CAIRO - The Muslim Brotherhood's formidable support base stands in contrast to the patchwork of interest groups backing former senior military officer Ahmed Shafik in the race to lead Egypt.

But this could prove to be a weakness for the Brotherhood and an advantage for Shafik as the country heads towards the last leg of its first free presidential election, concluding 16 months of turbulent army rule since Hosni Mubarak was deposed.

The Islamist movement's power to quickly mobilize its followers and a discreet decision-making style make it easier for Shafik to paint it as an obscure sect whose candidate Mohamed Mursi will place its interests above those of Egypt.

"The Brotherhood and their candidate use religion to shackle human freedoms," Shafik, who was Mubarak's last prime minister, told supporters on Friday.

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