Last Updated: Tue Apr 03, 2012 10:00 am (KSA) 07:00 am (GMT)

Egypt’s Brotherhood candidate stirs unease, even on Facebook

The Facebook page supporting Khairat al-Shater for president was created after the Muslim Brotherhood announced his nomination for Egypt’s presidency. (Reuters)
The Facebook page supporting Khairat al-Shater for president was created after the Muslim Brotherhood announced his nomination for Egypt’s presidency. (Reuters)

The number of fans of a Facebook page opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood’s nomination of its former deputy supreme guide, Khairat al-Shater, has surpassed that of his supporters’ page, a report published by an Egyptian daily showed on Monday.

The Facebook page supporting Shater for president was first created on Saturday after the Brotherhood announced his nomination. Hours later, a campaign opposing the move emerged on Facebook in what is considered a strong message of disapproval.

Shater’s campaign page had attracted 62,300 fans while the page against him, created under the title “I will not vote for Shater” gained 76,500 fans, Egypt’s al-Masry al-Youm daily reported.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s surprise decision to field a presidential candidate is stirring fears that the two biggest powers to emerge from the ouster of Hosni Mubarak -- the Islamists and the military -- are maneuvering to put in place a new rule in Egypt not much different from the old, authoritarian one.

The Brotherhood controls nearly 50 percent of parliament and dominates the constituent assembly that is in charge of writing Egypt’s new constitution. Given its electoral strength, its candidate Shater instantly leaps to front-runner status for the presidency in the May 23-24 election.

Rearranging priorities

Amr Moussa

“The Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to nominate Shater for president will oblige other candidates ─ especially Islamists ─ to rearrange their priorities,” presidential hopeful Amr Moussa said on Monday.

Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA quoted Moussa as saying that if the Brotherhood seizes the presidency in addition to Parliament, in which it already holds a plurality, it will be as if there had never been a revolution.

Moussa asked the group for an explanation of Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie’s recent statement, in which he said his post was higher than the country’s president. “That means that if Shater is elected president, the supreme guide will be the country’s real leader,” Moussa wondered.

According to MENA, Moussa said that Egypt’s next president should be independent from any higher authority. He did not see problems between a civilian president and an Islamist-dominated Parliament.

“We didn’t have a revolution to end up with a dictatorship of the one party,” the head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, Ahmed Said, told The Associated Press. “If Shater is president, will he rule in the name of the people or according to the orders of the Brotherhood?”

The decision to field the Brotherhood’s strongman was a surprise even to many of its own members, some of whom have openly expressed disappointment that the group is breaking an earlier promise not to run. They worry the decision sacrifices the group’s credibility for short-term gains.

Liberals and secular leaders fume that the Brotherhood has abandoned its constantly repeated promises to share power.

But the Brotherhood appeared to see the bold step as necessary to ensure its survival and its unprecedented gains during Egypt’s turbulent transition to democracy.

Brotherhood’s relationship with the military

Saad Emara, a senior Brotherhood figure, said that after its parliament election victory the group has a right to real authority, the presidency, to implement its program.

Mubarak’s ruling party “controlled all powers without a popular mandate,” Emara, also a lawmaker, told AP. “If we get the presidency, and we have majority in parliament and we can name the government, there will be some kind of harmony in implementing the project we want to achieve for Egypt.”

Shater’s nomination is a bold play in the Brotherhood’s convoluted relationship with the military, which took power after Mubarak’s fall. Each distrusts the other but neither can afford a confrontation, so they have been dancing around each other in both cooperation and competition for power.

The generals have not commented on the nomination, though state media close to the military have more sharply criticized the Brotherhood as power hungry.

“There is a balance of power on the ground,” he said. “We absolutely don’t want a clash (with the military)... But we are trying to reach some kind of accord.”

However, some observers believe the nomination could not have come without a nod of approval from the military.

The generals’ top interest is to have a president who preserves the military’s long-standing privileges and powers, amassed over nearly six decades of being at the helm of Egypt’s political system. The military is believed to have been searching for a credible candidate to back, so far without success.

Emara, however, denied any closed-door deal-making. But he suggested the two sides could find a way of living together. He said the Brotherhood accepts that the military keep the defense and national security portfolios, while the Brotherhood wants power to deliver on issues of restoring security and improving the economy, education and health services and could put aside for now its demands for a more powerful parliament.

Who is Shater?

Shater, 61, joined the Brotherhood in 1974 and built a business empire. With other Brotherhood members, he founded one of the region’s most established information systems companies, which survived a crackdown by the Mubarak regime in 1992.

He became the behind-the-scenes strategist and top financier of the Brotherhood -- as powerful as its supreme leader -- and was imprisoned by Mubarak for 12 of the past 20 years. He is known as a supporter of free market economics but also as a conservative within the group, who shies away from addressing women in the eye in keeping with Islamist modesty demands. But he is more pragmatic than ideological, a crafty figure with a commercial mind who operates better away from the spotlight, say Brotherhood members who worked close to him.

He founded the Brotherhood’s first online site reaching out to Western audience and a stream of foreign diplomats and dignitaries have met with him in recent months, including a group of U.S. lawmakers on Monday. Israeli officials appeared un-rattled by his nomination, saying the peace treaty is in the interest of any Egyptian leader.

Critics say the presidential bid shows the Brotherhood only aims to dominate. Many liberals, leftists and secular figures have quit the constitutional assembly to protest Islamists’ control of its formation.

Even within the Brotherhood, there is dissent over the decision to field any candidate. The vote in the Brotherhood’s Shura Council over whether to do so was close -- 56 in favor and 52 against. Dissenters have formed a group called “A Brotherhood Cry” that has held rallies objecting to the nomination and demanding the right to vote for whomever they prefer.

(Additional writing by Abeer Tayel)

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