Islamist and ex-PM vie for mantle of Egypt's revolt

Islamist Mursi and Mubarak's PM Shafiq topped first round; each side claims to be champion of anti-Mubarak revolution.

May 28, 2012 02:23
4 minute read.
Ahmed Shafiq

Ahmed Shafiq_370. (photo credit: Reuters)


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The two front-runners in Egypt’s presidential race jostled for support on Sunday from voters dismayed at what many see as a painful second-round choice between a dour Islamist candidate and a throwback to Hosni Mubarak’s era.

With a majority of votes counted, figures cited by state media and party campaigns this weekend put Mohamed Mursi, an obscure Muslim Brotherhood insider, in first place with 25.3 percent of the vote, barely edging former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq at 24.9%.

Both men are seeking to lay claim to the mantle of the “revolution” that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak 15 months ago.

Hatem Begato, the head of the electoral committee, said it was considering complaints about voting practices filed by four candidates - Shafiq, leftist Hamdeen Sabahy, Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

Partial results show those candidates came in third, fourth and fifth place respectively.

Official results are expected Monday or Tuesday.

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The election’s biggest surprise was the trouncing suffered by Moussa – who won a majority only in the South Sinai governorate – and strong showing of Sabahy, who led in the pivotal Cairo and Alexandria governorates, according to Al- Ahram newspaper. The daily reported Abol Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader, came out on top only in Egypt’s thinly populated Western Desert.

The polarized first-round results have led to suggestions – swiftly rejected by the Brotherhood – that Mursi should withdraw to allow Sabahy to go through to the second round.

“This is unconstitutional,” said Essam el-Erian, a leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, adding that if Mursi quit at this stage, Shafiq would win by default.

The Brotherhood, which already dominates both houses of parliament after earlier elections, wants to draw rival parties into a broad front to beat Shafiq in the June 16 and 17 runoff.

“We have to organize the movement on the street with the grassroots to support the revolution because the old regime is coming back with Shafiq,” said a Mursi spokesman, Yasser Ali.

“We are open-minded and open-hearted with all political groups, especially the revolutionary groups, to organize and form a coalition government, soon after Mursi becomes president.”

Ali said Mursi might meet Abol Fotouh and other leaders, possibly including Sabahy, later Sunday.

The campaigns of Sabahy, Abol Fotouh and Moussa denied reports they would lend their support to Mursi in the runoff, Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported.

Sabahy said at a press conference Saturday he would in no circumstances agree to be Mursi’s deputy.

“I won’t accept a position or a title,” he told supporters. “I won’t compromise.”

For his part, Shafiq is reaching out to young activists who despise him as a figure from the past.

“Your revolution was stolen,” he said at a news conference, alluding to Islamists. “I pledge to return its fruits to your hands.”

Meanwhile Sunday, a Cairo criminal court sentenced Mubarak’s former chief of staff to seven years in jail and fined him $6 million on charges of making illegal gains, the state news agency MENA reported.

Zakaria Azmi has been held since April 2011 on charges of amassing wealth unlawfully.

He is among several officials from Mubarak’s administration detained on corruption and other charges.

Mubarak, 84, is also under investigation for graft, abuse of power and ordering the killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising that ousted him on February 11, 2011. The verdict is due on June 2.

The turbulence since the uprising has aggravated economic problems that will loom large for any president who takes over from military rulers who took charge when Mubarak fell and is expected to retain a strong role for years to come.

A Brotherhood victory in the presidential election could prolong a struggle with the military over the drafting of a new constitution, already mired in political disputes.

But a Mursi triumph is no foregone conclusion. Many voters may stay away from the second round, seeing both candidates as unacceptable.

Similiarly, many Christians, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s 82 million people, are likely to swing behind Shafiq, viewing him as a bulwark against rising Islamist influence.

“The Brotherhood has not given us any assurances or promises to make us not fear for our freedoms and faith under their rule,” said a Coptic church official who asked not to be named.

Asked about Christian fears, Mursi told a television interviewer on Saturday night that “Egypt belongs to all,” asking, “Who killed them in protests? Who prevented them from building churches? The old regime, not us.”

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