Friday, 25 May 2012
By TOM PERRY
When he joined the race for Egypt’s presidency just five weeks ago, Mohammed Mursi was mocked as the Muslim Brotherhood’s uncharismatic “spare tyre” after its first-choice candidate was disqualified.
But the 60-year-old engineer came first in the opening round, according to a Brotherhood tally after most votes were counted, thanks to a campaign that showed off the unequalled political muscle of Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement.
The run-off on June 16 and 17 with second-placed Ahmed Shafiq, who served as deposed leader Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, gives Egyptians a stark choice between a military man linked to the past and an Islamist whose conservative message appeals to some and alarms others in this nation of 82 million.
A Brotherhood official said that with votes counted from about 12,800 of the roughly 13,100 polling stations, Mursi had 25 percent, Shafiq 23 percent, a rival Islamist Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh 20 percent and leftist Hamdeen Sabahi 19 percent.
Calling himself the only authentic Islamist in the race, Mursi has targeted devout voters whose support helped the Brotherhood and the ultra-orthodox Salafi Islamist movement to secure 70 percent of parliament seats earlier this year.
He has promised to implement Islamic sharia during rallies peppered with references to the Quran, God and the Prophet Mohammed and occasionally interrupted by pauses for mass prayer.
But he has seldom spelt out what that would mean for Egypt, where piety runs deep and the constitution already defines the principles of Islamic law (Sharia) as the main source of legislation.
Mursi has called for a review of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, saying Egypt’s neighbour has not respected the agreement, a line mirroring that of most of the other candidates in the race. The group has said it will not tear up the deal.
“We will take a serious step towards a better future, God willing,” Mursi said at his final campaign rally on Sunday, promising to combat any corrupt hangers-on from Mubarak’s era.
“If they take a step to take us backwards, to forge the will (of the people) and fiddle with security, we know who they are,” he said. “We will throw them in the rubbish bin of history.”
Mursi has cast himself as a reluctant latecomer to the election who is running for the sake of the nation and God.
Emphasis on Sharia
A stocky, bespectacled man with a grey-white beard, Mursi has traveled across Egypt promoting the Brotherhood’s “renaissance project” – an 80-page manifesto based on what it terms its “centrist understanding” of Islam.
His success has dismayed non-Islamists, not least Christians who make up about a tenth of the population, unconvinced by promises that freedoms will be safe in a Brotherhood-led Egypt.
“It was for the sake of the Islamic sharia that men were … thrown into prison. Their blood and existence rests on our shoulders now,” Mursi said during one campaign rally.
“We will work together to realise their dream of implementing Sharia,” said the Brotherhood contender, who himself spent time in jail under Mubarak.
Mursi, who obtained his doctorate from the United States, is a long-serving, influential figure in the Brotherhood, a movement outlawed under Mubarak but which won close to half of the seats in parliamentary elections held after his overthrow.