Egypt Brotherhood’s Mursi Secures Salafi Group’s Support

Egypt's Former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik
Ahmed Shafik, who served as premier in the waning days of Mubarak’s administration. Photographer: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for the Egyptian presidency, Mohamed Mursi, won the support of one of the country’s most influential fundamentalist Islamic groups as he tries to make new alliances in a runoff campaign against Hosni Mubarak’s last premier.

Mursi, 60, secured the backing of the Dawa Salafiya, or Salafi Call, as third-place candidate Hamdeen Sabahi vowed to challenge initial results from the first round of voting on May 23 and 24 that narrowed the race to the two most divisive figures from an initial field of 13.

The apparent advance of Mursi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik, 70, has rattled the youth groups and other secularists who played key roles in the revolution that ousted Mubarak from the presidency in February 2011. Those groups are wary of both the Brotherhood and Shafik, a veteran politician they see as a member of the “feloul,” a remnant of the old regime. Egypt’s benchmark EGX30 index tumbled 2.2 percent today, poised for the biggest loss in seven weeks.

The Salafi Call said in a statement on the Salafi Nour Party’s Facebook page that it was throwing its weight behind Mursi in the June 16 and 17 second-round election to “support the Islamic project.” In its statement, the group called for “preserving the integrity of the election process for the country’s stability and to prevent chaos.”

In the first round, the Salafi Call had backed Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, who had tried to appeal to a range of voters, including secularists and Coptic Christians.

Political Differences

Mursi’s efforts to build alliances included hosting a meeting of political groups and other presidential candidates yesterday that failed to overcome their differences, according to the official Middle East News Agency. The groups were seeking additional assurances from the candidate that the Muslim Brotherhood won’t monopolize power, MENA and Al-Ahram said. Sabahi, Aboul-Fotouh and Amre Moussa, the former Arab League chief who finished a distant fifth in the race, didn’t attend or send representatives, MENA said.

Youssry Hamad, a Nour spokesman, said party officials expected to meet today with the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party. Nour wants to ensure the participation of Egypt’s various political forces “in running the country’s affairs without exclusions,” he said in a phone interview, and is working with others “to find solutions for the presidency portfolio.”

Sabahi said he won’t “enter into bargaining or negotiations” with the two candidates who will compete in the runoff election next month, the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper reported today.

Economic Slump

The closeness of the first-round result, with about 1 percentage point between Mursi and Shafik in unofficial preliminary tallies, reflects the polarization that has developed in Egypt since last year’s uprising. The hope for a new start that millions had harbored after pushing Mubarak from power has been overshadowed by an increase in crime and a sharp slump in the economy.

In their runoff campaigns, both Mursi and Shafik have sought to broaden their support by reaching out to supporters of candidates such as Sabahi and Aboul-Fotouh, who were favored by the revolutionary youth and independents.

“The revolution that you have ignited has been hijacked,” Shafik said in a televised news conference yesterday. The comments were directed at young people whose frequent protests have provided him with a platform to win over Egyptians weary of the disruption to their daily lives. Shafik pledged to restore the revolution’s “fruits” to the youth.

‘Equal Distance’

Preliminary figures show Mursi secured 24.8 percent of the vote against Shafik’s 23.9 percent, according to Al-Ahram. Others, including state-run MENA, put the candidates in the same order. Final results for the first round are due on May 29.

Mursi looked to allay concerns that his presidency would be tantamount to a monopolization of power by the FJP and, by extension, the Brotherhood. He said that as president, he would stand at an “equal distance from all,” MENA reported. Mursi said his vice presidential appointments would not necessarily come from the Brotherhood.

The election was billed as the freest and fairest Egypt has had, offering more than 50 million voters a choice of candidates after nearly 60 years of having the president drawn from the ranks of the military.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center provided observers for the election, said yesterday that the organization hadn’t been able to follow all stages of the vote. He cited “constraints” that he said he hoped would be removed in the future.

Turnout Is ‘Key’

Turnout was estimated at about 45 percent, according to preliminary results reported in several state-run and independent newspapers.

“The key to the second round is turnout, and the key to turnout is whether these guys can appeal to the messy coalitions that were behind the Sabahi and Aboul-Fotouh candidacies,” Jon Alterman, head of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said in a phone interview. “A lot will depend on whether Mursi and Shafik can extend beyond their bases and reassure others.”

Shafik had been ejected from the race after the Islamist-led parliament passed a law barring some former top Mubarak officials from running for office. He was reinstated after the law was sent to the constitutional court for a ruling.

His campaign centered on restoring law and order. He also argued that the Islamists were seeking to drag the country back to the past, a message that may resonate with secularists and minority Coptic Christians.

Military Rulers

The former air force pilot, however, is also seen as the favorite of the country’s military rulers, even as the generals have said they aren’t backing any candidate.

The military, once celebrated as heroes in the uprising, has come under fire for what critics maintain is their mismanagement of the country and heavy-handed response to some protests.

The Brotherhood has touted a social-justice platform laced with the promise of realigning Egypt with what it says are the nation’s Islamic roots.

Since the uprising, the economic situation has deteriorated. The central bank has spent almost 60 percent of Egypt’s international reserves. Borrowing costs have risen to record highs and the government has applied to the International Monetary Fund for a $3.2 billion loan. Talks with the fund are on hold until after the election.

Constitution Process

The Brotherhood has angered secularists and some youth groups after what critics said was an attempt to monopolize a now-stalled constitution-writing process. Others have criticized the Brotherhood for going back on its promise not to field candidates. Its first choice was booted from the race, leaving Mursi as the backup.

For many who voted for Sabahi and other candidates, such as Iman Soliman, an Arabic-language instructor at the American University in Cairo, the results left them at an impasse.

“I don’t want the Brotherhood’s candidate -- to have parliament and the presidency in the hands of one party would mean that we’ve achieved nothing,” Soliman said by phone. At the same time, “I don’t know how Shafik had the nerve to run, even after he had been rejected before.”

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