HomeNewsEgypt's Islamists join forces to challenge ex-PM

Egypt's Islamists join forces to challenge ex-PM


FAYOUM, Egypt – “We will stand before God to answer for this choice,” booms an Islamist cleric urging supporters of the hardline Nour Party to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in Egypt’s presidential election run-off.

The rally on a breezy summer night in Fayoum, a bastion of Islamist support 100 km south of Cairo, is an indication that Islamists of all colours are uniting against Ahmed Shafik, Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, in the Saturday-Sunday vote.

Egypt’s Islamist groups are divided by often bitter doctrinal and political differences, but appear to have set them aside to avoid an outcome that could threaten the dramatic political gains they have chalked up in the 16 months since Mubarak was deposed.

Addressing the Fayoum crowd of several hundred men, many of them with the long beards of Salafi Muslims, Sheikh Adel Nasr said now was the time not for party politics but for a higher goal: stopping Mubarak’s regime from reconstituting itself.

“Rally the people, rally the people, rally the people! Organise yourselves, so that this battle is won in favour of right and the people who represent it,” he said.

As well as the hardline Salafi parties, supporters of Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, the former Brotherhood politician knocked out of the vote in the first round, are also backing Morsy, who represents Egypt’s oldest and best organised Islamist group.

In Fayoum, Abol Fotouh’s former campaign headquarters has turned into a support centre for Morsy, who came first in Fayoum in the first round of voting.

The Gama’a al-Islamiya, a Salafi group that once carried arms against the state, handed out fliers with the same message.

“Our strength is in our unity,” declared the pamphlet.

Yet beyond the Islamist movement, that unity has been harder to detect, reflecting the suspicions between Islamists and other groups that have been a defining feature of the post-Mubarak era and are likely to remain so, regardless of the election outcome.

Morsy and Abol Fotouh together polled less than 42 percent in the first round of the election, on a turnout of 46 percent, and are competing with Shafik to pull in non-Islamist votes.

Shafik, a former air force commander, is in part relying on divisions among groups that want to draw a line under the Mubarak era to boost his share of the vote. His constituency includes Egyptians alarmed by the rise of the Brotherhood – a movement outlawed and demonised by the state for decades.


In his first round campaign, Morsy used Fayoum as a platform for rallying hardline support by pledging to work for the release of Omar Abdel Rahman, the Gama’a al-Islamiya spiritual leader jailed in the United States for plotting attacks in New York.

His run-off campaign aims to convince the Brotherhood’s critics in the secular reform movement and Egyptians at large that it can be trusted with power, and to address charges that it has tried to squeeze rivals out of political life.

On Wednesday he reiterated his pledge to form an inclusive administration comprising a coalition government and vice presidents from outside the Brotherhood.

His manifesto of 15 key promises also includes a vow to protect press freedom and women’s rights.

But despite that, he has won few open endorsements from liberal and leftist politicians who share the Brotherhood’s stated goal of democratic reform, and its deep aversion to electing one of Mubarak’s old lieutenants.

Hassan Nafaa, a political scientist who has been critical of the Brotherhood, said they “don’t want to open up or are cautious of opening up to the non-Islamists”.

One of the few non-Islamist movements to openly state its support for the Brotherhood is ‘April 6’ – the protest group whose online activism helped to ignite the anti-Mubarak revolt.

The Brotherhood has accused some of its non-Islamist rivals of political opportunism in demanding too much in return for their backing. One proposal required the Brotherhood promise to dissolve itself in return for an endorsement.

But the Brotherhood’s critics accuse it of repeating mistakes that have alienated other parts of the reform movement.

“They have taken a decision to lead the country on their own … at a time that should be not one of majorities but one of participation among all the parties to build the state and prevent any return of the old regime,” said Bassil Adel of the Free Egyptians party, a group with a liberal platform.

Liberal politician Ayman Nour said the Brotherhood had failed to build an alliance with non-Islamists, but added:

“The real alliance is that the national forces have united against Shafik, not with the Brotherhood.”

He declined to confirm that he would vote for Morsy.

The Brotherhood appears to have accepted that it cannot completely win over its critics, openly describing itself as the lesser of two evils.

“If what separates you from the Brotherhood is a political difference, then what separates you from the old regime is blood and corruption,” one pro-Morsy pamphlet declares.

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