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CAIRO, Jun 16 2012 (IPS) - Egyptians are returning to the polls this weekend to choose between Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq, ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, in a hotly-contested presidential runoff.
“It’s impossible to predict a winner – even on the very eve of the vote – given the current political confusion and increasingly fast pace of political developments in Egypt,” Mohamed Sami, head of the leftist-nationalist Karama Party, told IPS.
A first-round presidential vote late last month, in which Egyptian voters chose from among 13 candidates, yielded unanticipated results. The Brotherhood’s Morsi came in first with 25 percent of the vote, while Shafiq – against all expectations – came in a close second with 24 percent.
On Saturday and Sunday, the two men are facing off in a contentious runoff vote. The winner – Egypt’s first freely-elected head of state – will be formally named on Jun. 21, after which Egypt’s ruling military council has promised to relinquish executive authority.
Morsi, who heads the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, has promised voters social justice, economic development and the gradual implementation of Islamic Law. In an effort to placate critics, he recently issued assurances that, should he be elected, the civil liberties to which Egyptians have become accustomed – including the touchy issue of female dress codes – would not be infringed upon.
“I’ll vote for Morsi because the Muslim Brotherhood has proven its commitment to Islamic principles,” said 29-year-old Brotherhood member Walid Rida. “These include fighting for social justice, combating corruption and promoting economic revival based on free-market principles.”
Outlawed under the former regime, the Muslim Brotherhood – which won almost half the seats in Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliament – represents Egypt’s most formidable and best-organised political force.
“The Brotherhood is renowned for its organisational capacities; its membership includes experts in every field,” said Rida. “It is the only force in the country with the capability and competence to achieve Egypt’s national revival after 30 years of autocracy and corruption.”
Shafiq, meanwhile, could not be more different than his presidential rival. A former head of the Egyptian Air Force and long-time civil aviation minister under Mubarak, he served as the ousted president’s last prime minister during the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising.
Shafiq, too, promises social justice and economic development, but the central pledge of his electoral campaign is to swiftly restore domestic security.
“I plan to vote for Shafiq because he promises to re-establish order and stability after a year and a half of post-revolution political volatility and rising crime rates, which have adversely impacted the day-to-day lives of most Egyptians,” said 55-year-old Cairo taxi driver Mohamed Ibrahim.
Ibrahim also pointed to Shafiq’s “impressive military background and experience,” with which, he believes, the former PM “will be well-equipped to defend Egypt from any external threats that could arise in the current period of regional turbulence.”
Nashaat Gabril, a 47-year-old tour guide, echoed these sentiments, stressing that – a year and a half after Mubarak’s ouster – most Egyptians pine for stability above all else.
“I’ll vote for Shafiq because I believe he’ll deliver on his promise to quickly restore order after months of incessant strikes, demonstrations and clashes,” said Gabril. “This would allow Egypt’s once-thriving tourism sector to get back on its feet – and allow us to find work again.”
Egypt’s sizable Coptic-Christian community, meanwhile, estimated at between eight and 15 percent of the national population, is widely expected to vote en masse for Shafiq.
“To us, Shafiq represents the last bastion against the rising tide of political Islam, which many of us view as a potential threat to our religious freedoms,” said Hanna Mikhail, a 35-year-old Coptic engineer from Cairo.
Shafiq supporters were cheered on Thursday Jun. 15, when the High Constitutional Court declared a ‘political disenfranchisement law’ – endorsed by Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament – to be unconstitutional. Had it been applied, the law, which aimed to bar Mubarak-era officials from holding high government office, would have seen Shafiq disqualified from the presidential race.
At a post-verdict press conference, Shafiq hailed the decision, declaring that, “The era of settling scores is over.”
Revolutionary groups, for their part, condemned the court ruling.
“This is just the latest in a long series of unjust court verdicts, including the acquittal earlier this month of police officers guilty of killing unarmed protesters during last year’s uprising – when Shafiq was prime minister,” said the Karama Party’s Sami.
Gamal Zahran, a former MP and a political science professor at Suez Canal University, described the court verdict as “entirely political.”
By issuing the verdict, Zahran told IPS, Egypt’s High Constitutional Court had “revealed its continued allegiance to the former regime, by which most of its judges were originally appointed.”
In hopes of pre-empting a Shafiq victory, some secular revolutionary groups have thrown their weight behind Morsi – despite having serious misgivings about the Brotherhood’s commitment to ensuring civil liberties.
“We have endorsed Morsi’s candidacy because a Shafiq presidency would mean the de facto return to Mubarak-era autocracy and corruption,” said Ahmed Maher, general coordinator of the April 6 youth movement, which played a prominent role in last year’s uprising.
“We’re supporting Morsi based on his promises to respect civil liberties and reactivate the economy,” Maher told IPS. “But if he and the Muslim Brotherhood fail to deliver on these promises, we’ll be the first to lead a new uprising against them.”
Worryingly, Thursday’s constitutional court decision was coupled with a second ruling, which declared the law governing last year’s legislative polls to be similarly unconstitutional. The decision is likely to result in the dissolution of Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament, throwing the country’s post-revolution political scene into further confusion.
“Whichever candidate wins the presidency, there’s little doubt that the coming period will be marked by a degree of political volatility unseen in Egypt’s recent history,” said Maher.
He added: “The victory of either candidate will certainly be met with another wave of mass demonstrations, especially if Shafiq – a symbol of the regime we just got rid of – wins the country’s highest office.”
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