Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which already controls parliament, is now eyeing the presidency as it seeks to consolidate its new-found power, but the move could also backfire on them, analysts say.
The Islamist movement said on Saturday that it would nominate its deputy leader, Khairat al-Shater ─ a business tycoon and the group’s main financier ─ to run for the country’s top job.
The announcement sent shockwaves through political circles, just two months before the first presidential election since a popular uprising toppled Hosni Mubarak last year. The election begins on May 23.
“The Brotherhood is trying to take all the apparatus in the country ─ it is not surprising that they are fielding a candidate,” said Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, a professor of political science at Cairo University.
“Since they won the parliamentary elections, we can expect them to make the same effort for the presidency and their candidate stands a good chance of making it through to the second round,” he told AFP.
But for political analyst Hassan Nafea, the battle will be a tough one for the Brotherhood, whose intention to consolidate power could prove “very dangerous and lead to polarization.”
For months, the Muslim Brotherhood had said it would endorse a consensus candidate, compatible with the group’s ideas but not affiliated to it, in order to mitigate fears that it was trying to monopolize power.
But the Brotherhood’s sudden U-turn and the decision to nominate Shater sparked heated arguments within the organization, even before the public announcement.
Shater’s nomination comes at a critical time, with the drafting of the constitution boycotted by liberals and leftists who accuse Islamists of monopolizing the process.
The panel tasked with writing Egypt’s new charter, whose members were elected by legislators, is made up of nearly 60 percent Islamists from the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and the more conservative Salafist Al-Nur party.
The Brotherhood has defended its decision to field one of its members, pointing to its frustration of seeing its efforts to have the current government sacked and replaced by an FJP-led cabinet ignored by the ruling military.
The current prime minister, Kamal al-Ganzuri, was a minister under Mubarak and is accused by the Islamists of stalling the revolution.
“There is a real threat to the revolution and to the democratic process,” said the Brotherhood’s secretary general, Mahmud Hussein, at a news conference on Saturday, adding that some presidential hopefuls were members of the old regime.
Among them is former Arab League chief and ex-foreign minister Amr Mussa, as well as Ahmed Shafiq, the last premier under Mubarak.
According to media reports, former intelligence chief Omar Suleiman will also be vying for the presidency.
Other Islamist candidates have already registered their candidacy, including former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, and Salafist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail whose active campaign risks stealing from the Brotherhood’s limelight.
“By fielding a candidate despite promising not to do so, the Brotherhood finds itself in a difficult position,” Nafea said.
“The revolution was not just about police brutality, it was also against the monopoly of the business elite,” said Rabab al-Mahdi, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo.
With Shater being a top organizational leader and also the movement’s main financier, “the Muslim Brotherhood are making the same mistakes as the National Democratic Party,” Mubarak’s old party, Mahdi told AFP.
The Brotherhood “has a strong political machine but they have exhausted all their chances for a consensus candidate. Khairat al-Shater is their last resort,” she said.