CAIRO — Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood organised on Thursday a kilometres-long rally to support its candidate in next week’s presidential election, displaying the potent network of activists it counts on to win.
Islamist activists stood side by side for kilometres through Cairo and north of the capital holding posters of Mohammed Mursi, who sketchy polls suggest is trailing behind in the May 23-24 election.
Mursi was the movement’s fallback choice after the election committee disqualified the Islamists’ deputy leader Khairat El-Shater over a previous military court conviction.
But the group, which controls parliament and the senate, has now thrown its full weight behind Mursi, the head of its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party.
Posters of the bearded former engineer have sprung up across the country as Brotherhood members take to the streets to persuade Egyptians to vote for him.
On Thursday, the organisation’s grassroots network, cultivated for decades under secular leaning presidents that officially banned the Brotherhood, was a reminder that Mursi could not yet be discounted from the race.
“We are very optimistic,” said one the activists, Ahmed Zaki, when asked of Mursi’s chances. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have done all this.”
Zaki, a marketing manager, said regional offices had organised what the Islamists called the largest human chain in history. There was no way of immediately confirming their claim.
The queue alternated between groups of men and women of all ages, holding posters that read: “Mohammed Mursi for president.”
The decision to run a candidate, after the Brotherhood had vowed not to, was controversial within the group, and Mursi is less known and popular than the enigmatic Shater.
But activists such as Zaki said the entire organisation was backing him.
“One of the things that distinguishes us is that we don’t venerate individuals, we venerate a programme,” he said.
As he was talking, a passer-by stopped to tell him that he wished Shater was still in the race, saying: “He has charisma.”
Mursi’s main rival is former senior Brotherhood member Abdelmoneim Abul Fotouh, whom the group expelled after he announced his nomination despite the Brotherhood’s having decided at the time not to run a candidate.
Analysts say the Islamists have lost popular support following a lacklustre performance in parliament and senate after elections earlier this year.
The Islamists argue that they have little room for policymaking in the legislature because power rests with the ruling military council, which took charge after an uprising ousted president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
“People have not yet tried the Brotherhood,” said another activist, Abdel Salam Saqr, holding a poster of the bearded and bespectacled Mursi.
“Parliament hasn’t been given a chance to do anything yet,” he said.
The Brotherhood says it reversed its decision not to field a presidential candidate after it failed to convince the military to sack the government.
Polls published by an Egyptian think tank and the government show Amr Mussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League chief, Fotouh and former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq at the front of the race.