BEIRUT

Middle East

Mohammad Mursi, Egypt Islamists' fallback candidate

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi hold a rally in Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, May 20, 2012. Egypt's election commission is vowing that next week's presidential election will be free and fair. (AP Photo/Fredrik Persson)

CAIRO: Mohammad Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate in Egypt's presidential election, is the Islamists' fallback representative after their deputy leader Khairat el-Shater was disqualified.

But the powerful Islamist movement is throwing its entire formidable network of supporters behind the bearded and bespectacled engineer who was appointed last year as the head of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.

Brotherhood supporters lined up for kilometres along main Cairo roads and north of the capital last week holding up pictures of the portly 60-year-old former professor.

On Sunday, Mursi addressed thousands of supporters in a mass Cairo rally in a fiery stump speech, pledging his presidency would be based on Islam but would not be a theocracy.

The candidate has grown more comfortable in his new role as a potential president, gaining confidence in his interviews and public speeches.

In one of his first press conferences, he had appeared ill at ease and defensive, his eyes nervously darting across the room packed with journalists.

Mursi was born in the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya and graduated with an engineering degree from Cairo University in 1975. He received in 1982 a PhD from the University of Southern California, where he was an assistant professor.

He was a member of an anti-Israel group, the Committee to Resist Zionism, but dedicated much of his time to the Muslim Brotherhood, which first fielded him in a parliamentary election in 2000.

He kept his seat in the next election in 2005, which left the Brotherhood with a fifth of parliament, but was soon arrested and jailed for seven months after participating in protests supporting reformist judges.

By the 2010 election, Mursi had become a spokesman for the Islamists and a member of their politburo.

He was jailed again on the morning of January 28, 2011, a day after the Muslim Brotherhood announced it would join the protests that would topple president Hosni Mubarak almost two weeks later.

Mursi, and other Brotherhood leaders arrested at the time, served only a few days before they were sprung from jail during massive prison breaks across the country.

He now presents himself as the only candidate with an "Islamic programme," and dismisses reports of splits within his group over his nomination against the popular Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh.

Abul Fotouh was expelled from the Brotherhood last year after he declared his candidacy.

At the time, the Islamists said they would not run a candidate for president, but they say they had a change of mind after discovering that their dominant bloc in parliament did not have the power to implement their party programme.

The Muslim Brotherhood believes in establishing an Islamic state gradually and through peaceful means, but Mursi's focus has been mostly on issues that affect most Egyptians, such as the deteriorating economy since last year's uprising.

 

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