The Muslim Brotherhood, the dominant power in Egypt’s parliament, chose its deputy head to be a candidate for president in the country’s May election, making him one of the favorites to win and potentially increasing tensions between the once-banned group and the ruling generals.
Khairat el-Shater received 58 out of 110 votes in his favor at a meeting of the group’s consultative council, according to Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera. The narrow majority suggested rifts within the organization. The selection was announced late yesterday at a press conference in Cairo.
The nomination of the 62-year-old millionaire, an engineer by training and widely seen as the Brotherhood’s chief financier, drew criticism from some members of the group. Kamal el-Helbawy, the Brotherhood’s former spokesman in Europe, said he was resigning, citing what he said was the organization’s conflicting stances, the state-run daily Al-Akhbar reported today.
The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party holds 47 percent of the seats in parliament’s lower house, had previously said it wasn’t planning to run a candidate for the presidency. The group has clashed in recent weeks with the military rulers who took over after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.
The Brotherhood’s move comes amid political tensions as the Islamist group, secularists and the ruling military wrangle over issues including the composition of the committee charged with drafting the country’s constitution.
Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri said the current political situation in the country was “more than concerning” and was creating “great fear” about Egypt’s future, lawmaker Moustafa Bakri told reporters today after a meeting between MPs from Cairo governorate that was attended by the premier and several ministers. FJP lawmakers did not attend the meeting.
El-Shater’s nomination “immediately makes him a front- runner in the race,” Hani Sabra, Middle East analyst with the Eurasia Group, a consultancy, said in a telephone interview. His prominence in the group gives El-Shater more stature than other Islamist candidates such as Abdel-Monein Abul-Fottouh, who angered the Brotherhood by breaking ranks and announcing his candidacy, said Sabra. El-Shater is also seen as more pragmatic and moderate than the candidate being fielded by the Salafi groups, who follow a strict interpretation of Islam.
The businessman, who holds investments ranging from furniture and clothing to bus assembly and pharmaceuticals, said in an interview last year that he backed a strong private sector and that the Brotherhood wants “to attract as much investment as possible.”
El-Helbawy said that the army would use el-Shater’s candidacy as a pretext to stifle the country’s move to democracy and, eventually, the Brotherhood itself, Al-Akhbar reported.
The group has criticized the generals for rejecting its calls to fire the current Cabinet for failing to revive the economy. The group’s secretary-general, Mahmoud Hussein, said the government hasn’t met the needs of the people and that there is a “threat to the revolution.”
El-Shater is a senior member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council, its main decision-making body. He has been imprisoned several times, with his latest sentence suspended but not overturned. That means he would have to be pardoned by Egypt’s military ruler, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, in order to run, said Sabra.
Change of Tack
El-Shater’s campaign would have to be “something done in coordination with SCAF,” said Sabra, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Hussein said the Brotherhood’s decision to field a candidate came after reports that former members of Mubarak’s regime were considering running for office, which further boosted concerns that the country’s push for democracy was under threat. Omar Suleiman, who served as Mubarak’s intelligence chief and, in the waning days of his regime, as vice president, has been cited as a possible candidate.
The decision to nominate El-Shater for the presidency followed what Hussein said were the Brotherhood’s attempts in recent months to move the country forward using its party’s leading role in parliament. The government has failed to address Egypt’s deepening economic slump, deteriorating security and challenges to the transition to democracy, he said.
Egypt is trying to secure a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund -- money that would help it access other donor aid. The Brotherhood, while not rejecting the loan, has said it wants to make sure that the government has exhausted all other options first. The IMF, which sent a technical committee last week to Egypt, has said it wants to see broad consensus from all political groups over the government’s economic program before approving the loan.
El-Ganzouri said the government was hoping to at least sign a memorandum of understanding with the IMF, but that one of the political parties had asked that the step be delayed, according to Bakri, the lawmaker. He didn’t say which group had raised objections.
The parliament, whose second-largest membership is from the conservative Salafi party, Al-Nour, is preparing to test the military further by pushing again for a no-confidence motion against the interim government. An earlier attempt resulted in comments by the military that people needed to learn from history and avoid repeating past mistakes. Egyptian media and analysts saw that as a reference to the crackdowns on the Brotherhood under earlier governments.
To contact the reporter on this story: Digby Lidstone in Cairo at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at email@example.com