CAIRO — Presidential hopeful and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq on Sunday accused the Muslim Brotherhood of intimidating voters and warned Egyptians that the once-repressed Islamist organization would lead Egypt into a religious war between Muslims and Christians.
“I represent moving forward, they represent moving backward. I represent transparency and light, the Brotherhood represents darkness and secrets,” Shafiq said at a news conference. “Nobody knows who they are and what they do. I represent Egypt, all of Egypt. They represent a closed-up faction that accepts no one from outside.”
The comments from Shafiq, who was the last prime minister to serve under deposed president Hosni Mubarak, followed a controversial verdict Saturday in the case against the ousted autocrat. Mubarak and his interior minister, Habib al-Adli, received life sentences for failing to stop the killing of protesters during 18 days in early 2011. But six top security officials, including the head of the riot police, Ahmed Ramzy, who oversaw the crackdown, were acquitted on charges of ordering the killings, due to lack of evidence.
After the verdict was announced, thousands of people poured into the streets in protest. Worried that Shafiq could prevail in presidential elections in two weeks and fail to reform the harsh tactics of Mubarak’s police state, revolutionary groups appeared to rally behind the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsi.
Neither man is seen as a candidate who would deliver on the demands for wide reform voiced during last year’s revolt. But the results of the Mubarak trial could push Egyptians who planned to sit out the race to vote for the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, although analysts said that such a vote would not be a vote for Morsi but a vote against Shafiq and the backbone of the Mubarak government.
Shafiq, a former air force commander, tried Sunday to appeal to voters who fear the Brotherhood. The secretive Islamist organization was forced to work in the shadows under Mubarak, but the longtime Egyptian leader often used the threat of the Islamist group to scare moderate Egyptians and western nations that sought reforms.
Shafiq also questioned whether Morsi would truly rule Egypt if he won, or whether the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide and its second-in-command, Khairat el-Shater, would call the shots. His accusation played on the fears promoted during Mubarak’s time, that the Brotherhood would turn Egypt into an Islamic state, repress Coptic Christians and lead the country into a sectarian war.
“How are Copts supposed to believe you when you flirt with them at your conferences, but intimidate them in their homes and shops,” Shafiq said. “Everyone knows that. Egypt will never accept that the Brotherhood turn it to sectarian war. Enough trade with the martyrs’ blood.”
The press conference seemed to be in response to an outpouring of support for Morsi after the Mubarak verdict. On Saturday, Morsi swore that as president he would retry all of the defendants, including Mubarak. Shafiq heralded the outcome as historic and proof that no one, including the ex-president, is above the law. Legal experts have said that Mubarak’s sentence could easily be overturned upon appeal.
Three presidential hopefuls popular among revolutionaries planned to announce a united decision on who to support in the runoffs Monday.
On Sunday, the general prosecutor’s office said it had filed an appeal in the Mubarak case. Five of the six acquitted officers were set free, but remain banned from traveling.
Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.