Muslim Brotherhood seeks unity ahead of Egypt runoff

CAIRO, May 26 (Reuters) The Muslim Brotherhood is reaching out to rivals including politicians knocked out of the presidential race in an attempt to rally support around its own candidate who faces a runoff against Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq.

An Egyptian man casts his ballot on the second day of Egypt's historic presidential election. Egyptians must choose between a Muslim Brother or an ex-military man in a presidential run-off (AFP)

Warning of "determined efforts to recreate the old regime," the Brotherhood said parties that supported the uprising that swept Mubarak from power must unite "so that the revolution is not stolen from us."

The Brotherhood's presidential candidate, Mohamed Mursi, beat the rest of the field in the first round of the election, with Shafiq a close second, according to an unofficial Brotherhood tally of the vote count. Official results are due out on Tuesday.

The outcome sets up a June 16-17 ballot box struggle between a former air force commander who has described Mubarak as a role model and an Islamist group the deposed leader dealt with mostly as an enemy of the state.

In an apparent overture to the group he is set to face in the runoff, Shafiq told Egyptian television on Friday he saw no problem with the idea of a Muslim Brotherhood-led government if he were elected president.

The runoff will be a historic moment for Egypt and the region, giving voters the choice between a continuation of rule by men from a military background and a government led by a long-oppressed Islamist group with broad regional influence. It is a choice that many Egyptians are not relishing, either out of fear that a Shafiq victory would mark a blow to hoped-for reform or out of worry a Brotherhood victory would steer the country towards fundamentalist rule.

The army council that has been governing since Mubarak stepped down is due to hand power to the president on July 1 - officially the last stage in a messy and sometimes bloody transition to civilian rule overseen by the generals.

Although the Brotherhood and Shafiq came out on top in the first round, held on Wednesday and Thursday, the unofficial results showed the race to have been very tight, with fewer than 8 percentage points separating the top four candidates. The 25 percent won by Mursi was a less spectacular outcome
for the Brotherhood than the result of the parliamentary elections in which the group won close to half the seats, hinting at a decline in its popularity in the past six months.

The presidential election result also indicated a strong showing by reform-minded independents who between them won more votes than either Shafik or Mursi, underlining the growth of a new centre in Egypt's fast-evolving political landscape. "The Brotherhood will have to reach out in a grand and dramatic way to the centre and the other political parties if they have any hope of winning their support and any hope of winning the presidency," said Elijah Zarwan of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.


The third-and fourth-place contenders - leftist Hamdeen Sabahi and independent Islamist Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh - were among the politicians the Brotherhood would invite to a preliminary meeting on Saturday, a Brotherhood official said.

The initiative marked a new attempt by the Brotherhood to reach out to other forces that have accused it of seeking to dominate public life since Mubarak was toppled - a charge the group fiercely denies.

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