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Egypt’s Islamist Candidate Woos Opposition, Christians

Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in Egypt’s run-off election for the Presidency, has made a series of pledges on women, Christians and how he will work with other political forces.

In a press conference Monday, contrasting himself with the ousted Mubarek regime, he said:

When I am president, the presidency will not be reduced to one person. The age of superman has failed and gone. The world is no longer like that. I am not like that.

He promised the Christians, who are 10% of Egypt’s population:

Our Christian brothers, let’s be clear, are national partners and have full rights like Muslims. They will be represented as advisers in the presidential institution, and maybe a vice president if possible.

He promised women, who say they are suffering increased harassment, no enforced dress code:

Women have a right to freely choose the attire that suits them.

He said he would form a “broad coalition” government, and that he would not necessarily choose a prime minister who was also a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi has to appeal to a broad coalition because the Muslim Brotherhood vote halved between the parliamentary and presidential elections.

According to Mohammed Ayoob, Professor of International Relations at Michigan State University, writing for CNN, the total Islamist vote in Egypt has declined to around 40% from over 70%. He puts this down to disenchantment with the Brotherhood’s parliamentary performance and deal-cutting with the ruling military council. Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer says that the Brotherhood was seen as “overly domineering, dishonest, or too preoccupied with imposing new restrictions on women — rather than focusing on the economy.” She points out that Egypt’s airwaves have been filled with former members complaining that the Brotherhood’s party is undemocratic.

Ayoob says that the left-wing nationalist Hamdeen Sabahy, who came third, won many formerly Brotherhood votes from the working class in Egypt’s cities.

It is clear that the Islamist forces are fractured and the Brotherhood’s base is shrinking, as the political playing field becomes increasingly level in a democratizing Egypt. There are indications that the Brotherhood is aware of its limitations, which has forced it to mellow considerably, sacrificing some of its ideological purity at the altar of political pragmatism.

If the leaders of the various trends of political opposition to the Mubarak regime demonstrate adequate wisdom and put together a governing coalition that includes no remnants of the old regime, Egypt’s democratic experiment could be securely launched on the road to maturity.

Morsi was mocked as the “spare” after the Brotherhood’s original candidate was disqualified and is famously boring. Twice imprisoned including during last year’s revolution, he is known to have strongly conservative religious views and ran security for the Brotherhood.

According to Mohammed Naeem of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egypt’s Christians will be wooed by Morsi’s opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, the last Prime Minister under Mubarek with fears of Islamist domination.

Shafiq was backed by the ruling military and, says Ayoob, only managed to come second because of voter intimidation of peasants and public sector workers. Both foreign observers and the Egyptian Presidential Election Commission have dismissed fraud allegations. Those allegations led protesters to set fire Monday to Shafiq’s HQ.

Naeem believes that many supporters of the candidates who did not go through, what he labelled the 40% ‘revolutionary vote’, may sit out the run off election. Many are already boycotting the process because the generals still rule. This will lead to even lower turnout, a delegitimized victor and a battle between the get-out-the-vote efforts.

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