CAIRO (Reuters) - The Muslim Brotherhood candidate in Egypt’s presidential election run-off sought to broaden his appeal on Tuesday, promising he would govern in coalition with others and would not impose Islamic strictures such as the veil on women.
Mohamed Mursi, 60, who is competing against former air force chief Ahmed Shafiq, 70, a former cohort of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, listed concessions to win support from rival politicians and groups.
“I am committed to the presidency being an institution. It will never be an individual,” Mursi told his first news conference since the election committee confirmed on Monday he was in the run-off vote.
In a bid to win the backing of competitors who lost the race, he said he wanted t o appoint v ice-presidents from outside the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and said the prime minister need not be a member either.
The cabinet would be a coalition of all groups represented in parliament, he said.
Mursi, a stocky, bespectacled man who has often appeared stiff in public but seemed more animated and relaxed than at previous events, pledged to quit the FJP if elected.
Though he and his rival Shafiq each took almost a quarter of votes cast, a big chunk of Egypt’s 50 million eligible voters are wary of having either a conservative Islamist or a former military man linked to Mubarak in charge. Some say they will not vote in the run-off on June 16 and 17.
An arson attack on Shafiq’s campaign headquarters and criticism of Mursi have highlighted the polarisation and disappointment of many ordinary Egyptians, adding tension in the final stages of a formal transition from the army rule to a new president by July 1.
Mursi pledged to implement Islamic sharia law during public rallies, although he gave few details about what that would mean in practice. This has worried Christians, who make up a tenth of Egypt’s 82 million people, many of whom backed Shafiq. More liberal-minded Muslims are also concerned.
When asked whether a Mursi presidency would seek to impose the Islamic veil, which is worn by most Muslim women in Egypt, he said: “No one compels anyone about clothes. Anyone who wants to wear hijab (the veil) is free to, or to wear whatever she sees fit from her point of view.”
But he also said that behaviour in general “not only in clothes” should be dealt with according to the law if it damaged society, without giving further details.
Before the presidential vote, the Brotherhood’s FJP demanded the army-appointed cabinet be sacked and the FJP, with the biggest bloc in parliament, form a new coalition government.
The army, which holds presidential powers during the transition, ignored the demand but the row was one of several that put the group at odds with the generals.
The Brotherhood candidate sought to play down differences, saying: “The army undertook a great role protecting the revolution. Yes, there were mistakes. But there were achievements and positive points. We need to avoid confrontation and distrust.”
Mursi said he was in contact with most presidential candidates to seek their support, but did not name them.
After Mursi and Shafiq, third place went to Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist, and fourth to Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, who was expelled from the Brotherhood when he ran against their wishes. Fifth place went to Amr Moussa, a former Arab League chief who had been seen as a favourite early in the race.
Mursi said he wanted candidates who competed against him and Christians to join the “institution of the presidency”, suggesting they could take vice-president posts.
Mursi pledged not to extend emergency law, in place for Mubarak’s three decades in power and used to stifle dissent, including clamping down on the Brotherhood which was banned under the fallen president. The army has kept it in place.
Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Angus MacSwan