiving the support of the Salafi Call and its political arm, the Nour Party. Nevertheless, this kind of credit might not be enough for Moussa to become Egypt’s next president , especially since he was considered to be close to the former regime.
He also lacks enough support among new popular and political forces on the Egyptian scene. Therefore, his credit could run out by the end of the first round, when calculations and alliances will change completely.
Opinion polls also show that the second man in the race is the FJP’s Mursi. Winning in the first round will depend solely on him garnering the votes of the MB and his capacity to convince MB supporters and partisans that he is an appropriate option in the current situation.
But this is not an easy task at all, especially since Mursi was the alternate to Khairat al-Shater who was disqualified by the elections  committee.
Replacing al-Shater who is a political and economic force in the MB will be a tremendous task for Mursi, who is considered, even inside the MB, as an implementor and not a planner, contrary to al-Shater.
Many MB supporters, and even members, have not made up their mind on whether to vote for Mursi. He has to wait to see if the MB’s electoral machine can help him reach the second round, which is not at all guaranteed.
The third man in the race will be Abul Fotouh who announced his split from the MB after the revolution.
The Brotherhood had announced that they will not run a candidate for the presidency. But they did not keep their promise and ran two candidates instead of one.
Abul Fotouh’s popularity began with his split and expanded when he announced his openness to the various political and popular currents in the country.
This led people like the activist Wael Ghoneim, the author Bilal Fadl, and the poet Abdul Rahman Youssef to join his electoral campaign.
If the opinion polls are accurate and Mursi does not have something up his sleeve, Moussa and Abul Fotouh will face each other in the runoffs. In the last few days, Abul Fotouh was able to boost his presidential hopes to a great extent after receiving the support of the Salafi  Call and its political arm, the Nour Party.
This came after several meetings held between the Salafis and “Islamist candidates” that also included Mursi and Mohamed Salim al-Awwa. But Abul Fotouh convinced them that they should give him their votes.
MB youth, who wanted to support al-Shater, are also beginning to reassess their position since Mursi might not be the suitable alternative.
In addition to the Islamists, liberal currents are confused by Abul Fotouh’s character. He says he will not impose sharia because the people are not ready.
He is also not against women becoming president and supports equality between Copts and Muslims .
Some liberal circles, who are convinced by his positions, have decided to join his campaign. Others who have already made up their mind for the first round, will wait for the second to decide who will get their votes .
The results of the second round will decide who will be Egypt’s next president. If the opinion polls are accurate and Mursi does not have something up his sleeve, Moussa and Abul Fotouh will face each other in the runoffs.
In this case, the Islamist -centrist-liberal-Salfi-MB Abul Fotouh will be favored to win in the end, particularly if he is to face off with Moussa.
Twenty days before the first round of the presidential elections, one should start getting accustomed to hearing the name “President Abul Fotouh.”
By HOUSSAM KANAFANI