An Egyptian presidential candidate who was the last prime minister in the regime deposed by last year's popular revolution has lashed out at his Islamist rival, warning he and his fundamentalist group would monopolize power and take the country back to "the dark ages."
It was a sign that the runoff race between Ahmed Shafiq, the ex-premier, and the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi was turning into a bitter contest over who could frighten the voters of his rival more. The two face off in a June 16-17 vote.
"I represent the civil state," Shafiq told a Sunday news conference. "The Brotherhood represents darkness and secrecy. No one knows who they are or what they are doing. I represent dialogue and tolerance."
"They want to monopolize power," he said. "They don't want to take us 30 years back, but all the way back to the dark ages."
Morsi, for his part, has tried to cash in on the unpopularity of a court verdict that sentenced deposed President Hosni Mubarak to life but acquitted him and his two sons of corruption. Six top police commanders accused of complicity in the killing of protesters during last year's uprising were also acquitted.
Tens of thousands demonstrated Saturday in Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of last year's uprising that toppled Mubarak's regime, and in other cities to protest against the verdict. Several thousand were in Tahrir Square again on Sunday, and the number was steadily increasing as the afternoon heat wore off.
Morsi has been warning of a Mubarak-style crackdown on opponents if Shafiq is elected. Supporters of the Brotherhood, which had until Mubarak's ouster last year been outlawed for nearly six decades, were harassed and imprisoned during the former president's 29-year rule.
Morsi went to Tahrir Square on Saturday night to show solidarity with the protesters and scheduled a meeting with families of some who were killed. He also vowed to retry Mubarak, his sons and aides, promising not to rest until the dead protesters are avenged.
Shafiq questioned whether Morsi would be the actual president, or rather a front for the Brotherhood's real spiritual and political leaders.
"Would the president of Egypt be the one who was elected, or there would be another one behind the scene?" Shafiq asked. Countering charges that he was an extension of the deposed Mubarak regime, he said the Brotherhood made several deals with the old regime and its security agencies.
"How come you flirt with the (minority Christian) Copts in news conferences and later harass them in their homes and businesses?" he asked.
Shafiq spoke a day after his mentor, Mubarak, and ex-security chief Habib el-Adly were sentenced to life in prison for failing to stop the killing of some 900 protesters during the 18-day uprising last year. Mubarak, his two sons and a family friend were acquitted of corruption charges, and six top police commanders were also cleared of complicity in the killing of the protesters.
According to security officials, Mubarak on Sunday wore the blue prison suit for convicts in his new jail, the Torah prison south of Cairo, and had his mug shot taken according to prison regulations.
He had spent the 13 months since his arrest in hospitals, first in his favourite Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and later at a spacious suite in a military hospital on the eastern outskirts of Cairo.
The prison also rejected his request that the two doctors who handled his case in the military hospital be reassigned to Torah, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.
Mubarak resisted leaving the helicopter that flew him to Torah from court on Saturday, pleading with his escort to take him back to the military hospital, according to the officials.
Mubarak, they said, also suffered a "health crisis" aboard the aircraft. He stayed aboard the helicopter for more than two hours after it landed at Torah.
The demonstrations following the verdicts also touched on the Shafiq-Morsi runoff. Some protesters tore billboards bearing the image of Shafiq, who, like Mubarak, was a career air force officer. Others also chanted slogans against Morsi.
Egypt's top prosecutor is appealing the verdicts in search of tougher ones, according to an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters.
The prosecution had demanded the death penalty for Mubarak and el-Adly.