CAIRO -- Egypt's presidential candidates were busy Saturday polishing sound bites and stretching the facts a bit as they re-marketed themselves as guardians of the uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak and led to the nation's first free election for a leader in history.
The campaigns of Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi and former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik sought to win new voters ahead of their runoff election next month. Neither is regarded as epitomizing the spirit of the revolution -- Shafik was prime minister during the deadly crackdowns on protesters days before Mubarak fell last year -- but politics is often about image readjustment.
The battle over enlisting new voters came a day after independent ballot counts showed that Morsi finished first in last week's first-round presidential race with 26% of the vote, followed by Shafik with 23%. Leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi and liberal Islamist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh finished third and fourth, respectively. Official results are expected in coming days, but the new race is a-gallop.
"I pledge to every Egyptian that there will be no turning back and no re-creation of the old regime," Shafik said during a news conference. "Egypt has changed, and there will be no turning back the clock. We have had a glorious revolution. I pay tribute to this glorious revolution and pledge to be faithful to its call for justice and freedom."
During his campaign, Shafik disparaged protesters and promised that if he were elected, he'd cut off the power to Cairo's Tahrir Square to prevent further demonstrations. Such law-and-order rhetoric captivated his base but the retired general and onetime fighter pilot, whose strong showing stunned the country, is maneuvering to appeal to a wider audience, including bewildered ranks of liberals and leftists.
"The revolution has been hijacked from young groups that ignited it," he said, adding that he will consult with revolutionary groups if he is elected.
Morsi's campaign did its best to invoke the revolution too. The Brotherhood, which controls nearly 50% of parliament, was late to the early days of the revolt and has since been criticized by activists as being more politically opportunistic than patriotic. The Brotherhood -- one can almost hear a trill of ominous violins -- has characterized Shafik as a Darth Vader-like holdover from the Mubarak era.
"Attempts are currently underway to return the ousted Mubarak regime to power … the people will not allow this to pass," said Essam Erian, vice president of the Brotherhood's Freedom Justice and Party.
Morsi and the Brotherhood urged unity against Shafik and tried to draw support from other camps. Aboul Fotouh, who broke away from the Brotherhood last year to run a consensus campaign, called on disparate political forces to rise above their differences and stand against symbols of Mubarak's regime.
Shafik repeatedly warns that a Morsi presidency would give Islamists sway over both branches of government to expand sharia law across public policy. He is attempting to capitalize on the rift between the Brotherhood and secular and liberal political forces, which escalated following the Islamists' control of parliament and complaints by liberals that the Brotherhood was excluding secularists and Coptic Christians from decision-making.
The runoff is scheduled for June 16-17.
-- Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan
Photo: Brotherhood presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi, left, and Ahmed Shafik. Credit: EPA