Islamist Group Breaks Pledge to Stay Out of Race in Egypt (NY) TIMES) By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK CAIRO, EGYPT 04/01/12)
NEW YORK TIMES
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CAIRO — The Muslim Brotherhood nominated its chief strategist and
financier Khairat el-Shater on Saturday as its candidate to become
Egypt’s first president since Hosni Mubarak, breaking a pledge not to
seek the top office and a monopoly on power.
Mr. Shater, 62, a millionaire business tycoon, was a political
prisoner until just a year ago. Because of the Brotherhood’s
unrivaled grass-roots organization and popular appeal, he is now a
He is being nominated at a moment of escalating tension between the
Brotherhood and Egypt’s military rulers. The Brotherhood, an Islamist
group outlawed under Mr. Mubarak, already dominates the Parliament
and the assembly writing a new Constitution. It is now demanding to
replace the military-led cabinet and is tussling with the military
council over questions like the degree of civilian oversight of the
military under the new charter.
His candidacy is likely to unnerve the West and has already outraged
Egyptian liberals, who wonder what other pledges of moderation the
Brotherhood may abandon.
The Brotherhood’s entry into the race also turns the election into a
debate over the future of the Islamist political movement that is
sure to resonate in the region. Mr. Shater faces Islamist rivals to
his left and right — one a more liberal former Brotherhood leader,
the other an ultraconservative Salafist. Indeed, the Brotherhood may
have entered the race in part because a strong showing by either
rival could undercut the group’s authority as the predominant voice
of Islam in Egyptian politics.
Mr. Shater is considered a conservative but a pragmatist. He has
argued that Islam demands tolerance and democracy, has championed
free trade and open markets and has guided the Brotherhood through
its first public commitment to uphold the peace agreement with Israel.
But he also argues for an explicitly Islamic government. And while
some in the group have argued that it should tolerate diverse
approaches to Islamist politics from its own members, he has helped
enforce the authority of the Brotherhood’s executive committee over
its members, stirring allegations from liberals that it is
Doubts about the strength of the Brotherhood’s commitment to its
promises raise particular concerns in the United States and Israel,
which considered the Mubarak government’s commitment to the peace
agreement a linchpin of regional stability.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, declined to
comment specifically on Mr. Shater, but called the nomination
worrisome. “Obviously this is not good news,” the official said. “The
Muslim Brotherhood is no friend of Israel’s. They do not wish us
well.” The official added: “The big question will be how pragmatic
they will be once in power. It could go in either direction.”
In Washington, the State Department declined to comment. But many
American officials who have met with Mr. Shater on visits to Cairo,
including top State Department officials and Congressional
delegations, have praised his moderation, business savvy and
At a news conference announcing the nomination, officials of the
Brotherhood and its political arm insisted they were forced to offer
a candidate because of the urgent needs left by more than a year of
military-led transitional government. They alluded to a mounting
economic crisis as well as unspecified “threats to the revolution.”
“We decided that Egypt now needs a candidate from us to bear this
responsibility,” said Mohamed el-Morsi, president the Brotherhood’s
Freedom and Justice Party. “We have no desire at all to monopolize
Mr. Shater was not present at the news conference. Instead, the
Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, read a letter from Mr.
Shater resigning his post as deputy supreme guide to run for
president. “Although I never thought of occupying any executive
position in the state or running for it, I can’t help but comply with
the decision of the group,” Mr. Shater wrote, according to Mr. Badie.
The Brotherhood, an 84-year-old religious and anticolonialist
movement that became the wellspring of Islamist ideologies around the
world, was outlawed but intermittently tolerated under Mr. Mubarak,
and most of its senior leaders have spent time in prison.
Mr. Shater was a favorite target because of his role as a major donor
and financial manager for the group, as well as an increasingly
influential strategist; he spent a total of about 12 years behind
bars, more than any other Brotherhood leader. He was released last
year on a suspended sentence, but his conviction was not overturned,
leaving him with a record that would appear to bar him from running
for office. But the Brotherhood leaders said they did not expect any
legal obstacles, suggesting a deal was in the works.
After the ouster of Mr. Mubarak, it was Mr. Shater who explained to
the news media that the Brotherhood had pledged not to field a
presidential candidate, to avoid repeating the experience of the
short-lived Islamist victory in the 1991 Algerian elections, which
elicited a military crackdown and the start of a decade-long civil
“When Islamists there reached power quickly,” Mr. Shater said
then, “the military establishment turned against them.”
On Saturday some fellow Islamists criticized the Brotherhood for
abandoning its pledge. Kamal El Helbawy, an ex-spokesman for the
group in Europe, resigned, saying that the Brotherhood looked
like “liars” and that its political mission had taken precedence over
the religious one.
Abdel Rahman Ayyash, a former member who used to work closely with
Mr. Shater, accused him of merely seeking political power. “For the
first time since I was a Muslim Brother, I’m certain of bad
intentions,” he said.
Mr. Shater was considered a hero of Brotherhood reformers. He helped
chart the group’s steps into electoral democracy, both in
professional associations and as the only real opposition in the
Mubarak-dominated Parliament. And he led the creation of the
Brotherhood’s Web sites in Arabic and English, spawning a generation
In prison and out, Mr. Shater served as the Brotherhood’s chief
liaison for negotiations or other exchanges with the Mubarak security
services, and since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster he has continued that role
with the generals.
Since the ouster of Mr. Mubarak, however, many younger and reform-
minded members have said they have grown disappointed with Mr.
Shater. They say he has enforced an insular and hierarchical culture
left over from the group’s decades underground. Mr. Shater led a push
to bar Brotherhood members from dissenting from the political stands
of its Freedom and Justice Party, and he led the expulsion of those
who sought less conservative Islamist politics.
One of those Mr. Shater helped expel is now among the other front-
runners in the presidential campaign, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a
former senior leader of the Brotherhood and a liberal reformer within
the group. Mr. Aboul Fotouh was expelled for defying the
Brotherhood’s decision, now reversed, not to allow any of its members
to run for president. He has continued to try to rally Brotherhood
members and Islamists, as well as more liberal and secular Egyptians,
to his banner.
He argues that no one has a monopoly on the application of Islam to
political life, so the Islamist movement should have room for
liberals and leftists as well as conservatives.
The Brotherhood has now dropped the pledge that Mr. Aboul Fotouh was
expelled for violating, but the group has continued to oppose his
candidacy because of his insubordination, even threatening to expel
members who support him.
On the other side, Mr. Shater faces competition from an
ultraconservative populist, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who has built a
national following with an old-school Islamist platform, including
vigorous attacks on Israel and the West, as well as an emphasis on
restoring strict Islamic law. His success would seriously discredit
the Brotherhood’s efforts to portray Egypt’s Islamists as moderate
But Mr. Badie, the supreme guide, warned Mr. Shater’s opponents to
watch out, reminding them that Mr. Shater’s prayers in prison for the
end of the Mubarak government were answered. “To all those who will
slander engineer Khairat el-Shater, his prayers against those who
slander him are answered — literally by the way,” Mr. Badie said.
Mayy El Sheikh contributed reporting. (Copyright 2012 The New York
Times Company 04/01/12)
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