In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood does not necessarily spell family

The Brotherhood’s decision to name a presidential candidate is causing panic in the movement and throughout Egypt, but the military and the secular public have not yet had the final word.


The Muslim Brotherhood‘s decision to field Khairat al-Shater as a candidate for Egypt’s presidency has stirred panic not only throughout Israel, but throughout Egypt as well, and even within the Muslim Brotherhood itself.

Supposedly, the Muslim Brotherhood’s goal is to seize control of every outlet of the Egyptian government, from the parliament – in which the Brotherhood won forty seven percent of seats – to the constitutional drafting committee, which has a majority of religious members. Now, the actual presidency is in the Brotherhood’s sights.

Nevertheless, the decision to field a presidential candidate should not worry Israel as much as the Muslim Brotherhood‘s resounding victory in the elections should .It is still widely unknown what kind, and how much authority the president elect will have, as the constitution has yet to be drafted – a process which will no doubt cause even more political in-fighting.

Shater Egypt  - Reuters - February 28, 2007

Khairat al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood's third-highest ranking member in Cairo - Photo by Reuters

However, even if a new president is granted a wide range of powers, (which would still be far less than those bestowed on former president Hosni Mubarak,) the Egyptian parliament already holds vast powers in terms of determining both domestic and foreign policy – powers that any president, whether or not he hails from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood – will have to reckon with. For example, should the Egyptian parliament wish to alter, or even cancel the Camp David agreements with Israel, it could do so even without a Brotherhood president.

Senior representatives of the Brotherhood, especially Khairat al-Shater, have made it clear that they are obligated to uphold the Camp David Accords, as well as every other agreement Egypt has made with foreign powers, including the agreements to sell oil and natural gas to Israel.

Al-Shater, a millionaire and successful businessman, has many talks with high-ranking U.S. officials under his belt, including talks with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from whom he requested economic aid. Al-Shater, like his fellow Brotherhood leaders, is not particularly fond of Israel, but it is likely that his disdain for Israel is not as intense as that of Amr Moussa, former Arab League Secretary General, or any of the other 200-plus presidential candidates.

It is important to remember that in fact, veteran left-wingers led the criticism of Anwar Sadat’s signing the peace agreement, and secular intellectuals, journalists, actors, and lawyers were those who cemented the real foundation of the boycott of Israel.

Al-Shater’s stance illustrates the difficulties a religious party faces in trying to adopt an unbiased ideology. This is not surprising. The Brotherhood has influenced and intervened in Egyptian politics since its inception in 1928, and it cannot step aside and let others take away its political achievements. Since its activities were outlawed in 1954, the Brotherhood has not ceased its nationwide spread. The Brotherhood’s most impressive political victory came in 2005, under Mubarak, when the Brotherhood was able to win 88 seats in parliament. Throughout the years, the Brotherhood has been able to neutralize criticism for participating in politics, neglecting the Islamist vision – the ideal of creating one Muslim nation not cooperating with regimes considered to be heretical. Long before the most recent uprising, the Muslim Brotherhood has not had a problem cooperating with left-wing groups, youth movements, or liberal organizations.

The necessity to come to terms with the Egyptian political reality is what pushed the Brotherhood into fielding a presidential candidate of its own. It was a difficult decision, and the fact that 52 of 108 members of the Shura Council voted against fielding a candidate only further illustrates the difficulty of such a move.

Mohammed Badie, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, is plagued not only by theological misgivings, but by tactical misgivings as well. Will fielding a Brotherhood candidate cause a rift in the movement? Is it impossible, at this point, to bolster the candidcay of Abdel Munim Abu al-Futuh, a member dismissed from party ranks after announcing his participation in the race? Perhaps Badie should unite the movement now, after learning of his high levels of support among young members of the Brotherhood?

Could the brotherhood also put a hamper on other religious candidates, like the leader of the Salafi movement?

Creating a rift among the different religious voices could bring failure to the movement. Could the fact that the Brotherhood changed directions despite its previous decision not to field a candidate erode the party’s image, portraying it as a party that cannot live up to its promises?

Despite these difficult questions, the Brotherhood decided to act like any other political movement, determining that it cannot neglect any branch of politics. Rumors have already spread in Egypt that the Brotherhood decided to field a candidate in an attempt to twist the arm of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which did not allow the Brotherhood to create a new government despite its requests, and showed intent in changing the composition of the constitutional drafting council.

However, the threat of a Brotherhood candidate does not necessarily frighten the Egyptian army, which still has the power to change the composition of the constitutional council, and influence the amount of authority a future president can hold. The army could allow the Brotherhood to create a new government, in return for letting go of its designs on the presidency.

The army could even allow the Brotherhood to run for the presidency, but insist on setting the precedent that the army will in fact determine the president’s political authority.

The army is not the only barrier. The opposition movement – secular parties and various public figures – have already started acting against appointments to the constitutional council, with some resigning from the council and threaten in gto draw up their own constitution. And of course, Tahrir Square has yet to have the final say.


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By Zvi Bar’el