x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Egypt presidential candidates begin coalition-building

Preliminary results show that the top two vote-getters out of 12 were the Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq, a holdover from the regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

CAIRO // The apparent winners of the first round of Egypt's first free presidential election, one from the Muslim Brotherhood and one Hosni Mubarak's last premier, were reaching out to the losing candidates on Saturday ahead of a June run-off.

Final votes were still being counted, but unofficial results suggested that the top two vote-getters out of 12 candidates were the Brotherhood's Mohammed Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq, a holdover from the regime of ousted president Mubarak.

On Friday night, the Brotherhood said it was seeking to create a coalition of forces to challenge Shafiq, reaching out to Mursi's former rivals, including Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, who left the organisation to run for president.

The Brotherhood was reportedly seeking a meeting with rivals on Saturday afternoon, though it was not initially clear who might attend.

"We call on all sincere political and national forces to unite to protect the revolution and to achieve the pledges we took before our great nation," the Brotherhood said.

"The slogan now is: 'the nation is in danger,'" Essam al-Erian, the deputy head of the Brotherhood's political arm, told AFP.

Shafiq too said he would seek broad support from former rivals, calling on each of his competitors by name to join him.

"I reach out to all the partners and I pledge that we would all work together for the good of Egypt," he told a press conference on Saturday.

Addressing the youth that spearheaded the 2011 revolt, he said: "your revolution has been hijacked and I am committed to bringing (it) back," in an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which already controls parliament.

"I pledge now, to all Egyptians, we shall start a new era. There is no going back."

A Shafiq-Mursi run-off looks likely further polarise a nation that rose up against the authoritarian Mubarak 15 months ago but has since suffered endemic violence and a declining economy.

The contest presents a difficult choice for activists who led the revolt against Mubarak. For them, choosing Shafiq would be to admit the revolution had failed, but a vote for Mursi would threaten the very freedoms they fought for.

Prominent activist and blogger Omar Kamel wrote: "Do we deliver Egypt to a representative of the old regime, as though nothing had happened, no revolution had taken place, or do we satisfy the (Brotherhood)'s greed for power, and give them all but complete control of the country and risk the fate of the revolution to satisfy their ambitions?"

Independent analyst Hisham Kassem said the situation "is one of the most difficult political situations that Egypt has ever known."

"We face the risk of maintaining the Mubarak regime, or Islamising the country," he told AFP.

Independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm said: "The moment of truth. Post-revolution Egypt chooses between the Brotherhood and the General," a reference to Shafiq's days in the air force.

The electoral commission is expected to declare the official results on Tuesday, but tallies provided by the official MENA news agency and Al-Ahram newspaper showed Mursi in first place and Shafiq in second.

And Erian said Friday it was "completely clear" that Mursi and Shafiq had topped the presidential vote and would compete in the June 16-17 run-off.

He said Mursi had won 25.3 percent of the vote and Shafiq 24 percent, with pan-Arab socialist Hamdeen Sabahi at 22 percent.

Both Mursi and Shafiq had been written off as long shots just weeks before the historic election in which the country freely voted for the first time to elect a president after Mubarak's ouster in a democratic uprising.

And Shafiq's success appeared to have shaken the influential Islamist movement, which won parliamentary and senate elections held last winter.

The election, which saw 50 million eligible voters given the chance to choose, was hailed by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who congratulated Egypt on its "historic" presidential election and said Washington was ready to work with a new government in Cairo.

Electoral commission officials said turnout was around 50 percent over the two days of voting.

The election follows a tumultuous military-led transition from autocratic rule marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed free parliamentary elections.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in power since Mubarak's ouster, has vowed to restore civilian rule by the end of June, after a president is elected, but many fear its withdrawal from politics will be just an illusion.