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Egypt Vigilante Justice Shows Law Breakdown Shaping Vote

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Former Mubarak Aide Ahmed Shafik
Ahmed Shafik, a former air force officer widely seen as the army’s preferred candidate, has campaigned on the need to restore law and order. Photographer: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

June 14 (Bloomberg) -- When he saw two youths abducting a young girl on a busy Cairo street while passers-by just watched, Zakariya Serageddin said he had no choice but to take the law into his own hands.

After he and other men captured the two assailants, they tied them to a tree, coating their bodies with syrup to attract ants. For Serageddin, a 33-year-old carpenter, the episode two months ago was emblematic of what has befallen Egypt since the uprising against Hosni Mubarak last year.

“The only ones who benefited from this revolution are the criminals,” he said, shaking his head.

The breakdown of security has shaped the contest to succeed Mubarak. Fear of crime, along with suspicion about the intention of Islamists who dominate the parliament, helped propel Ahmed Shafik, a former Mubarak aide running on pledges to restore law and order, into the two-man run-off vote on June 16 and 17. He will compete against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi.

That choice between political Islam and a figure from the old regime has failed to satisfy many Egyptians. Many are refusing to vote because, as Serageddin puts it, “neither one is really interested in the problems here.” Protests and calls for a boycott of the vote have spread, undermining the election that was supposed to complete Egypt’s transition to civilian rule and offer an opportunity to revive its moribund economy.

‘Egyptian Street’

“Investors continue to have concerns about how the Egyptian street will take the election results,” said Raza Agha, a London-based economist at Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc. More important than who wins next week is “political stability, a prudent policy agenda, and one that preferably involves an IMF program,” he said.

Talks with the International Monetary Fund on a $3.2 billion loan are on hold. Officials say the money is crucial to reassure other donors and plug what the IMF says is the Middle East’s largest budget gap. Borrowing costs are near record highs, with the government paying about 16 percent on one-year debt, and the benchmark stock index has slumped 11 percent since the first round of voting ended May 24.

The military council that has run Egypt since Mubarak’s fall says it will hand over power this month. Aware that a boycott could delegitimize the vote, the ruling generals have joined the Brotherhood in urging Egyptians to cast ballots.

It’s “very understandable” that Egyptians like Serageddin feel alienated from the electoral process, and the generals are mostly to blame, said Shadi Hamid, head of research at Brookings Doha Center.

‘Divide and Conquer’

The army council has “played divide and conquer,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s pitted one Egyptian party against the other and has created a climate of paranoia, conspiracy theories and endless accusations.”

Shafik, a former air force officer widely seen as the army’s preferred candidate, has campaigned on the need to restore law and order. While statistics on crime haven’t been made publicly available, newspapers are filled with reports of assaults, robberies, car-jackings and attempted rapes. Shafik also plays on the fear of a religious takeover among some Egyptians, promising to keep the state secular.

Mursi, who heads the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the largest group in parliament, casts himself as the revolutionary candidate. He won backing from the April 6 youth movement, one of the key forces in the January 2011 uprising against Mubarak. The group, which has frequently criticized the Brotherhood, said on June 12 it would put aside those differences to endorse Mursi because “the choice now is between the revolution and the old regime.”

‘All These Sacrifices’

To allay concern about Islamist dominance, Mursi has promised to include youth activists, women’s groups and the Coptic Christian minority in his administration, even hinting he could appoint a Christian vice president.

Mursi and Shafik won about half the first-round vote between them, and as the most divisive figures in that contest they are struggling to win over supporters of other candidates. Mary Daniel, who voted for secular socialist Hamdeen Sabahi, said she’ll sit out the second round.

“Did we have a revolution and make all these sacrifices to end up with Shafik and Mursi,” said Daniel, wearing a pendant with a picture of her brother, who died last October in clashes between security forces and protesters. “Shafik is responsible for the killings” of demonstrators last year, while the Brotherhood has sold out for “political gains,” she said.

‘Utter Confusion’

Adding to the confusion surrounding the election is uncertainty over what powers the winner will exercise. Efforts by legislators to select a committee to draft the new constitution, which will define the roles of the president and parliament, have been held up as secular groups quit the body, saying Islamists are seeking to dominate it.

One potential risk to the vote was removed today when the Constitutional Court overturned a law that would have barred senior Mubarak-era officials from holding top government posts. A ruling that the law was valid could have thrown Shafik’s participation in the election into doubt, since he served as premier in the last weeks of Mubarak’s rule.

Whether Shafik or Mursi wins, there is little prospect of stability anytime soon, said Hani Sabra, an analyst at the New York-based Eurasia Group, which monitors political risk for investors.

“You need to have a situation where all the political powers feel they have a stake,” he said. “It’s utter confusion at this point.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Tarek El-Tablawy in Cairo at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

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