As preliminary results of overseas voting put the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate at the front of the presidential race, the organization concluded its campaign last night from the heart of Cairo with confidence that its nominee would achieve similar results at home and ultimately grab the presidency.
Only a few hours before the campaign blackout came into effect, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members had rallied in Cairo's Abdeen Square in a showing of strength to renew their endorsement of Mohamed Morsy's bid for the presidency.
The rally took place in a symbolic location near the Abdeen Presidential Palace.
“You can see how big the crowd is,” said 36-year-old Fatma Aref, a Muslim sister, as the Brothers’ hymn reverberated from loudspeakers in the background.
“I did not see any other candidate with such big crowds. Dr. Morsy has supporters everywhere he goes. God willing he will be the winner,” added the Arabic language teacher, who wore a brown dress and a long pink veil that dangled past her waist. Meanwhile, young brothers wearing white t-shirts emblazoned with Morsy’s image were ushering the audience into men’s and women’s rows.
“From the crowd, I think it is all Muslim Brotherhood,” said Samer Shehata, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Contemporary Arab Studies.
“The strategy might be to mobilize the base, and they believe that if all Muslim Brotherhood members vote, they can make it to the run-off,” added Shehata, an expert on the Brothers.
As soon as Morsy walked onto the stage erected outside the palace, drums began beating, fireworks were unleashed and the fervent audience rose to their feet, making the victory sign, cheering and shouting: “All Egyptians want Morsy to be president of the country.”
If Morsy wins the presidential race set to kick off on Wednesday, the Muslim Brotherhood will be in control of all legislative bodies and the highest executive post. The Brothers’Freedom and Justice Party already holds more than 40 percent of Parliament’s two houses and stands as the largest and most powerful parliamentary bloc.
For almost an hour, Morsy sat on the stage while public figures flocked to the podium to announce their backing of his presidential run. His prominent backers included Salafi TV preachers, football players known for Islamist leanings, and an Islamist actor.
“Morsy has vowed to implement God's Sharia,”said Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, a leader of a Cairo-based Salafi group. “I cannot let down a man who took God's Sharia for his project side by side with the Nahda project.”
Shortly later, Gamal Abdel Sattar, a scholar from Al-Azhar, took his turn. “We came here to swear you allegiance so that you can lead the nation towards God's laws,” he said. “We know that you do not just adopt Islamic Sharia but you take it as a starting point in all your moves.”
Pointing out almost 100 young Al-Azhar scholars among the audience, Abdel Sattar called upon Morsy, the FJP president, to help Al-Azhar retrieve its religious prestige and save it from state intervention believed to be the reason behind the waning power of the world’s oldest Sunni institution.
Sunday's rally took place while the nation was anxiously awaiting the results of the overseas vote.
All of a sudden, bearded actor Wagdy al-Araby, who was moderating the event, took to the podium to announce that Morsy had garnered 35 percent of the vote outside Egypt, rising as the frontrunner among 11 candidates.
Although some experts hold that the overseas vote is not necessarily representative of the domestic one, Morsy’s remarkably high score has already discredited all opinion polls, which had placed him at the bottom of the race. The figures increased prospects that Morsy would make it to the run-off, scheduled for 16 and 17 June.
The final results of the overseas poll have not been officially announced yet, but preliminary results suggest that Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood known for his relatively moderate outlook, stands as the first runner-up.
The 60-year-old physician has marketed himself as a national rather than an Islamist candidate. So far, he has succeeded to attract both secular and ultra-orthodox Islamist groups. For some observers, he might be the most capable of defeating Morsy in a run-off because his Islamist background would make it difficult for the Brothers to downgrade him as a secular nominee — a claim that might discredit any candidate in the eyes of a sweepingly religious electorate that holds secularism as the equivalent of atheism.
But Abeer Saeed, a 38-year-old Muslim sister, is confident that Abouel Fotouh cannot pose any challenge to Morsy.
“Abouel Fotouh only has his supporters behind him but Morsy has his supporters, the Muslim Brotherhood, the party and the people,” the woman, who had attached a pin with Morsy's picture to her khimar, a white veil covering her chest and abdomen, told Egypt Independent on the sidelines of the rally.
Later, Morsy took to the podium to deliver his closing speech less than 90 minutes before the campaign ban went into effect. The 61-year-old engineer drew heavily on religious references in his speech, carrying on a campaign strategy that aims at portraying him as the sole Islamist candidate capable of implementing God’s law.
“It is God who led the country’s ship toward the revolution at that particular time and it is God, with all his strength, that will pull off the ship at the shore,” Morsy told the crowd.
“Today, we are confident that God wants good for Egypt and its people,” said Morsy, whose speech was aired on screens erected in group-sponsored rallies in different provinces last night.
Meanwhile, Morsy underscored the group’s platform, dubbed Nahda, the Arabic word for “Renaissance,” which has been marketed as a lifeline for Egypt.
For almost an hour, he discussed a number of Egypt’s problems, including fuel shortages, garbage collection, poor health services, a weak educational system and low exports, promising to fix all these issues.
“Egypt has a lot of resources, and the Nahda project includes many initiatives. We are presenting this project to you, and the presidential platform is part of that big and long-term project,” he added.
Finally, Morsy concluded by reciting prayers and having the audience repeat them after him.