* Brotherhood's Mursi was latecomer to campaign
* Rivals include other Islamists, men who served Mubarak
* Brotherhood built up support through social work
(Recasts, changes dateline, bylines)
By Samia Nakhoul and Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO, May 20 Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood showed
off its ability to rally support with choreographed campaign
events throughout the nation on Sunday in a final push to clinch
victory for its candidate in this week's presidential election.
Well-known Islamic preachers and soccer celebrities took to
the podium in Cairo to endorse Brotherhood candidate Mohamed
Mursi, a relative latecomer to the race. His main rivals include
Islamists and ex-officials of former President Hosni Mubarak.
With official campaigning ending on Sunday, fireworks
cracked in the night air and flames flared from the front of the
stage as Mursi arrived to address the audience of several
thousand gathered in central Cairo, outside Abdeen palace.
One poll published last week in al-Masry al-Youm newspaper
put Mursi behind three other front-runners but also said 37
percent of those surveyed had not made up their minds.
The reliability of such polls are untested in a nation that
until Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in February last
year had not had a free election for decades. The large cohort
of undecided voters also makes it difficult to pick a winner.
But Mursi has the backing of the Brotherhood's broad
grass-roots network of supporters which proved its ability to
get out the vote when it won the biggest bloc in a recent
Youths wearing Mursi t-shirts gathered at the front chanting
"Mursi, Mursi" to the beat of drums. "God willing, Mursi will be
president after the first round," they chanted,
The election that starts on Wednesday is the last stage in a
messy transition to democracy, overseen by generals who took
control after Mubarak was driven out and have pledged to hand
power to a new president by July 1.
Other candidates were also chasing votes on Sunday, doing
last-minute TV interviews, holding final campaign news
conferences and having their supporters take to the streets.
But the Brotherhood planned the slickest routine, with
simultaneous rallies hosted in 25 locations across the nation.
Listing places around Egypt, Mursi told the Cairo crowd: "We
will take a serious step towards a better future, God willing."
He promised to combat any corrupt hangers-on from Mubarak's
era. "If they take a step to take us backwards, to forge the
will (of the people) and fiddle with security, we know who they
are," he said. "We will throw them in the rubbish bin of
Mursi was pitched into the race as the Brotherhood's reserve
candidate when its first choice was disqualified. Critics see
Mursi as a dull functionary who lacks the spark of leadership.
Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, a Salafi preacher, one of those on
stage to endorse Mursi, made light of his reserve status, saying
that no one went on a trip without a "spare tyre" and
substitutes could win soccer matches.
Victory for Mursi would give it both executive and
legislative power and consolidate a dramatic resurgence after
decades of suppression by a succession of military strongmen. It
would also confirm a trend of growing Islamist power at the
ballot box since a wave of Arab uprisings began last year.
Maqsoud said Egypt should follow the example of Turkey,
where the presidency and parliament were controlled by one party
and where the influence of the army had been gradually rolled
back. Many expect Egypt's army to remain influent for years.
Although the Brotherhood now dominates parliament, it has
achieved little influence over an army-backed government still
struggling with the turmoil sparked by Mubarak's overthrow.
But it can still draw on a base of support built up from
years of social work, even during the decades when it was banned
by Mubarak. In Nile Delta towns, hit by an economic crisis since
Mubarak's fall, that has helped win over voters.
"God willing, I will vote for them and most people in the
town will do so as well. No one served us better than the
Brotherhood," said Ahmed Youssef, a 41-year-old employee in a
state telephone office in the large Delta town of Tanta.
"My dear friend here will do the same, won't you?" he said,
turning to a 40-year-old street trader, Mohamed Sherif al-Din.
"Mursi is a Brotherhood man and this group is the one that
hires our kids and brings us goods that we don't find in the
market. God bless them and him," said Sherif al-Din, who was
cycling around the Delta town of Tanta handing out Mursi flyers.
Widespread illiteracy and deep scepticism bred by three
decades of managed politics under Mubarak make it hard to win
over voters by setting out manifestos of policy promises.
In the first post-Mubarak parliamentary vote, spread over
from November to January, Islamists won more than two thirds of
seats, with the Brotherhood taking the biggest share.
Liberal parties that lost out blamed their failure partly on
a lack of reach compared to the Islamists, who used mosques and
religious charity networks to canvas the electorate.
Brotherhood activists say criticism over the failure of the
Islamist-dominated parliament to exert any sway over the
government in recent months has little impact on most voters.
"Religion is in the blood of people and not everyone is
exposed to media, so its voice isn't heard," said Ismail Farouk,
a Mursi campaigner in the southern town of Sohag.
In Sohag and elsewhere, the Brotherhood is touting local
initiatives as part of its national "renaissance project" to win
over voters angry at years of neglect by the government in
Brotherhood campaigners play up Mursi's appeal as its
anointed choice to lead Egypt, in contrast to another Islamist,
Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, who was ejected from the Brotherhood
last year and is seen as a front-runner for the presidency.
Abol Fotouh is pitching to voters across the spectrum, from
ultraconservative Salafis to moderate Islamists and liberals.
The Brotherhood is selling Mursi as the authentic religious
In Cairo, advertisements for Mursi show him in a short beard
accompanied by the slogan: "Renaissance comes through the will
of the people", with no mention of Islam.
Mursi banners in the industrial and agricultural Delta
region north of Cairo show his beard whiter and much longer to
suggest great piety. The dominant slogan changes to "Egypt's
renaissance with an Islamic foundation".
A Brotherhood strategist in Cairo, Mostafa Abdel Ghafar,
played down the criticism of Mursi's leadership talents.
"I think all people noticed that our campaign is not for
Mursi as a person, but for the group's renaissance project,
which Egyptians have heard about for a year," he said.
But the headwinds for the Brotherhood seem stronger than
before the parliamentary election, when its long struggle
against a monolithic Mubarak establishment finally paid off.
"There is no way I would vote for the Muslim Brotherhood in
the presidential vote, as so far they have brought us nothing
but chaos," said Ahmed Rafaie, a 32-year-old employee in Tanta.
"They might have got many votes in the parliament, but this
won't happen again."
(Additional reporting by Tamim Elyan and Yasmine Saleh; Writing
by Edmund Blair and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Alistair Lyon and