Egypt's Islamist candidate woos women, Christians

After protestors burned the headquarters of his rival, Mohammed Morsi looks to shore up his large base

Published May 29, 2012 5:27PM (EDT)

CAIRO (AP) — The presidential candidate for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood wooed Christians, women and supporters of the ruling military Tuesday in a bid to expand his base of support and he also played up the stigma attached to his challenger, a senior figure in the old regime whose headquarters was burned down by angry protesters overnight.

The Islamist candidate Mohammed Morsi made the new campaign promises in a news conference, vowing to ensure the full rights of the Christian minority and women if he is elected. He also tried to reassure the pro-democracy youth groups who drove the last year's popular uprising by promising to protect the right to stage peaceful protests and sit-ins.

Overnight, protesters stormed and burned the campaign headquarters of Morsi's challenger Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister. In Tahrir square, birthplace of the anti-Mubarak uprising, protesters chanted slogans against both Morsi and Shafiq. Similar protests took place in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria and elsewhere in northern Egypt.

Morsi claimed the top spot in the first round of Egypt's landmark election last week, putting him in the June 16-17 runoff vote against Shafiq, also a former air force commander.

Both candidates are highly polarizing figures, and are scrambling to broaden their base by appealing to groups that didn't support them in the first round.

Speaking to reporters in Cairo, Morsi said he planned to appoint Christians as presidential advisers and name one as vice president "if possible," and said he would not impose an Islamic dress code in public for women.

"Our Christian brothers, they are partners in the nation. They will have full rights that are equal to those enjoyed by Muslims," Morsi said. "They will be represented as advisers in the presidential institution, and maybe a vice president if possible."

Women, he said, will have full rights in jobs and education. "Women have a right to freely choose the attire that suits them," he said.

Morsi, 60, also praised the generals who took over from Mubarak, though he acknowledged that mistakes were made while they managed the transitional period.

"There is not a single Egyptian who doesn't like the military. The military played a glorious rule in protecting the revolution," Morsi said. "There were mistakes, yes, but also positive steps. Among those positive steps is the elections held under the protection of the police and military."

Morsi said there would be no clashes or charges of treason against the military, suggesting that he has no intention of entertaining calls by some pro-democracy groups for the generals to be tried for alleged crimes during the past 15 months.

The groups blame the military for killing scores of protesters, torturing detainees and putting at least 12,000 civilians on trial before military tribunals.

Morsi also vowed to create a broad coalition government, and said the country's new constitution would be written by a panel that is truly representative of the nation.

The Brotherhood and other Islamists who control more than 70 percent of parliament's seats packed the original constitutional panel with their own supporters in a bid to influence the charter. However, a court ruling disbanded it on the grounds that it did not observe the rules of selection spelled out in a constitutional declaration adopted last year.

Morsi and Shafiq qualified for the runoff after they finished as the top vote-getters in the first round of voting on May 23-24. Morsi won close to 5.8 million votes, or almost 25 percent, while Shafiq garnered 5.5 million votes, or nearly 24 percent, according to final official results announced on Monday.

Morsi also pledged to lift the decades-old state of emergency, which gives police wide powers of arrest and detention.

By Associated Press

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