Egypt's Brotherhood pins hopes on presidency

Associated Press Modified: June 15, 2012 at 3:01 pm •  Published: June 15, 2012
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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood pinned its hopes Friday on weekend elections to salvage its waning political fortunes, responding to a court order dissolving its power base in parliament by urging voters to support the Islamist group's candidate for president.

The runoff vote set for Saturday and Sunday pits Ahmed Shafiq, a military-rooted strongman promising a firm hand to ensure stability, against Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi.

The Islamist movement has seen its fortunes rise and fall dramatically in the 16 months since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. Repressed under the old regime, it rose to become the strongest political force in parliament after elections that started in November only to lose that power when the legislature was dissolved by court order on Thursday.

The Brotherhood is now hoping to salvage its position by portraying itself as the last bulwark against the ousted president's loyalists bent on a comeback.

"Isolate the representative of the former regime through the ballot box," a Brotherhood statement said on Friday, referring to Shafiq. It was published just before the noon deadline to end campaigning.

Some activists took to Cairo's main squares to protest the court ruling. Morsi said in a Thursday news conference the Brothers would focus on the vote instead. "We are going to the ballot boxes to say 'no' to the losers, the killers, the criminals," he said, referring to Mubarak-era officials.

At the same time the Brotherhood made overtures to the country's military council — widely perceived as favoring ex-air force commander Shafiq. Morsi gave assurances that he would work closely with the country's military rulers and keep the interests of the armed forces at heart.

"As president, they will be in my heart and will get my attention. ... They will never do anything to harm the nation," he said Thursday.

The Brotherhood is reeling after the ruling from the Supreme Constitutional Court that dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament, where its party held the most seats. The court found the law governing parliamentary elections was unconstitutional as it allowed party members to contest a third of the seats set aside for independents.

The court also threw out legislation that would have banned Shafiq as a senior former Mubarak official from running.

Last year's parliamentary elections were seen as Egypt's first democratic balloting in generations. Thursday's court decision erased their outcome and left the country without a legislature.

The Brotherhood said that that progress made since Mubarak was ousted was being "wiped out and overturned." The country is facing a situation that is "even more dangerous than that in the final days of Mubarak's rule."

Shafiq, in his final days of campaigning, has played on fears that the Brotherhood would try to impose a hardline version of Islamic law and curb the rights of women and Christians.

"We want a parliament that realistically represents all segments of the Egyptian people and a civil state whose borders and legitimacy are protected by our valiant armed forces," he said Thursday, visibly energized by the court's rulings.

It is unclear how the dissolution of parliament will affect the race. It could bolster the Brotherhood's Morsi, who now represents for many the only option to challenge decades of military power.

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