Egyptians torch Shafiq HQ as vote sparks violence

Protesters vandalize offices of Mubarak's last PM; several thousand hit streets in Alexandria, Cairo to demonstrate.

Ahmed Shafiq supporters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Ahmed Shafiq supporters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)
Arsonists in Cairo torched the campaign headquarters Monday night of Ahmed Shafiq, a presidential frontrunner many Egyptians despise as a decades-long confidant of deposed president Hosni Mubarak.
Analysts said the move could backfire and help grant Shafiq the “Mr. Security” label he seeks, but only if the candidate is able to shake his association with the disgraced former leader.
Shafiq’s rival in the June 16-17 runoff is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi.
For the youth revolutionaries who brought down Mubarak in an 18-day revolt last year, the choice appears to be one between a remnant of the old regime and a representative of a potentially equally repressive Islamic autocracy.
“A win by either Shafiq or Mursi will leave many sectors in Egypt with a real feeling of frustration,” said Prof. Yoram Meital, the chair of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
“The presidential elections are supposed to help bring stability, but it seems the result may be just the opposite.”
Meanwhile on Tuesday, Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood vowed that, should he be elected, he would respect women’s right to “work in all areas, and to choose the way they dress,” AFP reported.
There will be “no imposition on women to wear the veil” if he wins, Mursi told a press conference.
If Mursi, who garnered the most votes in the first round of voting in Egypt’s first undecided presidential election last week, succeeds in the run-off election in mid-June, then Islamists will hold both a majority in parliament and dominate the executive branch.
Following the release of first-round election results Monday night, thousands of Egyptians marched through Cairo chanting, “No to Shafiq and to the Brotherhood. The revolution is still in the square.”
Shafiq’s campaign said the main villa of the compound in the upscale Dokki neighborhood escaped the flames, but that protesters smashed computers and other equipment inside.
The website of Youm a-Sabaa newspaper showed video footage of one of the compound’s buildings engulfed in flames. Sprayed in graffiti on one of the undamaged walls were the words, “No to Shafiq, no to feloul,” – Arabic for “remnants” of the Mubarak-era government.
Egypt’s official MENA news agency reported four people had been detained in connection with the attack, but said they were not Islamists. Two, it said, were members of a centrist party and another was a member of a liberal party.
“We can only hope this rage and frustration won’t lead to more violence,” Meital said.
“Shafiq is trying to bolster his image as ‘Mr. Security,’ but in the eyes of many, he’s first and foremost a Mubarak man. And Israeli officials’ expressions of support for Shafiq only strengthen opposition to him.”
Raphael Israeli, a professor emeritus of Middle East Studies at Hebrew University, said instability in Egypt could push voters to choose the former air force chief, who briefly served as premier in Mubarak’s final days.
“No one feels any stability at the moment,” Israeli said, but added that Shafiq cannot at once claim to be the security candidate while at the same time playing down his Mubarak connections.
“Shafiq can’t claim to not be connected to Mubarak, and at the same time say he’s Mr. Security because he was air force chief under Mubarak,” Israeli said. “You can’t have it both ways.”
In Cairo on Tuesday, some protesters held posters of Mursi with a cross over his face. Still, most chanted against Shafiq, who has support from many ordinary Egyptians who long for a strongman to restore Egypt’s stability and revive the country’s flagging economy.
In Alexandria, Egypt’s second city and an Islamist stronghold, dozens of protesters marched, holding banners against the former prime minister. “No to Ahmed Shafiq, a man of the previous regime,” read one sign.
Al-Tahrir, a newspaper identifying with the youth revolutionaries who brought down Mubarak, reported that both Shafiq and Mursi are trying to garner support from prominent centrists ahead of next month’s run-off.
One target for both campaigns, it said, was Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Mursi’s campaign is considering offering ElBaradei the premiership, it reported, and Shafiq’s team has also reached out to ElBaradei with promises of a senior position.
On Tuesday, Amr Moussa, an exforeign minister and former presidential front-runner, condemned the torching of Shafiq’s office.
“The attacks were inappropriate,” Moussa wrote in Arabic on his Twitter feed, adding that “the presidential election should be free of all violence.”
Reuters contributed to this report.