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To that end, Morsi is seeking a political accommodation with two of his closest challengers in last month’s preliminary election round. Morsi will meet with fourth-place finisher Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, the former reformist Brotherhood leader, and the socialist candidate who finished third, Hamdeen Sabahi, and attempt to forge a united front in the streets in response to the verdicts. Morsi is also hoping that joining with the two former candidates will energize his campaign, putting him over the top in what is seen as a very tight race.
“Today we are all in the squares. After this presser I will go to Tahrir directly to keep the revolution going until it realizes its aims,” he said. By trying to marry the anger and fear in the street with his campaign, Morsi has a hold of a potent combination that could very well bring him victory. The major argument against Shafiq is that he will bring back the autocracy of the Mubarak era by simply being a puppet of the military. This may not be far from the truth, although the former prime minister claims independence from all factions.
But even though the former prime minister Shafiq is closely identified with Mubarak and the military council ruling Egypt, the vast silent majority of Egyptians are tired of the protests and unrest. Seeing Tahrir Square fill up again may be playing directly into Shafiq’s hands. His major argument has been that only he is capable of restoring social peace, getting the economy moving again, while at the same time, staying true to the principles of the revolution.
Not surprisingly, this plays very well with many ordinary Egyptians. Speaking of the verdict, the owner of a small leather factory, Oudo Hassan, said that Egyptians should respect the rule of law. “We should move on, and look after our own interests,” he said. Whether this translates into support for Mr. Shafiq remains to be seen. But to help the process along, Shafiq held a news conference on Sunday where he raised the specter of the Muslim Brotherhood monopolizing power and bringing Egypt back “to the dark ages”:
“I represent the civil state,” Shafiq told a news conference. “The Brotherhood represents darkness and secrecy. No one knows who they are or what they are doing. I represent dialogue and tolerance.”
“They want to monopolize power,” he said. “They don’t want to take us 30 years back, but all the way back to the dark ages.”
Shafiq also accused Morsi and the Brotherhood of wanting to move the capital of Egypt to East Jerusalem, apparently a reference to the Islamists’ long standing goal of restoring the caliphate. Morsi, of course, has said no such thing but it is an indication of how increasingly bitter the campaign is becoming.
In fact, prior to the Mubarak verdict, a backlash of sorts had been building against the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to dominate politics in parliament and in the street. Shafiq’s charge that the Brotherhood would “monopolize power” falls on fertile political ground as the Islamists have been overbearing in their exercise of their parliamentary mandate. And raising the prospect of sharia law being implemented could also bear fruit at the polls. It is a reminder — if any is really needed — of the ultimate goal of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafist allies.
So both candidates carry a lot of baggage into the runoff election with the Mubarak verdicts stirring the political pot in ways that won’t be known until after the election. Can people put aside their distrust of Ahmed Shafiq? Or will they vote for him because they fear the Brotherhood’s political/religious agenda? And can Mohamed Morsi lay those fears to rest while tying Shafiq to the Mubarak verdicts and the ancien regime?
Both candidates have their work cut out for them between now and the election.
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