But Shafiq, like Mubarak a former combat pilot, is hitting back hard, using near-daily news conferences and interviews to play on some Egyptians’ fears of the rising power of Islamists. Shafiq accuses the Brotherhood of hijacking the revolution, and he has been painting a grim picture of what he says Egypt would become under the Brotherhood’s leadership — an ultraconservative Islamist state akin to Saudi Arabia, hostile to moderate Egyptian Muslims, Coptic Christians and women.
“The Muslim Brotherhood is a sectarian trend,” Shafiq said last week on local channel CBC. “The Brotherhood is intimidating the Copts not to vote in the runoff. They are threatening to ruin their shops and businesses.”
That rhetoric is garnering support across Egyptian society, from the working class to the political elite.
Some are angry that the Brotherhood, which was repressed under Mubarak, has failed to live up to its post-revolution promises — first, not to field candidates for more than a third of the seats in Egypt’s new parliament, and then not to put forward a presidential candidate. Although the group had insisted that it did not want to rule the country, its dominant role in parliament and Morsi’s place as one of two finalists for the presidential vote this weekend now make that a very real possibility.
Shafiq’s message has resonated with voters who fear that the Brotherhood would roll back protections for women, such as the right to divorce and a legal marriage age of 18. Some also worry that a Brotherhood president would work in the interests of the Islamist group’s leadership and not the country as a whole.
Threat to boycott vote
Some liberals and leftists — including most members of Egypt’s leftist Social Democratic Party, which has one of the largest blocs of secular legislators in parliament — are threatening to boycott the vote as a form of protest against the two candidates. But others, including the leading liberal party, the Democratic Front Party, are supporting Shafiq.
“There is a small percentage of our members who will vote for Shafiq,” Mohamed Abou el-Ghar, who leads the Social Democratic Party, said in an interview. “The Muslim Brotherhood is totally unacceptable to us. If I had to vote, I would vote secular. The Brotherhood could destroy the future of Egypt.”
Shafiq also won an endorsement from a daughter of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s second president, who led Egypt’s 1952 revolution and military coup. Hoda Abdel Nasser said her decision was rooted in fear of the Islamists’ rise. “The Islamist tendency does not leave power once it reaches it,” she said in an interview, comparing a Brotherhood victory in Egypt to 1979 Iran, where the revolution put ayatollahs in power. Under Shafiq, there would be “freedom of worship, freedom of thought, freedom of lifestyle,” she said.