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PV Vivekanand: Brotherhood switches track
April 03, 2012
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The decision by the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to seek the presidency of the republic is yet another brick in the group’s quest for power and a stark reversal of a promise not to field a candidate in elections scheduled to be held in May.

The Brotherhood’s candidate is Khayrat Al Shater, its chief strategist and financier.

Shater is a multimillionaire businessman who led the Brotherhood during the transition since Hosni Mubarak was forced to resign as president in last year’s popular uprising.

Given the Brotherhood’s wide popularity in Egypt, Shater will be the frontrunner in the vote.

However, the performance of the Brotherhood since the revolt has been disappointing to many Egyptians for different reasons. Many complain that they expected a real change in their daily life after the toppling of the Mubarak regime but nothing has happened even after the Brotherhood won about half the seats in parliament.

Others say that the group has set its eyes on assuming absolute power so that it could turn the country into an Islamic state. Yet some others have quit the Brotherhood and set up own groups, but failed to make any impact in parliamentary elections.

Young apolitical activists who led the anti-regime revolt last year say that the Brotherhood has changed colours and now gives priority to its own interests rather than the welfare of the people. They say the group’s decision not to take part in any public demonstration against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took over the country when Mubarak resigned on Feb.10, 2011, was to ensure that the parliamentary elections held later that year and early this year would not be disrupted.

They assert that had the Brotherhood, the oldest and most powerful organisation in Egypt and which enjoys grassroots support, and fellow Islamist Salafists joined public protests, then the ruling generals would not have been able to consolidate their grip on power and continue the policies and actions of the ousted regime such as summary detentions, torture and military trials for civilians.

Reports from Cairo indicate that the decision to field a candidate in presidential elections has split the Brotherhood’s Shura council into two camps: one in favour and one against. Those who oppose say that the presidential quest could spook many Egyptians who do not want to be governed under Islamic law.

A senior member of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has said that its decision to field a presidential candidate counters the recent “threats to the legitimacy of the freely elected parliament.”

The bid for the presidency is described as part of the Brotherhood’s “priorities” of “establishing a democratic state and a civilian state – free of military rule and technocratic control.”

If Shater wins the presidency, then the Brotherhood will be stronger than ever and could push for executive authority to be designated as the centre of power in the country’s new constitution. Islamists already have a comfortable majority in a 100-member committee charged with drafting the new constitution.

The Brotherhood’s decision pits the group against the powerful military rulers, who want one of the old guards from the Mubarak era, like the former intelligence chief and vice-president, Omar Suleiman, to occupy the presidential palace.

Suleiman is seen as the man who would safeguard the privileged status of the military.

However, he might not stand much of a chance unless the military rigs the vote, which does not seem very likely.

Another noted candidate is Amr Musa,  who served as foreign minister until Mubarak, fearful of his rising popularity, moved him to the Arab League. He remains popular since Mubarak’s decision to remove him from any contention for presidency was transparent.

Washington, which has dealt with Musa as Egyptian foreign minister as well as secretary general of the Arab League, might prefer him as president if only because he could be trusted to maintain the state of peace between Egypt and Israel under the US-mediated 1979 Camp David agreement. 

Members of the Islamist-dominated parliament have called for the cancellation of the peace treaty and diplomatic relations with Israel.

However, according to Amr Darrag, a senior FJP member, “We are the only major political party in Egypt that acknowledged we will honour the treaty with Israel.”

The Brotherhood is seen seeking to highlight its moderate image. After the parliamentary election victory, it has been  sending delegations of party members to countries around the world for talks with senior political leaders.

US officials are squirming with uneasiness over the Brotherhood’s moves, but they have little choice in the matter.

Shater, the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, is described in media reports as “the iron man within the group, the one who steers talks with the military council, orchestrator of parliamentary elections and the negotiator with Arab Gulf countries and International Monetary Fund over loans.”

“Shater is the real power centre and he is struggling to expand the group’s powers within Egypt’s system and institutions against the generals’ will,” according to Khalil Al Anani, an expert on Islamist movements, quoted by the Associated Press.

The ruling generals have said that they would hand over power to a civilian government after the presidential elections. However, it seems to be a sure bet that such a handover will depend on who wins the presidency.

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