Brotherhood shows political clout ahead of Egyptian vote
CAIRO AS election rallies go it was spectacular. No organisation in Egypt is better at mobilising the masses than the Muslim Brotherhood - or at stirring up the frenzy that suggests to all observant Muslims it is almost a duty to vote for its candidate in the country’s first free presidential election this week.
The vote on Wednesday and Thursday will give Egyptians their first real opportunity to decide who and what should replace the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, overthrown in February last year.
For Egypt’s 50 million voters, the choice is a tough one: do they want a republic governed by Islamic Sharia law, a liberal state, or even a guided democracy with the military as guarantor, wielding power behind the throne? Egyptians have relished their newly won rights, tuning in to an unprecedented television debate, packing into campaign rallies and discussing politics on every street corner. It will be the first time in history that ordinary Egyptians, ruled by pharaohs, kings and military officers, will pick their leader.
Yet, whatever the outcome and whether or not the Brotherhood’s man wins, the group that inspired Islamists around the globe and which dominates parliament will remain a powerful force alongside the army, which has ruled for decades and shows no imminent sign of retreating quietly to barracks.
The result looks wide open and there may well be a second round run-off in mid- June. But those who witnessed the Islamic revivalism of its closing rallies in the heart of Cairo and 24 other provinces on Sunday were left in no doubt about the Brotherhood’s political reach, as well as its determination to secure the top post in the Arab world’s most populous nation.
In the square outside Abdeen Palace - where Mubarak and rulers going back to King Farouk would receive world leaders - the Brotherhood bussed in thousands to cheer for its lacklustre candidate, Mohamed Mursi, who took the stage amid flames, fireworks and frenzy whipped up by youths in white T-shirts and red headbands.
Mursi, 60, a US-educated engineer and experienced parliamentarian, was pitched into the race as the Brotherhood’s reserve candidate when its first choice, the group’s paymaster Khairat al Shater, was disqualified by an army-appointed electoral commission over an unresolved conviction.
But, with famous footballers rubbing shoulders with prominent Islamist clerics on stage, the Brothers tried to turn this setback into a virtue, likening the uninspiring Mursi to the substitute brought on to win the game in the final moments.
“In any match there is the reserve who plays in the last 10 minutes, scores the goal and wins the match. Mursi is our reserve player,” said preacher Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud as the Brotherhood’s elderly leaders stood on the podium in dark suits and ties in front of the cheering crowd.