Egypt: Islamist tries to allay fears before vote

Mohammed Morsi speaks outside a polling center in Qaliubia, north of Cairo, during the final round of landmark parliamentary elections on January 3, 2012. Morsi is one of two candidates in the runoff election for the nation's presidency.

(CBS/AP) CAIRO - The Muslim Brotherhood's candidate in next month's runoff vote for Egypt's president said he will ensure the full rights of Christians and women if he is elected.

The Islamist group's Mohammed Morsi also sought to reassure pro-democracy youth groups behind the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak's regime 15 months ago, saying the right to stage peaceful protests will be protected.

Speaking in a Tuesday news conference, Morsi also promised a broad coalition government and that the country's new constitution will be written by a panel that truly represents the nation.

He said he planned to appoint Christians as presidential advisers and name one as vice president "if possible."

He said he will not impose an Islamic dress code in public for women.

In addition to promising to reform corrupt institutions, the Muslim Brotherhood's platform has been to put the state on an "Islamic basis" and apply more Islamic law.

On Monday the country's election commission announced that Morsi would face off against Ahmed Shafiq (who was the last prime minister of ousted President Hosni Mubarak) in a June 16-17 runoff.

The commission reported that Morsi won close to 5.8 million votes, or almost 25 percent, while Shafiq received 5.5 million votes, or nearly 24 percent.

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In the first sign of unrest after preliminary presidential voting yielded divisive candidates - anathema to the thousands of Egyptians who took to the streets last year demanding regime change, freedom and social equality - a mob set fire late Monday to Shafiq's campaign headquarters

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Many of the so-called revolutionaries say they want neither a return to the old regime nor religious rule.

"The choice can't be between a religious state and an autocratic state. Then we have done nothing," said Ahmed Bassiouni, 35, who was sitting in Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square in the midst of a growing protest.

An Egyptian woman holds a banner which says "I want my country for my people," at a demonstration against presidential frontrunner Ahmed Shafik in Cairo, Egypt, May 28, 2012.
AP Photo/Manu Brabo

Morsi, 60, was educated as an engineer in Southern California. Elected to parliament several times under Mubarak's rule. Morsi lacks the charisma of the Brotherhood's first-choice candidate, Khairat el-Shater, who was disqualified because of a Mubarak-era conviction, but he has the backing and organizational power of the Brotherhood, Egypt's strongest political movement.

Shafiq, a former air force commander, was forced out of office as prime minister by protesters shortly after Mubarak's fall. He has since presented himself as a figure who can restore calm to a country wracked by 15 months of sometimes violent protests and deterioration in internal security. He has expressed a zero-tolerance attitude toward protests, reflecting his background in the military and in the former regime, which put down protests with brutal force and jailed opponents.

Shortly after the protesters ransacked the campaign office, fire trucks and police arrived as several hundred of Shafiq's supporters gathered outside the building, carrying his picture and chanting slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the parliament and is now seeking the presidency.

"The Brotherhood are enemies of God!," chanted the crowd.

Protesters chanted slogans against both Morsi and Shafiq, saying they will not allow Egypt to be ruled by one party again nor allow the former regime to regain power.

"Freedom! Freedom!" the crowds chanted, fists pumping in the air.

Some were demanding that a law approved by parliament banning former high-level regime officials from running in the election be implemented. (That could apply to Shafiq.) Egypt's Constitutional Court is set to look at the law just four days before the runoff.

Others charge that last week's election, with 13 candidates, was rigged, though observers said the vote was generally free.