In Egypt’s Likely Runoff, Islam Vies With the Past (NY) TIMES) By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and KAREEM FAHIM CAIRO, EGYPT 05/26/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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CAIRO — The runoff to become Egypt’s first freely elected president
is shaping up as a contest between two of the most powerful and
polarizing forces in Egyptian society: political Islam or the
leadership of the past.
After a wild and fluid two-month campaign by more than a dozen
candidates, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik,
a former air force general who served as President Hosni Mubarak’s
final prime minister, emerged with the most votes on Friday,
according to independent tallies and the official state news media.
Mr. Morsi won about a quarter of the vote and Mr. Shafik slightly
less, effectively reprising the power struggle decades old between a
military-backed, secular strongman and Islamists from the Muslim
Brotherhood. At least for the moment, the results appeared to dim the
hope that last year’s popular uprising would open a middle path,
transcending divisions that kept Egypt paralyzed between fear of
religious radicalism and fear of the secular police state.
The outcome provoked frantic warnings on Friday of either a
counterrevolution should Mr. Shafik win, or an Islamist takeover,
should Mr. Morsi emerge as the next president. The candidates who
tried to offer a more unifying vision — and were critical of both the
Mubarak era and the Brotherhood — failed to overcome the deep
divisions in Egyptian society.
The result will be a runoff that offers a wrenching choice for the
majority of voters who cast their ballots for one of the other
“It is a shock,” said Ahmed Kabany, 38, an engineer, after the
voting. “I don’t want either one, so I am not going to vote.”
Although Mr. Shafik never explicitly promised to resurrect the old
order, he campaigned as a strongman who would crack down on street
protests, restore law and order and check the power of the Islamists.
He surged in popularity toward the end of the campaign, by playing to
voters’ fears of crime and lawlessness, and to the worries of Egypt’s
Christian minority about the growing power of the Islamists, who
already control Parliament.
And he never backed away from comments he made during the uprising
against Mr. Mubarak comparing the insurrection to a disrespectful
child who slaps his father.
Mr. Morsi, facing a serious challenge from an Islamist rival during
the campaign, reverted to a conservative and expressly religious
appeal, portraying his platform as a distillation of Islam itself
while promising to carry out Islamic law.
Although both candidates have pledged to support the peace treaty
with Israel, the runoff set up a stark choice between the
Brotherhood’s vows to unite Palestinian factions in order to increase
pressure on Israel to recognize a Palestinian state and Mr. Shafik’s
pledges of continuity with positions of the former government.
Though official final results are to be released in a few days, early
returns show that about 20 percent voted for Abdel Moneim Aboul
Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader campaigning as both an Islamist
and as a liberal in an effort to break out of Egypt’s culture war.
And another roughly 20 percent voted for Hamdeen Sabahi, a secular
populist with a record of fighting the Mubarak government on behalf
of the poor. (Fifth place went to Amr Moussa, a former foreign
minister who presented a softer and more conciliatory version of Mr.
Shafik’s secular law-and-order appeal.)
Handicapping the runoff was all but impossible. Although candidates
from the Muslim Brotherhood or more conservative Islamist parties won
about three-quarters of the seats in Parliament, Islamists and more
secular candidates split the vote in the first stage of the
presidential election. It was unclear whether voters who picked Mr.
Sabahi, the secular populist, would lean toward Mr. Morsi to avoid
returning a Mubarak minister to power, or to Mr. Shafik in order to
avoid giving so much power to the Brotherhood. But at the end of the
day, the possibility of low turnout favors the Brotherhood because
its vast political machine can drive its voters to the polls.
As soon as the results became clear, each of the two leading
candidates began to try to shift to the center, by rallying against
the other. In a Friday night news conference, officials of the Muslim
Brotherhood announced that they were inviting the
other “revolutionary candidates” — effectively, all but Mr. Shafik —
to a meeting to talk about a coalition to oppose the former prime
minister and about sharing power in a Brotherhood-led government.
“Rescuing the homeland includes securing victory for a candidate who
belongs to the revolutionary camp, and the camp that struggles
against the old regime,” Essam el-Erian, a Brotherhood lawmaker,
said, trying to portray Mr. Morsi as the champion of the whole
popular uprising and not just the Islamist forces.
Supporters of Mr. Shafik, meanwhile, circulated a cellphone message
urging unity against the Brotherhood. “I beg you to please put your
differences aside and go vote for Shafik not because you believe in
him but because it will be a catastrophe if we consolidate all power
to one party (presidency and Parliament)!” the message read. “History
has proved, so please spread!”
The race is further complicated by the uncertainty about the powers
of the next president. A committee picked by Parliament that was
supposed to draft a new charter has become deadlocked in a dispute
between Islamists and liberals. The military council that has
governed Egypt since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster says it will issue an
interim constitution to define the president’s powers, but it has not
yet done so.
Mr. Shafik has close ties to the members of the military council, and
his opponents often accuse the generals of actively supporting his
campaign, but no conclusive evidence has emerged. Indeed, the
Brotherhood has also indicated that it intends to take a conciliatory
approach toward the generals, allowing them to preserve the
commercial empire they control, protecting their budget from public
scrutiny and keeping them out of civilian courts.
Mr. Morsi, the least charismatic of the leading candidates in the
race, relied mainly on the Brotherhood’s political machine to turn
out his voters. He sat out the one televised debate, and his face
barely appeared in his television commercials.
Mr. Shafik, a gruff former fighter pilot, earned the nickname “the
Pullover” for the sweaters he wore in television interviews and on
campaign posters, apparently to make him seem more approachable. It
was all but unheard-of for a Mubarak minister to appear in public
without a jacket and tie.
Both Mr. Morsi and Mr. Shafik were derided for their awkward speaking
styles. During his brief tenure as prime minister, Mr. Shafik was
forced to resign after a humiliating public debate on a television
talk show with a liberal critic and author, Alaa al-Aswany. “I fought
in wars,” Mr. Shafik said in exasperation at one point. “I killed and
His signature campaign commercial plays to the public anxieties about
the crime and lawlessness that have swept Egypt since Mr. Mubarak’s
ouster, when police and security forces scattered or stopped working.
The commercial begins with jarring television images of protests and
riots, and the clipped voice of a television newscaster in the
“Chaos,” the voice says. “The country has fallen.” Then, over somber
notes from a piano, Mr. Shafik says, “Egypts needs justice, and the
safety for its citizens.” (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company
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