Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday defended its decision to run its deputy leader in a presidential election amid splits in the movement and accusations that the Islamists are trying to monopolize power.
The Brotherhood backtracked on an earlier pledge not to contest May’s presidential election by announcing on Saturday that it would field deputy leader Khairat El-Shater.
“There is no intention to assert control,” said Mohammed Morsi, head of the Brotherhood’s political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which dominates parliament and the senate.
“We are only present in what has been elected … in parliament, in syndicates,” he said at a press conference aired live by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera Mubashir Misr satellite station.
“This is the people’s will. Does anyone want to oppose the people’s will or prevent it?” he asked.
The Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, dismissed reports that the movement had been almost evenly split on nominating Shater, a multi-millionaire businessmen who spent years in prison during president Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
“It was a majority (that supported Shater’s nomination). And unfortunately all the numbers mentioned are wrong,” he said of the vote by the movement’s consultative assembly to nominate El-Shater.
“You can’t imagine the number of faxes and messages I received on my phone showing unprecedented support for this decision,” Badie said.
The Brotherhood’s decision to run Shater opened a rare public rift in the Islamist movement, with one leading parliamentarian cautioning that it was over-reaching.
The movement had previously expelled former senior member Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh for nominating himself for president and suspended his active supporters.
“I oppose the Brotherhood’s nomination of one of its own for the presidency,” wrote Mohammed al-Beltagi, an FJP parliamentarian, on his Facebook page.
“It harms the Brotherhood and the nation, to have one faction assume all the responsibility under these conditions,” he wrote.
The movement, which advocates an Islamist state achieved through peaceful means, already faces a backlash over its domination of a panel tasked with drafting the country’s new constitution.
Liberals, representatives of the Coptic Christian Church and the Islamic Al-Azhar institute are boycotting the constituent assembly because of their meager representation.
The new constitution will replace the one suspended by the ruling military which took power after Mubarak’s ouster in an uprising last year.
An FJP parliamentarian said the movement nominated one of its leaders for president because it feared that it would lose support among the electorate if it did not have the executive power to implement its campaign promises.
“We need to implement our program or we will lose votes. We initially approached three candidates from outside the group,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The FJP is locked in a battle with the ruling generals to sack the military-appointed candidate and replace it with an FJP-led government, which the Islamist’s want to give more powers in the new constitution.