Egyptians Build Momentum to Push Shafik from Presidential Race

An Egyptian presidential hopeful who failed to qualify for a runoff vote will sue to halt the upcoming ballot, his spokeswoman said, as the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate teamed up with others for a mass rally to push a former premier out of the race.

The announcements, ahead of planned protests tomorrow, mark a further escalation of the crisis confronting Egypt as it struggles to transition to civilian rule. A June 2 court ruling that left ousted President Hosni Mubarak with a life sentence has enraged youth groups and others who believe it opens the door for his acquittal on appeal.

The rally tomorrow, which will bring together the Brotherhood and youth groups behind last year’s uprising against Mubarak, is also aimed at pushing his last premier, Ahmed Shafik, from a runoff vote in less than two weeks.

“We really feel that the revolution has been stolen from us,” Hoda Abdel-Baset, the media coordinator for the campaign of Hamdeen Sabahi, who came third in the earlier vote, said by phone. “There were violations that occurred in the first round and, based on that, we will file our suit tomorrow.”

“What we hope is that they listen to the voices of the people,” Abdel-Baset said, referring to calls by some groups to halt elections and put in place a temporary presidential council that would take over from the military. The Muslim Brotherhood has rejected the idea.

Third Contender

Sabahi came narrowly behind the two frontrunners in the May 23 and 24 race, in which the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi and Shafik, who briefly served as Mubarak’s last prime minister, advanced to a runoff vote scheduled to begin on June 16.

Sabahi and other candidates, including Islamist Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh and Khaled Ali, have decried the results that left the two most divisive contenders vying for the country’s top office. Mursi met with Sabahi and Aboul-Fotouh and they agreed to join forces to push Shafik from the race, Aboul-Fotouh’s campaign said in a statement on its Facebook page.

The agreement is an uneasy alliance. Mursi is accused by secularists of planning to impose Islamic law in the country, and Sabahi’s spokeswoman said the Brotherhood’s reversal on its earlier decision to not field a candidate has contributed to the lack of political clarity in the country.

At the same time, both groups have found common ground in their opposition to Shafik, who is seen by the revolutionary groups and the Brotherhood as seeking to reinvent Mubarak’s regime -- an accusation he has repeatedly denied.

Battered Economy

The unrest that has persisted for months and increased since the first round of the elections has battered the economy. The instability of the past 16 months has driven up Egypt’s domestic borrowing costs by about 50 percent, leaving the current government facing a fiscal crisis as debt servicing costs are slated to eat up about 25 percent of the coming fiscal year’s budget, Finance Minister Momtaz el-Saieed said in parliament today.

“Egypt faces a very critical phase on the economic front, and we must work with all resources to address the social demands” even as the government tackles a “difficult balance between what is possible and what is demanded,” el-Saieed said.

El-Saieed said that wages, debt servicing and subsidies are projected to consume about 79 percent of the 533.7 billion Egyptian pound ($88.4 billion) budget for fiscal year 2012-2013, which begins on 1 July.

Galvanizing outrage among the youth groups and the families of those killed in the January 2011 uprising was the acquittal on June 2 of six senior police officers who were tried alongside Mubarak, his two sons and his former security chief. While Mubarak and former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly received life sentences for failing to stop the killings, the officers were cleared of wrongdoing, with the judge citing a lack of evidence. That was interpreted by many as giving the ousted leader a legal basis for acquittal.

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