May 26 2012
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WSJ(5/26) Election Sharpens Divide in Egypt
Saturday, May 26, 2012
(From THE WALL STREET JOURNAL)
By Matt Bradley and Charles Levinson
CAIRO -- The presidential election here appeared Friday to be headed for a runoff between a former military commander and an Islamist leader, a duel that would pit polarizing candidates representing the country's two most powerful organizations.
Early ballot counts -- though unofficial and impossible to verify -- suggested Ahmed Shafiq, a 70-year-old former air force general who briefly served as prime minister under President Hosni Mubarak, would land in second place to face off against Mohammed Morsi, 60, of the Muslim Brotherhood, which for decades has been the most powerful Egyptian organization outside the regime.
The unofficial results, however, suggested secular leftist Hamdeen Sabahi could overtake Mr. Shafiq when official results are announced next week.
The final round is set for June 16-17, two weeks before Egypt's interim military rulers have promised to hand over power to civilians.
Moderate Egyptians whose vote was split among several candidates in the first round now could find themselves kingmakers caught between two candidates they loathe.
Many Egyptians who backed the uprising that ousted Mr. Mubarak last year feared they were seeing the final blow to their revolutionary aspirations.
"We have a feeling that the revolution is getting defeated as every day passes," said Shadi Al Ghazali Harb, a leader in the Revolutionary Youth Coalition, a loose grouping of activists.
"Sometimes we were defeated by the Islamists, now we're defeated by the old regime."
Mr. Harb said that while some of the revolutionary youth have decided to boycott the runoff, his group has decided it would back Mr. Morsi -- a candidate they regard as more revolutionary than Mr. Shafiq, who served briefly as prime minister after being appointed by Mr. Mubarak during his final days in office.
The Muslim Brotherhood, compiling results from ballot counts reported by poll monitors, reported late Friday that Messrs. Morsi and Shafiq each won about 25% of the vote, with Mr. Sabahi following at 20%.
Al Ahram also gave Mr. Morsi around 25%, with Mr. Shafiq 1.5 percentage points behind and Mr. Sabahi trailing two points behind him.
Messrs. Shafiq and Morsi were both considered long-shot contenders just a few weeks ago. But both enjoy the backing of powerful political machines. In the case of Mr. Shafiq, it is the old infrastructure of the former ruling party, while for Mr. Morsi, it is the Muslim Brotherhood's politically seasoned national organization, which won a plurality in parliamentary elections earlier this year.
The robust campaign of Mr. Sabahi, the leader of the leftist Dignity Party, was among the most surprising results of the week's race. Mr. Sabahi barely figured in the top five candidates in polls taken two weeks ago. Reports of his strong showing appeared to reflect an abiding public affinity for the kind of left-leaning, centralized economic policies that Egypt largely abandoned through a series of reforms over the past 20 years.
The lingering possibility that he could seize a place in the runoff appeared to be a result of support from voters who wanted neither an ex-regime member nor an Islamist.
The two candidates who enjoyed the most support during the early days of the race -- Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former Brotherhood reformist leader, and Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and head of the Arab League -- appeared in the to have finished in fourth and fifth places, respectively.
Both the Brotherhood and Al Ahram counted around 17% of the vote for Mr. Aboul Fotouh and 11% for Mr. Moussa, in their early, unofficial forecasts.
Their campaigns lost considerable steam in the final days before the race.
Despite their high profiles, both lacked the political machines that appeared to play decisive roles in this week's contest.
None of three apparent front-runners participated in a televised debate two weeks ago that was the first of its kind in the Arab world.
Mr. Shafiq's campaign benefited from the support of powerful families in Egypt's rural governorates that long backed Mr. Mubarak's ruling party and dominate local politics, according to Hisham Kassem, a newspaper publisher and political analyst.
He styled himself as a can-do operator with a firm hand, capitalizing on a wave of discontent with Egypt's troubled economy and increased crime.
He also refused to apologize for a 2010 interview in which he described Mr. Mubarak as his role model. Some voters lobbed shoes and rocks at him when he went to vote Wednesday, a sign of potential instability ahead.
An Islamist lawmaker has already filed a complaint against him with Egypt's high election commission accusing him of breaking election rules by holding a news conference during voting on Wednesday. Mr. Shafiq's campaign said the conference didn't violate election rules.
Lara el Gibaly contributed to this article.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
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