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In Egypt, candidates refine their images for runoff election

Presidential contenders pitch themselves as guardians of the revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. One asks for a recount of last week's vote.

May 27, 2012|By Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan, Los Angeles Times
  • Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, left, and Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi are trying to broaden their appeal for next month's presidential runoff.
Former Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, left, and Muslim Brotherhood… (Khalil Hamra and Nasser…)

CAIRO — Egypt's presidential candidates were busy Saturday polishing sound bites and stretching the facts a bit as they re-marketed themselves as guardians of the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak and led to the nation's first free election for a leader in history.

The campaigns of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik sought to broaden their appeal before their runoff election next month. Neither man is regarded as epitomizing the spirit of the revolution — Shafik was prime minister during the deadly crackdowns on protesters days before Mubarak fell last year — but politics is often about image readjustment.

The battle to enlist new voters came a day after independent ballot counts showed that Morsi had finished first in last week's first-round presidential race with 26% of the vote, followed by Shafik with 23%. Leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi and liberal Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh finished third and fourth, respectively.

Sabahi, who lost to Shafik by a reported 700,000 votes, has asked for a partial recount, claiming election violations. Official results are expected in a few days, but the new race is on.

"I pledge to every Egyptian that there will be no turning back and no re-creation of the old regime," Shafik said at a news conference. "Egypt has changed, and there will be no turning back the clock. We have had a glorious revolution. I pay tribute to this glorious revolution and pledge to be faithful to its call for justice and freedom."

During his campaign, Shafik disparaged protesters and promised that if he is elected, he will cut off power to Cairo's Tahrir Square to prevent further demonstrations. Such law-and-order rhetoric captivated his base, but the retired general and onetime fighter pilot, whose strong showing stunned the country, is maneuvering to reach a wider audience, including bewildered liberals and leftists.

"The revolution has been hijacked from young groups that ignited it," he said, adding that he will consult with revolutionary groups if he is elected.

Morsi's campaign did its best to invoke the revolution too. The Brotherhood, which controls nearly 50% of the parliament, was late to the revolt and has since been criticized by activists as being more politically opportunistic than patriotic. The Brotherhood — one can almost hear a trill of ominous violins — has characterized Shafik as a Darth Vader-like holdover from the Mubarak era.

"Attempts are currently underway to return the ousted Mubarak regime to power. … The people will not allow this to pass," said Essam Erian, vice president of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party.

Morsi and the Brotherhood urged unity against Shafik and tried to draw support from other camps. Aboul Fotouh, who broke away from the Brotherhood last year to run a consensus campaign, called on disparate political forces to rise above their differences and stand against symbols of Mubarak's regime.

Shafik has repeatedly warned that a Morsi presidency would give Islamists sway over both branches of government to expand sharia law across public policy. He is attempting to capitalize on the rift between the Brotherhood and secular and liberal political forces, which escalated after the Islamists' gained control of the parliament and liberals complained that the Brotherhood was excluding secularists and Coptic Christians from decision-making.

The runoff is scheduled for June 16-17.

Hassan is a news assistant in The Times' Cairo bureau.

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