Egypt's Spring Break

Muslim Brotherhood's decision to run a candidate for president, despite earlier pledges not to, worries Egyptians.

    The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest political party in Egypt's new parliament [EPA]

    The Muslim Brotherhood's nomination of Khairat al-Shater for President of Egypt has raised many eyebrows and confused an already muddled political scene in the Arab world's most populous country. 

    Shocking, but hardly surprising, the decision comes after the group’s repeated promises not to run its own candidate for president.

    Indeed, al-Shater told Al Jazeera Arabic only a few weeks ago that the Brotherhood wouldn't nominate a candidate and if he himself stood for elections, the group wouldn’t lend him its support.

    But the man I sat down with in Cairo two months ago is a determined leader for whom actions speak louder than words. As the situation changes, so do the decision.

    He might be the second-in-command, but everyone agreed Shater is the Brotherhood’s strong man.

    Although he spent a number of years in prison, no-one knows the finances and the organisation of the Brotherhood better than this architect-turned-politician.

    Al-Shater assured me that there are no serious quarrels between the Muslim Brotherhood and other political parties about the need to achieve the goals of Egypt's revolution. The group’s record speaks for itself, he said. 

    But for many, the way in which the Brotherhood reversed itself on the nomination hits at the very heart of its political credibility.

    So what drove the group and its leading political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) to radically change its course? And what does the about-face mean for the future of Egypt's revolution?

    Vying for power

    Egypt: The promise and peril of revolution

    Islamists already control the majority of seats in the parliament and Constitutional Assembly. The FJP’s Saad El-Katatni, speaker of the parliament, heads the two bodies that will write laws and the country's new constitution.

    Over the last few weeks, the FJP has been calling for the fall of the government in order for it to form a new one under its direct control.

    If they eventually win the presidency, the Brotherhood would be in charge of all four pillars of Egypt’s polity.

    Brotherhood leaders argue their decision came as a result of the public’s desire and popular pressure for them to run. Besides, what’s so un-revolutionary about a former Mubarak prisoner becoming his successor?

    Behind the public posturing, however, lies a more calculated strategy.

    The Brotherhood fears that if it doesn’t field its own candidate, the rival Salafist An-Nour party and its contender, Hazem Salah Abu Islamiel, could win the elections.

    Recently, the sheikh who moved swiftly from speaking in "the mosque to speaking to the masses", has been gaining popularity to a degree that shook the ranks and confidence of the Brotherhood.

    An-Nour already controls one fourth of the parliamentary seats.

    The Brotherhood has also been worried the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) could move to nominate or support a successful candidate and eventually dissolve the parliament that the Brotherhood now heads, leaving it with little or no power to exercise.

    However, for many non-Islamist segments of the society, including the youth leaders of Tahrir Square, the Brotherhood’s move amounts to an attempt to hijack the revolution and its democratic goals.

    They claim the well-organised and well-networked 80-year-old Muslim Brotherhood is pre-empting other political movements by taking control before their opponents have a chance organise in political formations.

    If indeed al-Shater wins the presidency, the FJP would be in total control of all political facets in the country.

    Worse, it would remain accountable, not to the people per se, but rather to the Brotherhood’s Shura (consultative) Council.

    Discord within the Brotherhood

    Disagreement about Ashater’s nomination for president doesn’t only come from the Brotherhood’s rivals; it also comes from within its own ranks.

    Brotherhood to run for Egypt's presidency

    The Shura council of the Brotherhood voted in favour of al-Shater by a very slim margin with 56 voting in favour and 52 against his nomination.

    That’s a huge split by any standard in an organisation that prides itself with consensual Islamic politics.

    Indeed, within 24 hours of the announcement, three leading members left the group and voiced scathing criticism of the decision.

    There are also signs that segments of the Muslim Brotherhood’s younger generation won’t go along the decision, whether implicitly or explicitly.

    Many of the young Brothers and sisters are sympathetic supporters of the rather liberal Islamist Dr Abdel Moneim Abu al- Fotouh, who was thrown out of the Brotherhood for daring to stand for elections to the presidency against the group’s wishes.

    His victory would be considered the Brotherhood's leaders' defeat.

    Political mess

    It’s not clear how the presidential campaign will evolve following al-Shater’s nomination or who will make it to the second round to face him. 

    Be that as it may, the Brotherhood has taken a risky gamble.

    If they lose, the Brotherhood’s political standing would be terribly undermined, even shattered. If they win, they will be accused of monopolising power like the previous Mubarak led National Democratic Party (NDP).

    When I asked al-Shater about such comparisons, which I had heard in Tahrir Square, he dismissed them as unfounded creations of the remnants of the NDP. 

    However, already the Brotherhood’s insistence to take control of the Constitutional Assembly has led to a major fiasco with basically all but the organised Islamists remaining on board.

    The Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to lead on all fronts, including the presidency, is alienating many Egyptians and creating a political mess in the process.

    Their on-and-off conflict and complicity with SCAF has also created confusion, bitterness and lack of progress in the country with many accusing both sides of advancing their interests at the expense of the revolution and the Egyptian people.

    “Revolutionary change is chaotic like Cairo’s traffic,” an Egyptian intellectual told me. "It’s a mess but it continues to go forward."

    True, but at times it gets stuck and goes in circles.

    Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera's senior political analyst and the author of The Invisible Arab: The promise and peril of the Arab revolutions, now available in bookstores.

    Follow him on Twitter: @MarwanBishara

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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