CAIRO – A mob set fire late Monday to the campaign headquarters of one of the two Egyptian presidential politicians facing each other in a runoff that will decide a new leader after last year’s popular uprising, the first sign of unrest after the voting yielded divisive candidates.
The attack on Ahmed Shafiq’s office came just hours after the country’s election commission announced that he would face the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, in a June 16-17 runoff.
The second round pitting Shafiq, who was ousted President Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, against Morsi, backed by the country’s most powerful Islamist movement, is a nightmare scenario for the thousands of Egyptians who took to the streets last year to demand regime change, freedom and social equality.
Many of the so-called revolutionaries say they want neither a return to the old regime nor religious rule.
“The choice can’t be between a religious state and an autocratic state. Then we have done nothing,” said Ahmed Bassiouni, 35, who was sitting in Cairo’s downtown Tahrir Square in the midst of a growing protest.
In an upscale neighborhood of Cairo, mobs of young men smashed the windows of Shafiq’s headquarters, tearing up his posters. Then they set fire to the building. Police arrested eight people.
His campaign blamed supporters of leftist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, who came in third in the race, and backers of another losing candidate, Khaled Ali, who was protesting the election results Monday evening in Tahrir Square.
Shafiq, also a former air force commander, was forced out of office as prime minister by protesters shortly after Mubarak’s fall. He has since presented himself as a figure who can restore calm to a country racked by 15 months of protests and deterioration in internal security. He has expressed a zero-tolerance attitude toward protests, reflecting his background in the military and in the former regime, which put down protests with brutal force and jailed opponents.
Shortly after the protesters ransacked the campaign office, fire trucks and police arrived as several hundred of Shafiq’s supporters gathered outside the building, carrying his picture and chanting slogans against the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls the parliament and is now seeking the presidency.
The Morsi-Shafiq runoff is a polarizing contest. It mirrors the conflict between Mubarak, himself a career air force officer like Shafiq, and the Islamists he jailed and tortured throughout his years in power. But it sidelines the mostly young, secular activists who led the popular uprising last year.
In Tahrir Square, several thousand protesters chanted slogans against the military rulers who took over after Mubarak’s ouster. Protesters have clashed frequently with the military in street protests that have killed more than 100 people, charging that the military is perpetuating the repressive practices of the Mubarak regime and bungling the transition to a new, elected government.
Protesters also chanted slogans against both Morsi and Shafiq, saying they will not allow Egypt to be ruled by one party again or allow the former regime to regain power.