Choosing his words carefully to allay fears about the imposition of a narrow Islamist agenda, the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, Mohamed Morsy, on Tuesday appealed to secularists, liberals and religious minorities to join him in order to save Egypt from a counterrevolution, threatened by his rival, Mubarak-era official Ahmed Shafiq.

Mr. Morsy's broad appeal for unity among those who hold joint ownership of the heady uprising that toppled the former President, Hosni Mubarak, comes ahead of the June 16-17 runoff that pits him against Mr. Shafiq, Mr. Mubarak's last Prime Minister and a former Air Force chief. While Mr. Morsy secured 24.3 per cent of the vote and topped the list of contestants in the first round of polling, Mr. Shafiq polled a close 23.6 per cent to stand in second place.

Neither candidate crossed the 50 per cent threshold necessary, according to Egypt's electoral law, to avoid the two-horse runoff.

Now, in order to emerge as the first President of what has been called Egypt's Second Republic, Mr. Morsy badly needs the support of those who voted for Hamdeen Sabbahi, the neo-Nasserite candidate who won 20.7 per cent of the vote. He would also need backing from the around 18 per cent who voted for moderate Islamist Abdul Moneim Aboul Fotouh. Also crucial for Mr. Morsy is the vote of the “revolutionary youth”, the young activists who had thronged Cairo's Tahrir Square — the ground zero of the revolution which raged for 18 days — before Mr. Mubarak was gone and subsequently during violent clashes with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Mr. Mubarak's successors. Analysts point out that Mr. Morsy would also have to win over at least a section of the Coptic Christians, who most likely voted in large numbers for Mr. Shafiq fearing the emergence of hardline theocracy in Egypt under a triumphant Muslim Brotherhood presidency.

It was, therefore, not surprising that Mr. Morsy, during his address at a Cairo hotel, chose to speak about an inclusive civil state under his watch, which would be respectful of secular liberties as well as women's rights, underscored by a pledge not to impose a stifling dress code.

In a message meant to impress the revolutionary youth, drawn from a liberal and Leftist ideological matrix, Mr. Morsy said that he was committed to the establishment of a “democratic, civil, and modern state” that guaranteed the freedom of religion and right to peaceful protest.

Trying to reassure a large section of women, who fear a surge of religious conservatism and an attack on gender rights, Mr. Morsy declared there would be no dress code, and women would “have a right to freely choose the attire that suits them”.

Mr. Morsy's campaigners, desperate for partners outside the Islamist camp, had something to cheer about on Wednesday when the April 6 Youth Movement — one of the pioneers of the anti-Mubarak revolt — called for the formation of a coalition against the “counterrevolution” that was being plotted to return remnants of the Mubarak regime.

Ahmed Maher, leader of the April 6 movement, asserted that “dissent to consensus and the coalition will harm the entire country”. However, on its part, the Muslim Brotherhood should not miss a great opportunity of forging an inclusive partnership, he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood seemed to have already got the message, as Mr. Morsy, promised formation of a “broad coalition” government, where the Prime Minister could be an outsider. The vice-presidency could go to the Coptic Christian community. “Our Christian brothers, they are partners in the nation. They will have full rights that are equal to those enjoyed by Muslims,” said Mr. Morsy.

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