The Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential nominee attempted to shore up his support in Egypt today by offering to open up senior political positions for Christians and promising not to impose Islamic dress codes for women.
The pledges, made during a speech by Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi, were coupled with a promise to protect the rights of pro-democracy protesters – many of whom believe the Islamic organisation betrayed Egypt’s uprising by refusing to endorse numerous rallies last year.
His speech came as Egyptians braced themselves for the prospect of further political unrest, with the nation awaiting Saturday’s verdict in the trial of former President Hosni Mubarak.
A pall of uncertainty has descended over the country following last week's presidential elections. Many activists expressed outrage over the unexpected success of Ahmed Shafik, Mr Mubarak’s hastily-appointed and short-lived Prime Minister last year.
In a sign of mounting unease, Mr Shafik’s campaign headquarters were torched by a mob late on Monday night following an official announcement confirming his second-place finish in last week’s elections. After arriving outside his west Cairo office, a group of young men lobbed bricks through the windows and tore up pictures of the former air force chief. Eight people were later arrested, though it was not immediately clear who was to blame.
The attack came after hundreds of protesters marched through the centre of the capital demanding that Mr Shafik be disqualified from next month’s presidential run-off.
The ex-fighter pilot is due to face Mr Morsi – the winner of last week’s first round vote – but Egypt’s parliament recently passed a bill preventing any person who served alongside Hosni Mubarak over the past ten years from running for President. The bill, if enacted, would torpedo Mr Shafik’s candidacy – but judges are not due to rule on its legitimacy until a few days before the June 16 run-off.
“We have carried out the revolution against the authoritarian regime, which was run by Hosni Mubarak,” said columnist Ibrahim Mansour, writing in yesterday’s anti-establishment Al-Tahrir newspaper. “And without doubt, Ahmed Shafik is a natural extension of Hosni Mubarak.”
His views sum up the feelings of many activists, who believe that the election of Mr Mubarak’s friend and one-time colleague would be a disastrous legacy for last year’s uprising.
With Hosni Mubarak’s sentencing rapidly approaching – in which a verdict perceived as being too lenient could trigger further unrest – the stage is set for yet more conflict.
“The way things are at the moment, I think it is turning into a situation where things might escalate,” said Egyptian journalist Amal al-Nakeeb.
Although youth groups have promised to descend on Egypt’s iconic Tahrir Square for more rallies this Friday, the relatively modest protests which have erupted so far have raised questions over the legitimacy of the revolutionary movement.
Last week millions of Egyptians cast their votes for the authoritarian Ahmed Shafik and former Mubarak minister Amr Moussa. It suggests there is now a great deal of ambivalence surrounding further challenges to Egypt’s still-popular military establishment.