2012-05-29 16:34:51

Candidate's Office Attacked as Vote Polarizes Egypt

Flyers of Egyptian presidential candidate and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq are seen on the ground outside his campaign headquarters in Cairo May 28, 2012. A group of Egyptian protesters set fire to Shafiq's campaign headquarters in Cairo on Monday, the state news agency MENA reported, after the ex-prime minister made it into the second round of the vote. 

 An attack on the offices of one of the two finalists in Egypt's presidential race has sounded a warning that the last round of voting might spark more violence in a nation polarized by the choice between an Islamist and an ex-general from Hosni Mubarak's era.

Protesters set fire to storage rooms and smashed computers late on Monday at the campaign headquarters of Ahmed Shafiq, a 70-year-old former air force chief and premier under Mubarak, who was confirmed as a run-off candidate after the first round.

His rival is Mohamed Mursi, 60, of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's main Islamist group, which already controls the biggest bloc in parliament. Mursi offered concessions on Tuesday in a bid to win endorsements from rivals who lost the race last week.

Though he and Shafiq each took almost a quarter of votes cast, that leaves a big section of Egypt's 50 million eligible voters who are wary of having either a conservative Islamist or a former military man in charge. They face a wrenching decision in the run-off vote on June 16 and 17. Some say they won't vote.

"We either choose a politicized Islamic group which will crush civil liberties or the old regime," said lawyer Sherif El Hosseny, 34. "I am not sure whether I will even be voting."

Also grappling with the choice are the more secular-minded activists from the April 6 youth movement, which united protesters against Mubarak and his ruling party. For them, their revolution has been hijacked by Islamists and the old guard.

"The choice is between bad and worse, between a group that monopolizes religion and power or the return of (Mubarak's) party," said Mahmoud Afify, an April 6 spokesman, adding the group was talking to Mursi to see if it could win guarantees to back him.

Shafiq has made no secret of his admiration for Mubarak, describing him as a role model after his own father. Protesters threw stones and shoes at him when he voted in Cairo last week.

The attack on Shafiq's offices was the latest flare-up in a messy and often bloody transition to democracy since generals took over from Mubarak after an uprising forced him out on February 11, 2011. The army has pledged to hand over power by July.

Even before the first-round vote, revolutionaries who led the demonstrations that brought down Mubarak had promised to take to the streets if Shafiq progressed in the vote to become president of the Arab world's most populous nation.

"The situation in Egypt is in a critical and dangerous phase. We must work together so that the revolution isn't lost," Fareed Ismail, a senior figure in the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, told Reuters.

Yet any violence could help Shafiq's cause as his strongest card in the race is his promise swiftly to restore law and order, which collapsed after Mubarak's downfall. Many believe the army will back him to deliver on that promise.

The military insists it is neutral in the race.

Egypt

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