CAIRO – Egyptian presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq paid tribute to the "glorious revolution" that toppled Hosni Mubarak on Saturday, a dramatic turn-around for the former regime official who fought his way into the runoff elections by appealing to public disenchantment with last year's uprising.
Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak, vowed there would be no "recreation of the old regime" as he prepared to face off against Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in a runoff on June 16-17.
The two were the top vote-getters after a two-day election on Wednesday and Thursday which none of the 13 candidates could win outright. Now, both must appeal to the roughly 50 percent of voters who cast ballots for someone else.
Addressing a news conference, Shafiq appeared to be trying to cast off his image as an anti-revolution candidate who spoke disparagingly about the youth groups that engineered the anti-Mubarak uprising, reaching out to all segments of society in a bid to rally voters who favored his rivals during the first-round.
A former air force commander and a personal friend of Mubarak's, Shafiq was booted out of office by a wave of street protests shortly after Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, 2011.
The 15 months since Mubarak's ouster has seen a surge in crime, a faltering economy and seemingly endless street protests, work stoppages and sit-ins. The generals who took over from Mubarak, say critics, have mismanaged the transitional period. Furthermore, they are blamed for the death of more than a hundred protesters, torturing detainees and trying before military tribunals at least 12,000 civilians.
"I pledge to every Egyptian that there will be turning back and no recreation of the old regime," said Shafiq, 70. "Egypt has changed and there will be no turning back the clock. We have had a glorious revolution. I pay tribute to this glorious revolution and pledge to be faithful to its call for justice and freedom."
More than a year after protesters demanding democracy toppled Mubarak, the face-off between the Morsi and Shafiq looked like a throwback to his era — a rivalry between a military-rooted strongman promising a firm hand to ensure stability and Islamists vowing to implement religious law.
The head-to-head match between them is the most polarized outcome possible from the first round, and will likely lead to a heated campaign. Each has die-hard supporters but is also loathed by significant sectors of the population.
The first round race turned out close. By Friday evening, counts from stations around the country reported by the state news agency gave Morsi 25.3 percent and Shafiq 24.9 percent with less than 100,000 votes difference.
A large chunk of the vote — more than 40 percent — went to candidates who were seen as more in the spirit of the uprising that toppled Mubarak, that is neither from the Brotherhood nor from the so-called "feloul," or "remnants" of the old autocratic regime that Shafiq is considered one of.
In particular, those votes went to leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, who narrowly came in third in a surprisingly strong showing of 21.5 percent, and a moderate Islamist who broke with the Brotherhood, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh.