Former Egyptian prime minister and air force general Ahmed Shafiq, who is set to face a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in a presidential runoff, pledged on Saturday to “restore the revolution” and sought to reassure voters that he would not be restoring the old regime if he wins the presidency.
Addressing the youth that spearheaded the 2011 revolt, he said: “your revolution has been hijacked and I am committed to bringing (it) back,” he told a news conference, in an apparent reference to the Muslim Brotherhood that already controls parliament.
In the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood is reaching out to rivals including politicians knocked out of the presidential race in an attempt to rally support around its own candidate who faces a runoff against Shafiq.
Warning of “determined efforts to recreate the old regime,” the Brotherhood said parties that supported the uprising that swept Mubarak from power must unite “so that the revolution is not stolen from us.”
The Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi, beat the rest of the field in the first round of the election, with Shafiq a close second, according to an unofficial Brotherhood tally of the vote count. Official results are due out on Tuesday.
The outcome sets up a June 16-17 ballot box struggle between Shafiq, former air force chief, who has described Mubarak as a role model and Mursi, whose Islamist group the deposed leader dealt with mostly as an enemy of the state.
Egyptian media reaction
Several newspaper websites also put Mursi and Shafiq out in front after the voting on Wednesday and Thursday.
“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.
“Today we face desperate attempts to reproduce the old regime,” it added.
A Shafiq-Mursi run-off will further polarize a nation that rose up against the authoritarian Mubarak 15 months ago but has since suffered endemic violence and a declining economy.
The contest would present a difficult choice for activists who lead the revolt against Mubarak and who, for the most part, supported others among 12 people running.
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 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.
“We have complete numbers now. Complete, after adding expatriate votes,” said Essam al-Erian, the deputy head of the Brotherhood’s political arm.
Erian told a press conference 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.
Shafiq alarms the Islamists
Shafiq’s success appears to have shaken the influential Islamist movement, which won parliamentary and senate elections held last winter.
“The slogan now is: ‘the nation is in danger,’” Erian said, adding that Mursi was personally was calling losing candidates for a meeting on Saturday to ensure Shafiq does not win.
“The revolution is in danger, we need to have a democratic country; Shafiq is against democracy,” he told AFP after the press conference.
Another Brotherhood official told AFP that Mursi would personally call the movement’s bitter rival, Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader who ran independently of the movement.
A spokesman from Shafiq’s campaign, Karim Salem, denied that his candidate would represent a retreat from the goals of the uprising.
“No, (the Mubarak) era is finished; politics have changed. Egypt is entering democracy,” Salem said.
In Cairo, voters were thrilled by the free, contested election, whose results were not predetermined, but conceded that many challenges lay ahead.
“It’s our first year of democracy, like a baby that is still learning to crawl,” said Mustafa Abdo, a bank employee.
The election, which saw 50 million eligible voters given the chance to choose, was hailed by U.S. 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.
Contenders included former foreign minister and Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who touted his experience but was hammered for his ties to the old regime.
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.