CAIRO - Though the Muslim Brotherhood's well-oiled campaign machine managed in three weeks to bring its presidential candidate to the second round, its success stumbled a setback as the group's support fell by almost half compared to parliamentary election six months ago.
"I voted for them in parliament, but after that they didn't even pay us a visit," Mona Mahmoud told Reuters on Monday, May 28, expressing a common voter complaint against Egypt's most powerful group.
Getting into the presidential race late in April with its candidate Mohamed Mursi, the Brotherhood did better than any other group in Egypt; mobilizing a nationwide network to get out the vote.
Yet, their efforts were not enough to secure an outright victory for its candidate.
Rather, Mursi will face in next month's runoff against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister for toppled president Hosni Mubarak.
Initial results of the first round showed that Mursi lost to Shafiq in Nile Delta provinces long seen as Brotherhood strongholds as well as in Egypt's second city of Alexandria, in which the group's candidate came in the fourth place.
"The Muslim Brotherhood committed a series of errors reflected in a retreat in its popularity in the Egyptian street," Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the group's former Supreme Guide, said in a television interview on Sunday.
A list of troubles with the street includes perceptions the Brotherhood has grabbed for power, failed in parliament, broken its word and lurched to the right with divisive Islamist rhetoric.
"The feeling is that you cannot trust the Muslim Brotherhood right now," said Hassan Nafaa, an independent voice in the reform movement.
They have tried to join the national consensus, but each time have given preference to their own objectives.
The 84-year-old Brotherhood complains it is the victim of a vicious media campaign in a country where it has been depicted as an enemy of the state for decades.
Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman and a member of the Brotherhood's executive board, cited a recent newspaper report that alleged the group had planned to assassinate one of its presidential rivals.
"I don't know if this is something that makes you laugh or cry," he told Reuters by telephone.
"There's no doubting its effect on the voters in general, especially the common people."
For many Egyptians, Shafiq's presidency would simply restore Mubarak's old regime.
"The Muslim Brotherhood needs us badly right now. They need civil society, a third force," Nafaa, a political scientist at Cairo University, told Reuters.
At the same time, we are also going to need (them).
Tracing narrowly ahead of Shafiq, Mursi is looking to win support from many voters who backed the first-round runners-up, including third-placed Hamdeen Sabahy, a leftist, and fourth-placed Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, an independent Islamist.
Both men were invited to take part in a new Brotherhood initiative for national dialogue and uniting against Shafiq, but neither attended Saturday's meeting.
The Brotherhood's proposed national dialogue will cover top executive posts, the shape of the next government and the drafting of a new constitution, said Mohamed Beltagi, a leader of the group's Freedom and Justice Party.
The Brotherhood is also ready to discuss how its manifesto, an 80-page document can be combined with other electoral program.
"I am not relying on the Islamic bloc, but the revolutionary national bloc to confront Ahmed Shafiq, the bloc that got 65 percent or more in the elections," said Beltagi.
Attending the dialogue called by the Muslim Brotherhood, Ayman Nour, a liberal politician, said that the Brotherhood needed broad support of liberals and others to win the run-off."That is why I am certain that we will reach something tangible before the second round, Nour said.