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Egypt's Mursi struggles with hometown against ex-regime

By Samer al-Atrush

ZAGAZIG, Egypt (AFP) - Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Mursi flashed victory signs as he waited to vote in Egypt's presidential run-off, but he faces an uphill battle against former regime cadres who have placed their hopes in his rival, ex-premier Ahmed Shafiq.

"I'm doing just great," he told AFP. "The revolution continues," he added to jostling supporters inside the polling station.

But in the wings, members of Hosni Mubarak's disbanded ruling party work and wait for a catharsis in a Shafiq victory, emboldened by an anti-Islamist backlash.

Egypt's "revolution" -- a popular revolt that overthrew president Hosni Mubarak but left his defence minister in charge -- appears on the verge of ending with a Shafiq victory, even some of Mursi's supporters fear.

Shockingly for the Islamists, who always considered the Nile Delta as their stronghold, Mursi lost the province of Sharqiya, with its capital Zagazig, to Shafiq in the first round of the election last month.

"It was rigged," says Ahmed Shehata, a Brotherhood member of the Islamist-led parliament annulled this week by the country's top court.

Shehata accuses Shafiq's campaign of bribing voters.

Across from the polling station in an elementary school, a young man and a woman working in a small cigarette and snacks store say they support the ex-prime minister.

"The Muslim Brotherhood is a gang," says the man, who refused to give his name.

For his part, Voter Omar Azaz said "simple Egyptians who voted for the Brotherhood in parliament because they thought they were God-fearing have begun to understand that they serve their own interests."

The Brotherhood's critics say the Islamists have proved themselves untrustworthy in the year and a half since Mubarak's overthrow.

They had pledged to contest no more than half of parliament and not to stand a candidate in the presidential election, and broke both vows.

Unbelievably for them, after seeing Mubarak's former ruling party disbanded, they must also contend with the old party's cadres who are organising for a Shafiq victory.

In a second-storey office overlooking a queue for government subsidised bread, former members of Mubarak's National Democratic Party organise a final push for a Shafiq victory.

They have created a new party, Masr Al-Qawmiya (Nationalist Egypt), which has reactivated the NDP's nationwide electoral network.

"In every village, in every neighbourhood, the NDP had the support of notable figures, or heads of families," says leader Abdel Daim Abdel Halim.

Former NDP activist Abdel Halim, who head heads the new party in Sharqiya, said the support for the Brotherhood has been hurt by its performance in parliament.

Also, the Islamists "did not assure citizens" with their statements in parliament, he added. Many Coptic Christians and secularists have come out in support of the more secular-minded Shafiq.

"Shafiq had a simple message to the simple citizen, who is looking for stability, security and to make a living," he says.

The party's secretary general, Maghawri Shehata, says the ground swell in Shafiq support has brought NDP activists in from the cold.

"We can stop feeling the humiliation. We were treated as traitors. We are people who love this country," he said in a phone interview.

"We didn't know how to defend ourselves."

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