Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, in a policy U-turn, on Saturday named its deputy leader and businessman Khairat al-Shater as its presidential candidate for a vote in May after initially pledging it would not run for the nation’s top job.
The Brotherhood said it changed tack after reviewing other candidates in the race and after parliament, where its Freedom and Justice Party controls the biggest bloc, was unable to meet “the demands of the revolution”, a reference to its mounting criticism of the ruling army’s handling of the transition.
Given the Brotherhood’s strong showing in the parliamentary election and its broad grass-roots network, the group’s backing for a candidate could prove a decisive factor. Although analysts say name recognition may also play a role in this race that could help others such as former Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
Analysts said the move suggested the Brotherhood, on the brink of power for the first time in its 84-year history, was worried it could have that power snatched away after decades of repression at the hands Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted last year.
“We have witnessed obstacles standing in the way of parliament to take decisions to achieve the demands of the revolution,” said Mohamed Morsy, head of the Freedom and Justice Party.
“We have therefore chosen the path of the presidency not because we are greedy for power but because we have a majority in parliament which is unable to fulfil its duties in parliament,” he said announcing the decision to put forward Shater.
The move will worry liberals and others who are alredy fretting about the rising influence of Islamists after they swept parliament and now dominate an assembly writing the new constitution.
Shater, 61, submitted his resignation as one of three deputy leaders of the Brotherhood when he was picked as candidate, the group said. Like many members of the group that was banned under Mubarak, Shater spent years in jail. He is was freed shortly after Mubarak was toppled.
A Brotherhood member told Reuters that 56 of 108 members of the Brotherhood’s shura, or advisory, council voted to pick Shater as the Brotherhood’s candidate and 52 voted against it.
“Those who went against the candidacy of Shater at first changed their minds and supported him afterwards,” said Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s leader.
”Breaching a promise”
The group had said it did not want one of its members in the top office to avoid being seen as monopolising power and alienating those who did not back the group in post-Mubarak Egypt. “We do not have the desire to monopolise power,” the FJP’s Morsy said after Shater’s candidacy was announced.
But the decision to field Shater could draw criticism, particularly after the group expelled another member, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, when he said he would run in spite of the Brotherhood’s pledge not to seek the presidency.
“This is not only a breach of their promise, but deliberate defiance of the (ruling) Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,” said a Western diplomat, adding the U-turn suggested the group was worried others could disrupt its rise to power.
“The Brotherhood are so close to power they can smell it, but they are so scared that someone else will snatch it from them,” the diplomat said.
The ruling army council has pledged to hand power back to civilians by July 1 after a new president is elected, although analysts expect the generals to hold influence from behind the scenes long after that.
The Brotherhood has become increasingly critical of the government army-appointed Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri. The group wants to lead the formation of a new government based on their dominance of parliament. The army has rejected this and under the existing constitution has powers to form cabinets.
“The truth is that they are proving each day that power is their only goal,” Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party told CBC TV, saying the Brotherhood appeared to have taken the decision when it found “that they can’t control the government”.
Shater was arrested in 2006, along with other senior members of the group, and jailed in 2007 by a military court on charges includings supplying students with weapons and military training.
Jail terms can bar access to elected office for a period but the Brotherhood said this would not derail his candidacy. “When Shater’s name was considered, our lawyers said there is no legal obstacles facing his candidacy,” the group’s leader, Badie, said.