Egypt’s Presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood sharpened their attacks on one another, just five days before the start of a run-off vote that will select Egypt’s first freely elected president.
Egyptian voters find themselves caught between two fires: either having to choose between a candidate who might turn the country into an Islamist state; or another who belong to the ousted regime. For Egyptians, both choices are bitter.
Shafiq on Sunday accused his opponent’s party, Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) of orchestrating an attack on his campaign offices, as the contest that has divided the nation took a bitter new turn.
The run-off on June 16 and 17 is the last stage in Egypt’s first free presidential election and pits Shafiq -- last prime minister during the rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak -- against the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi.
Shafik, a former air force commander, on Sunday said the Brotherhood had hired thugs to carry out a raid on his headquarters in Cairo last month, when attackers set fire to storage rooms and smashed computers, Reuters reported.
The Brotherhood, in turn, accused Shafiq of “huge lies” and said he did nothing in the last days of former President Mubarak’s rule to stop a notorious camel charge on protesters.
For those Egyptian voters who opted for centrists in the vote’s first round last month, neither candidate is particularly palatable.
Some now say they will not vote in the decider, a crucial step before the army formally hands power to a new president by July 1 in the Arab world’s most populous state.
Many have watched with frustration since last year’s revolt which ousted Mubarak at what they see as a shift back to familiar battle lines between a man they see backing Mubarak’s system and the Brotherhood, which the former president banned.
Mubarak, 84, jailed for life this month for failing to stop the killing of protesters who rose up against him, still looms large as rumors abound about his failing health.
Shafik on Sunday held a news conference in a five-star hotel on the outskirts of Cairo where he has made most public appearances since the raid on his headquarters.
“They (the Brotherhood) are insisting on using dirty methods,” he said. He also said he had complained to the election committee that mosques had been used by the group to spread their message.
The Brotherhood said in a statement Shafiq had “resorted to dark campaigning tactics with the fabrication of huge lies.”
The Brotherhood has sought to portray Shafiq as a throwback to the era of Mubarak, a man Shafiq has described as a role model and who he served as a minister for about a decade before being appointed premier in the last days of his rule.
Days before Mubarak was driven out in February 2011, camels and horses charged demonstrators in Cairo in images that were seen round the world and which activists regarded as a last-ditch attempt to crush the protests.
The Brotherhood said Shafiq was “one of the symbols” of Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party, which is accused of ordering the charge. “He did not take any measures to prevent them or stop them” from charging, the statement said.
Shafiq is expected to testify in court on Monday in a case about the incident. In a recent television interview, he accused the Brotherhood of inciting violence against anti-Mubarak protesters whom he said they opposed.
Mursi has described himself as a revolutionary but he has made limited progress in gaining support from centrist candidates, even though the main losers in the first round have denounced Shafiq’s bid for the presidency.
Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member who came fourth in the first round behind Mursi, Shafiq and leftist Hamdeen Sabbahi, offered Mursi guarded support.
An aide said Abul Fotouh wanted voters to back the Brotherhood candidate, but still emphasized his political differences.
Despite opposing Shafiq, Sabbahi has not said he backs Mursi, however he called his considerable support base to boycott the run-off.
Protesters have over the past week gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the center of the anti-Mubarak revolt, to demonstrate against Shafiq whom they call the “feloul” or “remnant” of Mubarak’s regime. But many also oppose Mursi.
Activists have also protested at the court ruling against Mubarak. While the former president was jailed for life, he was spared the gallows and six senior security officials were acquitted for lack of evidence. Many people fear Mubarak could get out on appeal.
Since Mubarak was jailed on June 2, there has been increased speculation about his health.
The state news agency said his wife Suzanne and the wives of his two sons visited him on Sunday in the hospital at Cairo’s Tora prison after the “continuing deterioration of his state of health.” Mubarak’s sons are detained pending trial.
With only 46 per cent of registered voters having cast ballots in the first round of Egypt’s presidential poll, it remains unclear how many will vote in the run-off. Some experts believe that voter turnout for the presidential showdown will be even lower than it was for the first-round vote. Turnout for parliamentary polls late last year stood at 54 percent.
Many Egyptian voters feel caught between fears of an Islamic state under the Muslim Brotherhood and a reconstituted Mubarak regime under Shafiq, Said Sadeq, a political sociology professor, was quoted by the online edition of Egypt’s state-run al-Ahram daily as saying.
“Much of the voting public is unhappy about having to choose between the Brotherhood – about which they have reservations due to the groups’ stance on certain civil liberties issues – and a figure closely associated with the deposed Mubarak regime,” Sadeq said. “They see the choice as one between a religious state and a military regime.”
“If the Brotherhood’s Mursi becomes the next president, what guarantees do we have that Egypt won't become an Iran-style theocracy?” he went on to ask. “And similar worries are posed by Shafiq, who many fear may crack down on Egypt’s nascent revolutionary movements and, like his predecessor, crush political dissent.”
“In the absence of a constitution, people still don’t know the extent of the president's authority,” Sadeq told al-Ahram Online. “Why would they feel moved to vote for a president whose powers remain unclear?”
It’s difficult for would-be voters to focus on electoral politics “when they’re already stressed out from dealing with all these serious economic and security-related problems,” said Sadeq.
(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)