The Muslim Brotherhood said on Friday its candidate in Egypt’s first free presidential vote would fight a run-off next month with ex-air force chief Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak.
This week’s first-round vote has polarized Egyptians between those determined to avoid handing the presidency back to a man from Mubarak’s era and those fearing a Brotherhood monopoly of ruling institutions. The run-off will be held on June 16 and 17.
The election marks a crucial step in a messy and often bloody transition to democracy, overseen by a military council that has pledged to hand power to a new president by July 1.
The second round threatens further turbulence. Opponents of Shafiq have vowed to take to the streets if he is elected. But to supporters, Shafiq’s military background offers reassurance that he can restore security, a major demand of the population 15 months after Mubarak’s ouster.
A victory for the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi 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 own freedoms and the fate of Egypt’s vital 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,” Mohamed Beltagy, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party, told Reuters.
If Mursi becomes president, Islamists will control most ruling institutions -- but not the military ---in Egypt, the most populous Arab nation, 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. Mursi vaguely advocates a “review” of the pact, but the Brotherhood says it will not tear it up. Shafiq has vowed to uphold it.
The bluntly-spoken military man came from behind in a race in which former Arab League chief Amr Moussa and ex-Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh were early favorites.
His late surge reflected the anxiety of many Egyptians about a breakdown of law and order and the often violent political disputes that have punctuated an army-led transition since a popular revolt ousted Mubarak on Feb. 11, 2011.
The Brotherhood announced early on Friday that the run-off would be between Shafiq and Mursi after almost all votes were counted. A member of Shafiq’s campaign also said Mursi and Shafiq were in the lead, but that counting was not complete.
Official results are not expected until Tuesday.
Aides to other candidates consistently put Mursi ahead but gave shifting tallies for second place through the night. Egypt will elect a president before rewriting a post-Mubarak constitution to define the powers of the head of state, parliament and other institutions. The army, bent on preserving its privileges and influence even after the promised handover, might want to curb the mandate of an Islamist president.
The Brotherhood’s Guidance Office, its top body, was meeting to mull a campaign “to galvanize Islamists and Egyptian voters to face the bloc of the ‘feloul’,” a Brotherhood official said, using a scornful Arabic term for “remnants” of Mubarak’s order.
The Brotherhood, Egypt’s most organized political group, has already secured the biggest bloc for its party in parliament after an earlier vote. Long repressed and banned under Mubarak, the 84-year-old Islamist group has a broad grassroots base.
Young Egyptian revolutionaries who helped topple Mubarak now face what they see as a dispiriting choice between a conservative Islamist and a hard-line member of the old guard.
“To choose between Shafiq or Mursi is like being asked do you want to commit suicide by being set on fire or jump in a shark tank,” Adel Abdel Ghafar wrote on Twitter, a networking tool used to devastating effect against Mubarak in the uprising.
Tareq Farouq, 34, a Cairo driver, said: “I’m in shock. How could this happen? The people don’t want Mursi or Shafiq. We’re sick of both. They are driving people back to Tahrir Square.” 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.
The Brotherhood may be riding high, but to win the run-off it will need to woo the votes of other candidates such as its old adherent Abol Fotouh, who took 20 percent of the vote on an inclusive platform, according to the Brotherhood’s count.
Two days of first-round voting went off calmly with polls closing on Thursday. Monitors reported no major infringements, although some candidates grumbled about their rivals’ conduct. The Brotherhood official, who asked not to be named, said that with votes counted from about 12,800 of the roughly 13,100 polling stations, Mursi had 25 percent, Shafiq 23 percent, Abol Fotouh 20 percent and leftist Hamdeen Sabahy 19 percent.