Brotherhood's candidate tops Egypt absentee results

Massive support in Saudi Arabia, world's largest Egyptian expat community, pushes Mursi over Islamist rival Abol Fotouh.

May 21, 2012 17:41
4 minute read.
Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi

Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Mursi 370 . (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)


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The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate has won a commanding victory in absentee voting for Egypt’s presidency, Egyptian diplomats said on Monday, buoyed by support from the expatriate community in Saudi Arabia – the world’s largest.

With results from 33 diplomatic missions counted, the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi came in far ahead of competitors with 106,252 votes, the AFP news agency reported, followed by his rival Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh with 77,499.

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Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist nationalist, came in third with 44,727 ballots, with former foreign minister Amr Moussa and expremier Ahmed Shafiq rounding out the top five.

The figures were heavily determined by Monday’s publication of results from Saudi Arabia, home to an Egyptian expatriate community of 1.5 million. Absentee voters in the kingdom gave Mursi 68,443 votes, or nearly half of the total, followed by Abol Fotouh with 26 percent and Sabahi with 11%.

The rankings were the same in Kuwait, which hosts the world’s second-largest Egyptian expat community, though Mursi’s margin over Abol Fotouh was significantly smaller.

The results came a day after the Brotherhood staged 25 simultaneous campaign events in an impressive display of the organizing power that brought it fully half of all parliamentary seats in elections earlier this year.

Well-known Islamic preachers and soccer celebrities took to the podium in Cairo to endorse Mursi, a relative latecomer to the race whose rivals include Islamists and exofficials of former president Hosni Mubarak.

With official campaigning ending on Sunday, fireworks cracked in the night air and flames flared from the front of the stage as Mursi arrived to address the audience of several thousand gathered in central Cairo.

Youths wearing Mursi T-shirts gathered at the front chanting “Mursi, Mursi” to the beat of drums. “God willing, Mursi will be president after the first round,” they chanted.

The election that starts on Wednesday is the last stage in a messy transition to democracy, overseen by generals who took control after Mubarak was driven out and have pledged to hand power to a new president by July 1.

Mursi promised to combat any corrupt hangers-on from Mubarak’s era.

“If they take a step to take us backwards, to forge the will [of the people] and fiddle with security, we know who they are,” he said. “We will throw them in the rubbish bin of history.”

Mursi was pitched into the race as the Brotherhood’s reserve candidate when its first choice, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified.

Critics see Mursi as a dull functionary who lacks the spark of leadership.

Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, a Salafi preacher who took the stage to endorse Mursi, made light of his reserve status, saying no one went on a trip without a “spare tire” and that substitutes could win soccer matches.

Maqsoud said Egypt should follow the example of Turkey, where the presidency and parliament were controlled by one party and where the influence of the army had been gradually rolled back. Many expect Egypt’s army to remain influential for years.

“God willing, I will vote for them and most people in the town will do so as well.

No one served us better than the Brotherhood,” said Ahmed Youssef, a 41-year-old employee in a state telephone office in the large Delta town of Tanta.

“My dear friend here will do the same, won’t you?” he said, turning to a 40-yearold street vendor, Mohamed Sherif al-Din.

“Mursi is a Brotherhood man and this group is the one that hires our kids and brings us goods that we don’t find in the market. God bless them and him,” said Sherif al-Din, who was cycling around Tanta handing out Mursi flyers.

“Religion is in the blood of people, and not everyone is exposed to media, so its voice isn’t heard,” said Ismail Farouk, a Mursi campaigner in the southern town of Sohag.

In Sohag and elsewhere, the Brotherhood is touting local initiatives as part of its national “renaissance project” to win over voters angry at years of neglect by the government in Cairo.

Brotherhood campaigners play up Mursi’s appeal as its anointed choice to lead Egypt, in contrast to Abol Fotouh, who was ejected from the Brotherhood last year and is seen as another front-runner for the presidency.

Abol Fotouh is pitching to voters across the spectrum, from hard-line Salafis to mainstream Islamists and liberals. The Brotherhood is selling Mursi as the authentic religious conservative.

In Cairo, advertisements for Mursi show him in a short beard accompanied by the slogan: “Renaissance comes through the will of the people,” with no mention of Islam.

Mursi banners in the industrial and agricultural Delta region north of Cairo show his beard whiter and much longer, to suggest great piety. The dominant slogan changes to “Egypt’s renaissance with an Islamic foundation.”

A Brotherhood strategist in Cairo, Mostafa Abdel Ghafar, played down the criticism of Mursi’s leadership talents.

“I think all people noticed that our campaign is not for Mursi as a person, but for the group’s renaissance project, which Egyptians have heard about for a year,” he said.

But the headwinds for the Brotherhood seem stronger than before the parliamentary election, when its long struggle against a monolithic Mubarak establishment finally paid off.

“There is no way I would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood in the presidential vote, as so far they have brought us nothing but chaos,” said Ahmed Rafaie, a 32- year-old in Tanta.

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