Angry crowd targets HQ of Egypt's 'candidate for stability,' citing vote fraud

Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, has cast himself as the presidential candidate who can restore stability to Egypt. But last night's protests underscore how polarizing he is.

Ammar Awad/Reuters
Protesters attend a demonstration against presidential candidates Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafiq at Tahrir Square in Cairo on Tuesday, May 29.

Protesters angry at the first-round results of Egypt’s presidential election set fire last night to the campaign headquarters of one of the two candidates who will advance to a runoff, and took to the streets in protest in Cairo and Alexandria.

An angry crowd broke into the building that houses the Cairo campaign headquarters of Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under former President Hosni Mubarak before he was ousted in last year's popular revolt.

The violence took place just hours after the government body overseeing elections announced Mr. Shafiq would face Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, in a mid-June runoff. The crowd threw campaign literature from inside into the street before apparently lighting fire to part of the building. Firefighters quickly put out the blaze.

Though Shafiq has portrayed himself as the candidate of stability, pledging to bring security back to Egypt after more than a year of unrest and violence, his first-round win threatens to do the opposite. Many Egyptians are angered that someone who represents the Mubarak’s regime could become president after a popular uprising pushed the autocrat out. Some fear worse unrest if he wins the second round.

Protesters who gathered last night in Tahrir Square, the focal point of last year’s uprising, said that the military rulers were rigging elections to ensure the victory of Shafiq, a former Air Force commander who is seen as the military’s preferred candidate.

“There was fraud – this never would have happened without fraud,” said a protester who gave his name as Mohamed. A crowd of around 1,000 chanted slogans against Shafiq, Morsi, and the military rulers. “I can't support Shafiq, and I can't support Morsi,” he added. Protesters said they were also angry that they had to choose between a member of the former regime or a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has sought to dominate the Egyptian political scene.

Yesterday the Supreme Presidential Election Council announced it had rejected all appeals filed by candidates who alleged that violations and fraud had affected the vote count. The election commission’s decision cannot be appealed. Such a speedy rejection – just four days after polls closed, seemingly without time for a thorough investigation of the allegations – angered some. Candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who came in fourth, said he would have rejected the election results even if he had come in first place. He cited violations that included his campaign representatives being kept from observing the vote counting, and bribes paid to voters.  

Some questioned the commission’s integrity after it disqualified several leading contenders in April. The head of the commission, Farouk Sultan, was appointed by Mubarak to head of the Supreme Constitutional Court in 2009. Critics say he is a loyalist to the former regime, pointing to his swift rise to such a lofty post. Though Shafiq was one of those disqualified, the commission reinstated him while denying appeals from others.

The commission’s rejection of all appeals except Shafiq’s caused suspicion, says Mustapha Kamel Al Sayyid, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo. “I think this gives grounds for people to cast doubt on the neutrality and objectivity of the commission."

But some Egyptians accused the protesters of being sore losers. “They should go home; the time for protests is over,” said Magdi Ismail Monday night as he gestured toward Tahrir Square. His car was stuck in traffic caused by the protest. “If you vote, you have to accept the results.”

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