The Monday evening attack on the campaign headquarters of presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq, ousted president Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, has alarmed some of those political groups and activists who had been thinking about giving their support to Shafiq – as the candidate that stands for a civil, rather than religious, state – in next month's presidential runoff vote against Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi.
Some have openly withdrawn their support for Shafiq, including the leader of Egypt's liberal Wafd Party. This afternoon, Wafd Party head El-Sayed El-Badawi – who has shifted loyalties several times during the presidential race – openly said that his party would not take sides in the runoff vote.
According to a leading Wafd figure, the party had initially contemplated offering its support to Shafiq, albeit with some reservations.
"Our position was to support any candidate who promised to protect the civil nature of the Egyptian state, despite previous political differences," said one Wafd Party member.
Monday's attack on Shafiq's campaign headquarters, according to sources from the leftist Tagammu Party, however, has prompted some figures from the traditional left to reconsider their tendency to see Shafiq as the lesser of two evils. The attack, they say, sends the signal that Shafiq will not be accepted by the masses – even under the banner of the so-called civil state.
"We must admit we're hesitant; and we must acknowledge that this hesitation has to do with the fact that Shafiq was not just Mubarak's prime minister [when thugs attacked and killed unarmed anti-regime protesters at the height of last year's Tahrir Square uprising], but he is also the prime minister that was pushed out of office due to popular demonstrations," said one Tagammu Party source. "But at the same time, we can't accept the idea of supporting Morsi."
Ultimately, political parties both old and new – which are being approached by campaigners for both Morsi and Shafiq – might end up doing what eliminated presidential candidates have done: namely, refrain from supporting either finalist.
Hamdeen Sabbahi, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and Amr Moussa – who came in third, fourth and fifth respectively in last week's presidential vote – have all declared their disinclination to support either Morsi or Shafiq. According to sources close to the two finalists' campaigns, however, efforts are currently underway to approach the three eliminated candidates.
"We're talking to all national forces, especially those who took part in the revolution, and we're keeping an open mind; we're willing to discuss anything," said Essam El-Erian, vice-president of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
And, according to Mohamed Abdel-Salam, political analyst and former member of Mubarak's now-defunct National Democratic Party, so is Shafiq. Abdel-Salam, who is close to the Shafiq campaign, said that, "Many independent political figures have openly promised to support Shafiq as the candidate who stands for a civil state."
This said, political activists and public figures who have taken part in recent consultations by both finalists' campaigns say that "hardly any progress" in this regard had been made by the Morsi campaign, while the Shafiq campaign could boast some "limited breakthroughs."
"The Muslim Brotherhood is showing considerable intransigence in its approach to national political forces," said one activist who has been talking to figures close to Morsi. "They're saying, 'Tell us what you think and we'll consider it.' But they don’t really discuss and they don’t really commit."
According to him and other activists, one crucial matter about which the Brotherhood has failed to reassure the public is the touchy issue of the constitution. "We asked them to tell us clearly what kind of exit they envision regarding the ongoing drama over the constituent assembly [tasked with drafting a new constitution], but they declined to talk plainly in this regard."
In recent weeks, the constitution-drafting process has been paralysed due to attempts by the FJP – along with the Salafist parties in parliament – to unilaterally decide the composition of the constituent assembly. This tendency to monopolise the process has been firmly rejected by civil political forces and the issue currently remains in deadlock.
This said, at a press conference early Tuesday afternoon, Morsi indicated that he was making progress in talks with political figures across the spectrum over the composition of his presidential staff, political representation of women and Copts, and the composition of the constituent assembly.
Shafiq, for his part, has been making clear promises about appointing Copts and women as presidential aides and has said he would include revolutionary figures in his circle of presidential advisors and in his first government. Shafiq, according to sources close to his campaign, is approaching everybody, from young revolutionaries to long-time members of the security establishment.
"When Abdullah Kamal [a journalist closely associated with the ousted president and his clique] called me to invite me for coffee, I couldn't believe my ears," said one activist. "He was very accommodating, agreed with me about everything I said about the difficulties associated with communicating with Shafiq and insisted we should meet up."
Ultimately, the activist in question politely declined the invitation – but that can't be said about everyone. "Some of those who went were somehow reassured about what the man had to offer, but I'm not sure these promises will ever actually materialise."
Meanwhile, campaigners for both Shafiq and Morsi have been approaching Salafist leaders to solicit their support. According to sources from both sides, some appear set to support Shafiq while others appear set to throw their weight behind Morsi.
Shafiq, meanwhile, is comfortable about winning over a large portion of voters who cast first-round ballots for Moussa and some of those who voted for Sabbahi. Morsi, for his part, expects to win over most of the voters who chose Abul-Fotouh, along with some that had gone for Moussa and Sabbahi.
In the meantime, both finalists are trying not to come across as "tainted" by their respective associations with either the ousted regime or the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been widely criticised lately – even from within Islamist quarters – for its perceived monopolisation of the political stage and excessive political pragmatism.
Ultimately, say sources from both campaigns, one of the defining factors of the coming battle will be the position of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has run the nation's affairs since Mubarak's ouster.