CAIRO - The Muslim Brotherhood and a military man identified with the police state of the ousted Hosni Mubarak courted defeated first-round candidates in Egypt's presidential election on Saturday, each trying to claim the mantle of the revolution for a runoff next month.
State media named the Brotherhood's Mohamed Mursi and former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq as the top two vote-getters in this week's first round of a close-fought election made possible by last year's popular revolt.
Official results are not due until Tuesday to allow the election committee to hear complaints and appeals about the voting. State newspapers cited no source for their vote count, which broadly tallied with previous Brotherhood estimates.
The choice between Mursi and Shafiq, representing forces that have tussled for the past six decades, has dismayed many Egyptians who voted for candidates offering a middle ground.
They fear a victory for the 70-year-old Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, would snuff out hopes of change ignited by the anti-Mubarak uprising, while a win for Mursi would pitch Egypt into an experiment with Islamic rule.
The Brotherhood invited rivals, including losing candidates such as leftist Hamdeen Sabahy and moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, to talks on Saturday aimed at gaining their support for the runoff against Shafiq on June 16 and 17.
Warning of "determined efforts to recreate the old regime", it said parties that supported the uprising against Mubarak must unite "so that the revolution is not stolen from us".
The Brotherhood already holds the biggest bloc in parliament after an election completed in January, but has been unable to assert itself against an army-appointed interim government.Who stole the revolution?
Shafiq used strikingly similar language at a news conference as he addressed youth groups that spearheaded last year's popular uprising.
"Your revolution was stolen," he told them. "I pledge to return its fruits to your hands."
Shafiq said that "the clock cannot be turned back", but that he would not let the country "drown in chaos".
Much of his rhetoric indirectly targeted the Brotherhood, playing on fears among Egypt's minority Christians and secular liberals that a Mursi presidency would threaten their freedoms.
"No exclusion of anyone or distancing of anyone," he declared. "Everyone has a right to be a part of this nation."
On Friday he had told Egyptian television that he saw no problem with the idea of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government if he were elected president.
The generals who took over when Mubarak quit on February 11, 2011, have promised to make way for a new president by July 1, formally ending a messy and often bloody political transition.
But the military, which has supplied all Egypt's previous presidents, is keen to keep its privileges and influence in a new order in which the powers of the president, parliament and government are as yet undefined by a rewritten constitution.
Mursi and Shafiq only narrowly topped the vote on Wednesday and Thursday, in which unofficial results showed less than 8 percentage points separating the top four candidates.
Mursi's 25 percent paled in comparison to the parliamentary election, in which the Brotherhood gained nearly half the seats.
Reform-minded independents such as Abol Fotouh and Sabahy between them won more votes than either Shafiq or Mursi, hinting at the growth of a new centre in Egypt's fluid political scene.
"The Brotherhood will have to reach out in a grand and dramatic way to the centre and the other political parties if they have any hope of winning their support and any hope of winning the presidency," said Elijah Zarwan of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.Anti-Shafiq front?
A Brotherhood party official, Yasser Ali, said the talks to persuade rivals to join an anti-Shafiq front would discuss the vice presidency and a new coalition government.
"We know we will succeed in uniting behind the initiative to save the nation and complete the revolution," Essam el-Erian, deputy head of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told a news conference on Friday.
Long a thorn in Mubarak's flesh, the Brotherhood has looked increasingly isolated from other parties since his fall, first facing accusations it was slow to join the revolt and then that it acquiesced in the military rule that followed.
Trust in the Brotherhood was further undermined when the group decided to join the presidential race, after previously pledging to stay out. The group, founded in 1928, says it is the target of a vicious smear campaign by its opponents.
Abol Fotouh, who won about 17.6 percent of the vote by the Brotherhood's count, has said he will now back the Islamist group with which he split last year to run for president.
He did not name the Brotherhood, but said he and his supporters would "rise above our political and party differences" and would "stand in a united front against the symbols of corruption and oppression".
Shafiq has won support among Egyptians who see him as the kind of strongman the country needs to end 15 months of political instability, economic failure and rising crime.
His constituency also includes Christians, who form about a 10th of Egypt's 82 million people. They complained of discrimination in Mubarak's day, but are likely to vote for Shafiq in preference to an Islamist.
Mohamed Habib, a former deputy leader of the Brotherhood who left the group last year in protest at its post-uprising policies, said the group should offer vice presidential positions to at least two people from outside the group.
He suggested one could be a Christian - an idea to which Mursi himself has said he is not opposed.