Egyptians polarised by 'referendum on the revolution'


EGYPT’S MUSLIM Brotherhood yesterday declared its candidate in the country’s first free presidential vote, Mohamed Mursi, would fight a run-off next month with former air-force chief Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.

This week’s first-round vote has polarised Egyptians between those determined to avoid handing the presidency back to a man from Mubarak’s era and those fearing an Islamist monopoly of ruling institutions.

The run-off will be held on June 16th and 17th.

The election marks a crucial step in the transition to democracy and is overseen by a military council that has pledged to hand over power by July 1st.

The second round threatens further turbulence. Mr Shafiq’s opponents of have vowed to take to the streets if he is elected. But to supporters his military background offers reassurance that he can restore security, a major demand of the population 15 months after Mubarak’s removal.

A victory for the brotherhood’s Mursi, who was said yesterday to have taken 25 per cent of the vote to Mr Shafiq’s 23 per cent, could worsen tensions between resurgent Islamists and the powerful army, which sees itself as the guardian of the state.

Christians and secular liberals anxious about their freedoms and the fate of Egypt’s tourist industry will fret about a promised brotherhood push for Islamic law.

“Now Egyptians will have to choose between the revolution and the counter-revolution. The next vote will be equivalent to holding a referendum on the revolution,” said Mohamed Beltagy, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party.

If Mr Mursi becomes president, Islamists will control most ruling institutions – but not the military – consolidating electoral gains made by fellow Islamists in other Arab countries in the past year.

Israel has nervously watched the Islamist rise, especially in Egypt, its old enemy until a 1979 peace treaty. Mr Mursi vaguely advocates a review of the pact, but the brotherhood says it will not tear it up. Mr Shafiq has vowed to uphold it.

The military man’s late surge reflected the anxiety of many Egyptians about a breakdown of law and order since the popular revolt ousted Mubarak in February 2011.

Official results are not expected until Tuesday. Aides to other candidates consistently put Mr Mursi ahead, but gave shifting tallies for second place through the night.

Many Christians, who form about a tenth of Egypt’s 82 million people, complained of discrimination in Mubarak’s day but are likely to vote for Shafiq in preference to an Islamist.

The brotherhood will need to woo the votes of other candidates, such as its old adherent Abol Fotouh, if it is to win the run-off. Mr Fotouh took 20 per cent of the vote, according to the brotherhood’s count. – (Reuters)