Egypt: As Shafiq steps up attacks on Brotherhood, some fear crackdown

Al-Masry Al-Youm reports: Presidential campaigns are often ugly, divisive affairs with bitter rivals slinging accusations and recriminations, sometimes veering into the territory of outright dishonesty. But as the fight over Egypt’s presidency heats up between the Muslim Brotherhood’s nominee and Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, the country’s largest Islamist organization stands accused of more than just dishonesty or incompetence — the Brotherhood is being bombarded with accusations of killing protesters and instilling chaos during the 25 January Revolution. And some see that as an unnerving harbinger of what could be to come.

The Brotherhood’s nominee, Mohamed Morsy, and Mubarak’s long-serving civil aviation minister and last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, are set to compete in the runoff scheduled for 16 and 17 June.

Although Shafiq is not officially backed by Egypt’s military rulers, he is widely viewed as the facade of the generals and the deeply entrenched and highly influential Egyptian security apparatus. Meanwhile, the retired air force general’s campaign draws heavily on the old networks of Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party.

In recent days, both candidates have exchanged a glut of accusations. While Morsy has constantly emphasized Shafiq’s ties with Mubarak’s “corrupt” regime and his animosity to the revolution, Shafiq accuses the Brotherhood of seeking to take Egypt backward by establishing a religious state.

But Shafiq’s attacks haven’t stopped there.

In a television interview last week, Shafiq accused the Muslim Brotherhood of being implicated in the killing of protesters in the notorious “Battle of the Camel” that took place during the 18-day uprising that culminated in Mubarak’s ouster. Eleven people died when pro-Mubarak thugs, some of them riding on horses and camels, attacked Tahrir Square with rocks, Molotov cocktails and bladed weapons.

Since the revolution, the Brotherhood has always taken pride in the role played by their members in defending the square during the Battle of the Camel. Many revolutionary figures and politicians had given Brotherhood youth credit for being a central part of the battle, which marked the last nail in the coffin of Mubarak’s rule. Meanwhile, Shafiq was prime minister during the battle and is currently under investigation for his role in it.

Two low-profile lawyers had reportedly filed a complaint with the general prosecutor against the Brotherhood accusing them of having burned police stations and opened prisons during the revolution. Media outlets, long criticized as mouthpieces of the old regime, have been reiterating these allegations. However, most observers have stated over the past year that they believe the Interior Ministry was responsible for the release of prisoners as a tactic to stir up trouble during the protests.

The allegations, which are reminiscent of smear campaigns routinely launched by the state-media and security apparatus, raise questions of whether the Brothers are faced with mere negative campaigning that only seeks to improve Shafiq’s chances and will eventually cease with the conclusion of the poll or if a potential crackdown on Egypt’s largest political organization looms on the horizon.

For the Brothers, it is more than a mere campaigning tactic.

“If we perceive it only as a part of negative campaigning, we will be missing the larger picture,” Amr Darrag, a leader of the Freedom and Justice Party, told Egypt Independent. Darrag believes the discourse emanating from Shafiq’s campaign and its sympathizers is a reproduction of the old regime and signals that, if Shafiq wins, retaliation against the Brotherhood and revolutionary forces will be in store.

“For the old regime, it is a matter of survival,” said Darrag. “The [retaliation] will not be restricted to the Brothers.” [Continue reading…]

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