Egypt Brotherhood conflicted over presidential run (AP) Associated Press) By MAGGIE MICHAEL CAIRO, EGYPT 03/27/12 5:22 pm ET)
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CAIRO – Egypt´s Muslim Brotherhood has postponed an open
confrontation with the country´s military rulers and other political
players Tuesday when it delayed a decision about whether to field a
candidate for the first presidential elections since the ouster of
An eight-hour meeting of the Brotherhood´s highest leadership body
failed to come up with a final decision on whether to reverse an
earlier pledge not to contest the presidency. Further meetings of the
Brotherhood´s Shura Council were to continue next week and a senior
member of the group described the discussions as "comprehensive"
The lack of a decision Tuesday highlights growing divisions within
the group over the thorny presidency question but also the group´s
hesitancy over a confrontation with the ruling military council and
other national forces over the issue.
The Islamist group´s increasing grip on power has fueled concerns
among liberals and secularists over its intentions and whether it
aims to govern alone, controlling both the parliament and the
presidency. If it were to run a candidate, it would hike their fears
that it aims for a monopoly.
Moreover, it could anger the military. The generals are believed to
be aiming to back a consensus candidate for president — one that
would have Brotherhood backing but would also protect the military´s
interests. If the Brotherhood goes with its own candidate, it would
challenge that scenario.
"We discussed all the recent developments. There are many views, but
the debate is not settled yet. So they remain points of view," said
Mahmoud Hussein, the Brotherhood´s secretary general. "We prefer to
postpone the discussions so that minds and bodies come prepared and
not tired the next round."
More than 100 members of the Brotherhood´s Shura Council, which
serves as a sort of legislative body for the group, met Tuesday to
decide on fielding a presidential candidate, according to a statement
on the group´s website.
The Brotherhood has emerged as the most powerful political group
since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, capturing nearly 50 percent
of the seats in Egypt´s first post-uprising parliament. The group has
also claimed a firm majority for Islamists in the 100-member panel
that will write the country´s post-Mubarak constitution.
If the group makes a presidential bid, it would certainly deepen
these fears that the group wants to govern alone. Since Mubarak´s
ouster, the group has promised not to field a candidate in order to
allay those worries.
Given the Brotherhood´s popular support and skills at rallying
voters, its candidate would stand a strong chance of winning the
presidency in late May´s elections.
Some members have voiced reservations about the group reversing its
earlier promise. A top Brotherhood lawmaker, Mohammed el-Beltagy,
told Egypt´s Al-Tahrir television late Monday that an internal poll
showed a majority of Brotherhood members oppose reversing the pledge
not to field a candidate.
Despite its popular appeal, the Brotherhood has been in a tight spot
and many of its supporters have grown frustrated with the group´s
inability to translate its newly gained political clout into real
power. The group has in recent weeks been pushing the ruling generals
to sack the current military-appointed prime minister and allow the
creation of a Brotherhood-led Cabinet. The military council has
refused, and the two powerful players appeared on a collision course.
"The honeymoon between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military
council ... has reached its logical end," Hassan Nafaa wrote in the
Al-Masry Al-Youm daily. "Egypt is stuck between two powers. Each is
trying to flex its muscles in the face of the other and impose its
will over the other."
Tuesday´s inconclusive meeting appeared to have delayed a showdown.
Hussein also said there are no plans for the group to take to the
streets this weekend in protests against the incumbent government, as
local media had reported they would.
The move to consider running a candidate appeared to be rooted in the
group´s frustrations. According to Al-Masry Al-Youm, two of the top
names under consideration as possible nominees are Brotherhood
strongman and financier Khairat el-Shater and parliamentary speaker
Saad el-Katatni. El-Shater, however, faces a legal barrier to running
because of a 2008 conviction on money laundering and terrorism
Some observers believe the Brotherhood-military showdown is little
more than a smoke screen to conceal a deal to split power. The
Egyptian media has speculated for months of a secret deal between
them over a so-called "consensus candidate," whom both the Islamists
and the military could support.
Another factor in the Brotherhood´s possible bid for the presidency
is the challenge from an ex-member, Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, who was
thrown out of the group because he decided to run despite the group´s
ban. He has drawn support from many of the Brotherhood´s young
members because of his moderate stances.
The liberals, leftists and youth groups that led the anti-Mubarak
uprising are struggling to get their voices heard in the tug-of-war
between the military and the Brotherhood.
Their fears deepened this week, after the Brotherhood and
ultraconservative Salafis gave themselves a firm majority of seats on
a 100-member constitutional panel. That gives the Islamists the
strongest hand in writing the new charter, which will determine the
balance of power between Egypt´s previously all-powerful president
and parliament, and define the country´s future identity, including
the role of religion and minority rights.
More than a dozen mostly liberal and secular-minded members have
withdrawn from the panel, saying the committee does not reflect the
diversity of Egyptian society. They plan to write an alternative
constitution, and many plan to return to street protests. But some
liberals are also calling on the generals to intervene.
"It is up to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forced to get
involved," said Sameh Ashour, the head of the lawyer´s syndicate who
resigned from the panel. "We cannot leave representation of Egypt to
a majority in parliament."
The head of Egypt´s ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein
Tantawi met with representatives of political parties, including the
Brotherhood´s political arm, to discuss the standoff a day before the
panel was scheduled to meet.
Tantawi said "the constitution must be in the hands of all Egyptians,
because it will for a long time chart the road Egypt takes internally
and externally." His comments were carried by the official news
agency. ___ Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Aya Batrawy
contributed to this report. (© 2012 The Associated Press 03/27/12)
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