The presidential candidate for Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday sought to expand his support base ahead of a tight runoff against an ex-regime figure next month, vowing to ensure the full rights of Christians and women if he is elected.
Mohammed Morsi also tried to reassure the pro-democracy youth groups who drove the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak's regime 15 months ago, saying he will protect the right to stage peaceful protests and sit-ins.
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Morsi claimed the top spot in the first round of Egypt's landmark election last week, putting him in the June 16-17 runoff vote against Ahmed Shafiq, a former air force commander and Mubarak's last prime minister.
Both candidates are highly polarizing figures, and are scrambling to broaden their base by appealing to groups that didn't support them in the first round.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday in Cairo, Morsi said he planned to appoint Christians as presidential advisers and name one as vice president "if possible," and said he would not impose an Islamic dress code in public for women.
"Our Christian brothers, they are partners in the nation. They will have full rights that are equal to those enjoyed by Muslims," Morsi said. "They will be represented as advisers in the presidential institution, and maybe a vice president if possible."
Women, he said, will have full rights in jobs and education. "Working women have the right to perform any job they want, whether judge, worker or taxi driver … Also, we would never impose a dress code on them; wearing the veil will remain optional. Forcing women to cover their heads is not stipulated by Islamic Law," he said.
Egyptian women in Islamic garb (Photo: AFP)
Morsi also vowed to create a broad coalition government, and said the country's new constitution would be written by a panel that is truly representative of the nation.
"This government would consist of politicians from a variety of groups, not just Islamists or Brotherhood members ... and the prime minister will not be from the Brotherhood or the Freedom and Justice Party.
"I would make sure the next constitution truly reflects all Egyptians," Morsi vowed. "The parliament will establish new criteria for the assembly by reducing the number of MPs sitting on it, and I would work to ensure the assembly is established very soon.
"My goal is to achieve freedom, justice, stability and security," he said. "Young people in Egypt have the right to protest in a non-violent manner."
On the woes chronically faced by Egypt's small farmers, he declared: "I'm one of them; I would provide free education and medical care for them as a start ... I would also cancel small farmers' debts."
Morsi also praised the police and the army for securing the ongoing presidential elections, which transpired, for the most part, without incident.
He did not mention the overhaul of the interior ministry, but said, "The status of policemen and officers will remain untouched."
The Brotherhood and other Islamists who control more than 70% of parliament's seats packed the original constitutional panel with their own supporters in a bid to influence the charter. However, a court ruling disbanded it on the grounds that it did not observe the rules of selection spelled out in a constitutional declaration adopted last year.
Morsi and Shafiq qualified for the runoff after they finished as the top vote-getters in the first round of voting on May 23-24. Morsi won close to 5.8 million votes, or almost 25%, while Shafiq garnered 5.5 million votes, or nearly 24%, according to final official results announced on Monday.
Morsi also pledged to lift the decades-old state of emergency, which gives police wide powers of arrest and detention.