Mubarak premier in final two for Egypt's presidency

Sat, May 26, 2012, 01:00

WHEN HE joined the race for Egypt’s presidency just five weeks ago, Mohamed Mursi (60) was mocked as the Muslim Brotherhood’s uncharismatic “spare tyre” after its first-choice candidate was disqualified.

However the engineer came first in the opening round, according to a Brotherhood tally after most votes were counted, thanks to a campaign that showed off the unequalled political muscle of Egypt’s oldest Islamist movement.

Calling himself the only authentic Islamist in the race, Mr Mursi has targeted devout voters whose support helped the Brotherhood and the ultra-orthodox Salafi Islamist movement secure 70 per cent of parliament seats earlier this year.

He has promised to implement Islamic Sharia during rallies peppered with references to the Koran, God and the Prophet Mohammad and occasionally interrupted by pauses for mass prayer. However he has seldom spelled out what that would mean for Egypt, where piety runs deep and the constitution already defines the principles of Islamic law as the main source of legislation.

Mr Mursi has called for a review of Cairo’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel, saying Egypt’s neighbour has not respected the agreement, a line mirroring that of most of the other candidates in the race. The group has said it will not tear up the deal.

“We will take a serious step towards a better future, God willing,” Mr Mursi said at his final campaign rally on Sunday, promising to combat any corrupt hangers-on from Mubarak’s era.

“If they take a step to take us backwards, to forge the will [of the people] and fiddle with security, we know who they are,” he said. “We will throw them in the rubbish bin of history.”

Mr Mursi has cast himself as a reluctant latecomer to the election who is running for the sake of the nation and God.

The prospect of Ahmed Shafiq succeeding Hosni Mubarak as president is a nightmare for revolutionaries and Islamists, but a security blanket for those wary of change. Mr Shafiq, who served briefly as Mubarak’s last premier, is a divisive military figure for some.

The bluff, straight-talking Mr Shafiq (70) came from behind in first-round voting this week. Many of his supporters come not from the political hotbed of Cairo and other cities, but from the countryside, where voter concerns about security and order tend to be strongest. His most staunch opponents are already threatening to take to the streets in protest if he becomes president.

Mr Shafiq has vowed to uphold Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. “I object to Israel’s current actions, but I am a man who honours past agreements.”

He says he has the military and political experience to lead Egypt into a new democratic era, yet his links to Mubarak have polarised voters. He sees himself as slotting into Egypt’s 60-year-old tradition of drawing presidents from the military.

“You cannot suddenly bring a civilian man with no relation or knowledge of military life and make him president and supreme commander of the armed forces,” Mr Shafiq said earlier this year, adding that he could ensure a “smooth transition”.

He makes no secret of his “good relations” with the defence minister and army chief, field marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, saying he consulted him before deciding whether to run. He did not disclose the advice offered.

Mr Shafiq has openly expressed his admiration for Mubarak, making no apologies for describing the former president as his role model. – (Reuters)