Egyptian presidential finalist Ahmed Shafiq hit back at the Muslim Brotherhood and its candidate, Mohamed Morsi, one day after the Islamist group, along with several other political forces, staged nationwide protests to call for – among other things – Shafiq's disqualification from the presidential race.
At a Sunday press conference held at a luxurious hotel in New Cairo, Shafiq sought to win over voters after the scathing attacks he faced one day earlier, when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians hit the streets in cities nationwide to protest Saturday's controversial Mubarak trial verdicts and the participation of Mubarak regime holdovers in Egyptian political life.
Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, fell under fierce criticism after defending the Egyptian judiciary for its unpopular decision to exonerate Mubarak’s sons – Alaa and Gamal – and six police chiefs of all charges against them. Mubarak and former interior minister Habib El-Adly, meanwhile, were both slapped with life sentences for their roles in the murder of unarmed anti-regime protesters during last year's Tahrir Square uprising.
Shafiq reiterated his defence of Egypt's judicial authorities at Sunday's press conference, saying: "The judiciary, the integrity of which has now been brought into question, is the same authority that has been supervising the presidential elections, and, under its supervision, the first round [presidential vote] turned out to be excellent."
The 70-year-old secured 24 per cent of the vote in the first round to finish in second place behind the Brotherhood's Morsi, who won 25 per cent. Both men will face off in a hotly-contested runoff vote slated for 16 and 17 June.
With Morsi, the head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), constantly warning that a Shafiq presidency would resurrect the overthrown Mubarak regime, Shafiq, for his part, says it is the Brotherhood that would reanimate the former regime, in the event that the group assumed power.
"Didn’t the Brotherhood cut a deal with the former regime to secure 80 parliamentary seats back in 2005? Doesn’t that make it a part of this regime?" Shafiq, a former civil aviation under Mubarak, said at Sunday's press conference.
"After the revolution, they said they would only contest 30 per cent of the seats in parliament, and, of course, this didn't happen,” he added. "And now, through the Shura Council [the upper, consultative house of Egypt's parliament] they are trying to change the chief editors of state newspapers with the intention of stifling press freedom.”
The Brotherhood, considered Egypt's most formidable opposition force during Mubarak's 30-year rule, won almost half of the seats in parliament in elections held late last year. For this reason, many fear the Brotherhood will attempt to monopolise Egypt's political landscape and impose Islamic Law should Morsi clinch the presidency.
"The Brotherhood represents darkness and sectarianism; having them in power will take us backwards," stated Shafiq. "They will seek to dominate their political rivals… you must choose a better future for your children, not a country in which there is no place for anyone except those of a particular faction [Islamists]."
Accountability for protesters' killers
On the subject of retribution for those responsible for the killing of unarmed protesters during last year's Tahrir Square uprising, Shafiq stressed that justice would not be served as long as the Brotherhood was in power.
"I will guarantee the rights of the martyrs, unlike the Brotherhood, which once called on victims’ families to accept blood money in exchange for abandoning their right to retribution," Shafiq said.
At a Saturday news conference, Morsi, for his part, reiterated that, should he win the presidential race, he would draw up a team of experts to gather evidence against those responsible for protesters' deaths during last year's uprising.
Morsi also implied that presidential rival Shafiq had played a role in concealing evidence against the true culprits of last year's carnage. He went on to assert that evidence in the case had been tampered with on 2 February of last year, when Shafiq had been serving as Mubark's last prime minister.
Shafiq’s Sunday press conference was not held at the candidate's campaign headquarters in Cairo’s Dokki district, which was allegedly torched by angry protesters following the announcement late last month of first-round presidential poll results.
"I condemn all forms of violence while protesting or expressing opinions," said Shafiq. "It wasn't only the Dokki campaign headquarters that was torched; other campaign offices – including one in Fayoum – have also since been attacked."