Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Muslim Brotherhood candidate alters Egypt's election race

Addition of Al Shater, a pragmatist, puts Brotherhood candidate squarely between the other main Islamist party options.

CAIRO // A Muslim Brotherhood member's entrance into Egypt's presidential contest has virtually ensured that an Islamist candidate will make it to the final round in June.

By backing Khairat Al Shater, 62, the party's main financier, the Brotherhood has propelled him to the top group of contenders along with two Islamists and a popular non-Islamist candidate, former foreign minister and Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa.

Electoral demographics and the current composition of the field make it highly likely that at least one Islamist candidate will proceed to a run-off after the first round of voting on May 23 and 24, analysts said. The second phase will likely pit an Islamist against Mr Moussa or against another Islamist, unless a particularly strong military-backed candidate joins the competition.

Mr Moussa, who enjoys widespread name recognition and support, said on Monday that Mr Al Shater's candidacy had shifted the nature of the race.

"The Brotherhood's announcement of Al Shater as its candidate for the presidency of the republic will force the rest of the candidates affiliated with the same stream, in particular, and the Islamist stream, in general, to reshuffle their cards," he said, according to the state news agency Mena.

Mr Al Shater benefits from the Brotherhood's strong organisation but is not as well known across Egypt.

Meanwhile, a more significant power struggle between the Brotherhood and the ruling military council, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf), has reached new heights, according to Khalil Al Anani, an expert on Islamist politics at Durham University in the United Kingdom.

"Khairat Al Shater is the only person that can bargain and negotiate with the military," he said. "He's the strategist mind in the Brotherhood - the strongest one - and he can direct the movement in any direction he wants. He's a very strong man in the movement, and he's a very pragmatic person."

That pragmatism may play out as the Brotherhood stakes out a position between the two other main Islamist candidates in the race.

Hazem Saleh Abou Ismail, 51, an ultraconservative Islamist preacher, has a strong chance of finishing high, taking votes from Mr Al Shater in the process, analysts said.

"He's a fiery populist campaigner. He knows how to talk directly to the people. He has the charisma that some of the other candidates don't have, and he offers an uncompromising vision of Islam and Islamic law," said Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. "I think a lot of Egyptians are looking for that."

Mr Abou Ismail's campaign posters dot the Egyptian countryside and districts throughout Cairo more than any other candidate, and he has preached his religiously conservative, anti-western message before massive crowds in the capital.

His calls for the implementations of Sharia law have rankled liberals here. He has said a minimum marriage age above 12 is wrong and suggested that cooking with nutmeg, which has narcotic properties, is sinful.

Young Islamists and liberals have come out in force for Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, 60, whom Brotherhood leaders ejected when he defied their pledge last year not to offer a presidential candidate. Many young Brotherhood members feel betrayed by the organisation's leaders now that they have gone back on their own promise.

The moderate Islamist has so far failed to garner significant support among other Islamists, many of whom have yet to make up their mind about whom to back.

"I think the Brotherhood has already paid the price of losing those people," said Nathan Brown, a professor at George Washington University who recently wrote a book on Islamists and the electoral process. "I don't think a Khairat Al Shater candidacy will affect that that much."

Another Islamist moderate, Mohammad Salim Al Awa, is trailing the other candidates.

The divisions among Islamists have created the impression among some that Islamist organisations are concerned more about their own future than Egypt's.

"Is he going to be reporting to the people of Egypt or is he going to be reporting to the Muslim Brotherhood?" Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians party and a member of parliament, said on Sunday, referring to Mr Al Shater.

Mohamed Elgeba, 27, a longtime Brotherhood member who left the organisation last spring and has since joined the Aboul Fotouh campaign's policy committee, said this dualism runs in the face of Egypt's interests.

"When we talk about Aboul Fotouh, we don't say that he is a candidate for the Islamists," Mr Elgeba said. "He is an Islamist, but he is a candidate for Egypt."

Mr Al Shater's candidacy has thrust the spotlight on the Brotherhood's internal politics, according to Quinn Mecham, an expert on political Islam at Middlebury College in the United States.

"I think that it creates an environment where a lot of their back room debates become suddenly very public debates," Mr Mecham said. "The fact that the differences in ideology and platform are now spilling out into what will be a very public campaign is a very interesting development."

 

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani greets supporters after his arrival in Zahedan, the regional capital of Sistan and Baluchestan province on Tuesday, April 15, 2014. During Mr Rouhani's two-day visit, he will tour several other cities and hold meetings with local scholars and entrepreneurs. Maryam Rahmanian for The National

On the road with Hassan Rouhani

Iran's president is touring some of Iran's most underdeveloped provinces. Foreign correspondent Yeganeh Salehi is traveling with him.

 The Doha-based Youssef Al Qaradawi speaks to the crowd as he leads Friday prayers in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt in February, 2011. The outspoken pro-Muslim Brotherhood imam has been critical of the UAE’s policies toward Islamist groups, adding to friction between Qatar and other GCC states. Khalil Hamra / AP Photo

Brotherhood imam skips Doha sermon, but more needed for GCC to reconcile

That Youssef Al Qaradawi did not speak raises hopes that the spat involving Qatar and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain might be slowly moving towards a resolution.

 Twitter photo of  Abdel Fattah El Sisi on the campaign trail on March 30. Photo courtesy-Twitter/@SisiCampaign

El Sisi rides a bicycle, kicks off social media storm

The photos and video created a huge buzz across social media networks, possibly a marker of a new era for Egypt.

 An Afghan election commission worker carries a ballot box at a vote counting centre in Jalalabad on April 6. A roadside bomb hit a truck carrying full ballot boxes in northern Afghanistan, killing three people a day after the country voted for a successor to President Hamid Karzai. Eight boxes of votes were destroyed in the blast, which came as the three leading candidates voiced concerns about possible fraud. Noorullah Shirzada / AFP Photo

Two pressing questions for Afghanistan’s future president

Once in office, the next Afghan president must move fast to address important questions that will decide the immediate future of the country.

 Friday is UN Mine Awareness Day and Omer Hassan, who does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan, is doing all he can to teach people about the dangers posed by landmines. Louise Redvers for The National

A landmine nearly ended Omer’s life but he now works to end the threat of mines in Iraq

Omer Hassan does demining work in Iraqi Kurdistan and only has to show people his mangled leg to underscore the danger of mines. With the world marking UN Mine Awareness Day on Friday, his work is as important as ever as Iraq is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world.

 Supporters of Turkey's ruling AKP cheer as they follow the election's results in front of the party's headquarters in Ankara on March 30. Adem Altan/ AFP Photo

Erdogan critic fears retaliation if he returns to Turkey

Emre Uslu is a staunch critic of Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now, with a mass crackdown on opposition expected, he is unsure when he can return home.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National