Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate in Egypt's presidential election, waves to his supporters
Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate in Egypt's presidential election, waves to his supporters during a campaign rally in Cairo on May 20. Just a month ago its fallback candidate's chances were dismissed but Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is now convinced of a presidential election triumph thanks to its unrivalled grassroots work. © Mahmud Hams - AFP/File
Mohammed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate in Egypt's presidential election, waves to his supporters
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Samer al-Atrush, AFP
Last updated: May 24, 2012

Against odds, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood says win is sealed

Just a month ago its fallback candidate's chances were dismissed but Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is now convinced of a presidential election triumph thanks to its unrivalled grassroots work.

In a sand-coloured villa in Cairo's Muqattam hills, senior members walk past portraits of the movement's nine Supreme Guides since its 1928 founding, entering and leaving a control room for the drive to win the May 23-24 vote.

The Islamists were relative latecomers in campaigning for the election. They reversed a decision not to run a candidate, and when they did he was disqualified. His replacement, Mohammed Mursi, was viewed as a long shot.

Within a month, the Brotherhood's formidable countrywide network of activists, which helped win them parliamentary elections last winter, has made up for lost time, says Essam Erian, one of the movement's leaders.

"It is the biggest machine. I expected this will happen, over time," says Erian, vice president of the Brotherhood's political arm, appearing relaxed on the second day of voting in a light blue shirt and dark pinstripe trousers.

The former political prisoner, who escaped with other inmates during the revolt that ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, views the election as a crossroads for the country and his movement.

"We need a president who can achieve the goals of the revolution," he says.

The Islamists, banned under three secular leaning presidents before Mubarak's ouster, had initially insisted that they would not run for president in the election.

They changed their position, they say, when it became clear that parliament was too weak to push through reforms, while the people who elected them were growing increasingly dissatisfied with their performance.

But the movement remained split on the question until the last meeting of its advisory council, which voted with a small majority to nominate Khairat El-Shater, the deputy leader, in late March.

"It was very hard," says Erian. "The people who opposed argued that we were taking on too much responsibility. But it's a matter of saving the country's future. If you can't take responsibility, who are you leaving it to?"

Shater was disqualified, over a previous military court conviction, and Mursi took his place, to some derision from critics who labelled him a charmless substitute. He was written off by many analysts.

The Islamists also faced a growing backlash from voters who saw Shater and Mursi's nomination as a brazen power grab, after months of legal feuding between Islamist and liberal politicians in parliament.

Erian says the movement's work was cut out for it. Its thousands of cadres, inspired by the movement's programme and not individual leaders, took to the streets to persuade voters to choose the Islamists again.

Posters of a wanly smiling Mursi became ubiquitous around the country.

The Brotherhood mobilised thousands in rallies across the country to hear Mursi speak, while battling what they called a campaign by unfriendly media in the country.

"We dealt with the media's negativety by meeting people personally," he said.

The Brotherhood also opened a media centre in a building opposite the interior ministry headquarters, holding press briefings several times a day in a tented outdoors section while members inside handled interviews.

"For more than 80 years, we have been in every neighbourhood. We are in 4,500 towns, in every city. We never left the streets," said veteran member Yassir Ali at the media centre.

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