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As showdown with military looms, Egypt liberals back Muslim Brotherhood

The Egyptian military has offered the Muslim Brotherhood a choice: give us sweeping powers, or lose the presidency.

By Correspondent / June 22, 2012

Supporters of Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi display a T-shirt with a picture of Morsi in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Amr Abdallah Dalsh /Reuters

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Cairo

A coalition of non-Islamist leaders and revolutionaries announced their support for the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate today, overcoming a year and a half of bitter disagreements to unite against the attempt of the Egyptian military to hold on to power.

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The show of unity increases the Brotherhood’s leverage as it faces off against Egypt's military rulers, who this week limited the authority of Egypt’s incoming president and granted themselves sweeping powers that will extend past the end of this month, when they had promised a full handover to a civilian government.

But for all the appearances of an all-out confrontation between the two sides, many believe they are negotiating in secret as well. Two non-Islamist figures said Brotherhood leaders told them this week SCAF had offered them an ultimatum in a recent meeting: either accept the constitutional declaration giving SCAF wide powers or accept the military's preferred presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq as the victor. The Brotherhood refused, said one of the sources, both of whom asked to remain anonymous.

As the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsi, held a press conference to announce the new coalition backing his presidency, thousands of people filled Tahrir Square, responding to a call from the Brotherhood to protest the military’s recent power grab. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) responded with a statement dismissing the complaints and indirectly threatening the protesters.

The escalation comes amid a delay in the announcement of the official results of the presidential election, fueling concern about fraud and the perception that the outcome is being negotiated. The Muslim Brotherhood says Mr. Morsi won with 52 percent of the vote against Mr. Shafiq, the last prime minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

Hassan Nafaa, a longtime liberal opposition figure who was among those announcing support for Morsi today, said that the coalition’s objective was to force Morsi to publicly commit himself to democratic values. “For us the point is not to support Mohamed Morsi against Shafiq, but to support democracy,” he said. “We need a democratic system and we feel that the SCAF is trying to manipulate and extend its mandate for an unlimited time, and this is not democratic at all.”

The deal also guaranteed non-Islamist forces representation in a new government if Morsi wins. Dr. Nafaa said the Brotherhood’s record of broken promises over the past year was worrying, but that secularists no longer had a choice but to unite with the Brotherhood against the military. “We hope that he will honor his promises and we are watching. We don’t have any other solution,” he said.

However, the coalition does not include representatives of the largest secular parties in parliament, and many liberals or secular revolutionaries still refuse to join the Brotherhood, some of whom also oppose the military.

Legitimacy and democracy

Wael Ghonim, a former Google employee who shot to fame during the uprising when he was arrested for running a Facebook page that had called for the original protests, also announced his support for the coalition. “This is not a stand with the Brotherhood. It is a stand with legitimacy, with democracy,” he said during the press conference.

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