Egyptians protest against election results; violence flares as Shafiq’s HQ torched


Protesters set fire Monday to the headquarters of Egypt’s presidential candidate and ex-premier Ahmed Shafiq after the election committee said he made it into a run-off vote with an Islamist rival.

The assailants set fire to an annex of Shafiq’s headquarters in Cairo hours after election officials announced that the holdover from Hosni Mubarak’s ousted regime will face the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Mursi in the second-round election.

A police official said eight suspects were arrested near the headquarters, a villa in the middle class Dokki neighborhood, AFP reported.

Some of the protesters returned to the iconic al-Tahrir Square and threw campaign leaflets taken from Shafiq’s headquarters on to the street. Many appeared to be supporters of an unsuccessful leftwing candidate and opposed both Shafiq and Mursi.

There were no immediate reports of injuries at the headquarters and firefighters said the blaze was quickly put under control.

“We were inside when they attacked us,” one member of Shafiq’s campaign staff said, without identifying himself. “They set fire to the garage that had general Shafiq’s campaign literature.”

Earlier, several thousand protesters took to the streets across Egypt to demonstrate against the result of the election’s first round, which was officially announced on Monday. Egypt’s private al-Hayat TV reported protests in al-Tahrir Square in Cairo, in Alexandria and in Suez to protest Shafiq’s presence on the runoff ballot.

Trouble flared in Cairo’s al-Tahrir Square when activists said unknown assailants attacked one such protest. Rocks flew in scenes reminiscent of other spasms of violence during a messy transition from military rule that is due to end when the military hands power to the new president on July 1.

Local media reported the protest had been attacked by unknown “thugs”, though the account could not be independently confirmed, according to Reuters.

“Shafiq will be president when I’m dead,” read one poster on a car parked in the square, the hub of the nationwide uprising that ousted president Mubarak in February 2011.

Presidential candidate Ali joins protests

Presidential candidate Khaled Ali joined the protest in al-Tahrir: “(The election) was neither free or fair,” Ali told the media, adding that al-Tahrir was the place that had “toppled Mubarak, and would topple Shafiq.”

Mahmoud Momen, a 19-year-old student, held aloft a picture of Shafiq with a black X daubed over his face as he took part in a Cairo march against the result.

“Neither Brotherhood or feloul,” he told Reuters, invoking the word used in Egyptian political slang to refer to politicians who served in the Mubarak administration. “We want someone who represents the square.”

Another protester, a 19-year-old student who identified himself as Omar, said the vote had been rigged, triggering an argument with a bystander who disputed the claim.

“The choice can’t be between a religious state and an autocratic state. Then we have done nothing,” Ahmed Bassiouni told The Associated Press.

In the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria, where Sabbahi, a favorite among many revolutionaries, won the most votes, protesters tore down and burned large Shafiq and Mursi posters and protested against military rule.

In the Nile Delta provinces of Dakahliya and Mansoura, protesters took to the streets in similar protests. Security officials said protesters in Mansoura tried to attack the campaign offices of Mursi and Shafiq, but supporters of both candidates stopped the crowd, AP reported.

Announcing the results at an earlier press conference, election commission chief Farouq Sultan said no candidate had won a majority in the May 23-24 vote so the two with the highest votes, Mursi and Shafiq, would enter a run-off.

The result has exposed a deep rift within the nation, which now will have to choose between a conservative Islamist and a symbol of the hated Mubarak regime.

Sultan said Mursi had won with 24.77 percent of the votes, slightly ahead of Shafiq with 23.66 percent.

Leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi came third with 20.71 percent, ahead of moderate Islamist Abdul Moniem Abul Fotouh with 17.47 percent.

Former foreign minister Amr Mussa was fifth, trailing with 11.12 percent.

The commission put the official turnout in the vote -- the first since the 2011 uprising that ousted Mubarak -- at 46 percent of the 50 million Egyptians who were eligible to cast a ballot in the historic election.

Extending Emergency Law

A senior military official told AFP that the army, which took charge after Mubarak’s ouster, had plans to deal with any violence ahead of the decisive election. Police officials said their forces were on alert.

“Extending the Emergency Law, which terminates on May 31, is a possibility should the controversy over the presidential run-off lead to turmoil and a security gap,” Egypt’s daily al-Masry al-Youm quoted former military prosecutor Sayyed Hashem as saying.

“The army should assist the police who have not yet recovered fully,” he told the Egyptian daily.

Ending the Emergency Law, in place since 1981 has been one of the main demands of revolutionaries who took to the streets on Jan. 25, 2011.

In January 2012, the council lifted the law with the exception of cases of so-called “thuggery.” The law has been slammed by human rights organizations as violating basic rights by legalizing detentions without trial and prohibiting political gatherings.

Both Mursi and Shafiq, who represent polar opposites in the country’s fragmented politics after last year’s uprising, are now trying to court the support of the losing candidates and their voters.

The Brotherhood, which alienated many other political parties after its domination of parliamentary elections last winter, has warned that the nation would be in danger if Shafiq wins and has pledged to become more inclusive.

Two of the losing candidates, Mussa and Abul Fotouh, declined to endorse either of the frontrunners, however.

Mursi and Shafiq: face-to-face

The Brotherhood has gained the support of the ultra-conservative Salafist al-Nour party, which had supported Abul Fotouh in the first round.

But a pending legal case could have serious implications for Shafiq’s bid for the presidency.

Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court is expected to rule on June 11 in a key case examining the constitutionality of a law barring senior Mubarak-era officials from running for office, according to the state-run al-Akhbar daily.

On Saturday, Mursi called a meeting of candidates that was ignored by both Sabbahi and Abul Fotouh.

He promised at a news conference after the meeting that his party would be prepared to include aspects of other parties’ programs in its platform, but fell short of reassuring critics who say the group wants to monopolize power.

Shafiq also called on Saturday for broad support from former rivals, calling on his competitors by name to join him and promising there would be no return to the old regime.

Addressing the young people who spearheaded the 2011 revolt, he said: “Your revolution has been hijacked and I am committed to bringing (it) back.”

The contest presents a difficult choice for activists who led the revolt. For them, choosing Shafiq would be to admit the revolution had failed, but a vote for Mursi could threaten the very freedoms they fought for.

The presidential poll has followed a tumultuous military-led transition from autocratic rule marked by political upheaval and bloodshed, but which also witnessed free parliamentary elections, which saw Egypt’s two main Islamist parties clinch nearly three quarters of the 498 seats in the legislature.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, in power since Mubarak’s downfall, has pledged to restore Egypt to civilian rule by the end of June.

A Brotherhood source, who asked not to be named, said the Islamist group had prepared a menu of options to tempt rival groups and politicians to its side.

These include creating a five-member advisory council to advise the president; assigning the posts of prime minister or vice-president to Abul Fotouh and Sabbahi; distributing cabinet posts to other parties; and offering compromises on planned laws and on an assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution.

(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)