Egypt Brotherhood hopeful promises clerics a role (AP) Associated Press) By MAGGIE MICHAEL CAIRO, EGYPT 04/04/12 4:25 pm ET)
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CAIRO – The Muslim Brotherhood´s candidate for Egypt´s presidency is
lobbying hard for support of ultraconservative Muslim clerics,
promising them a say over legislation in the future to ensure it is
in line with Islamic law, as he tries to rally the divided Islamist
vote behind him.
The campaign dealmaking is a sign of how the Brotherhood, which is
Egypt´s strongest political movement and presents itself to the
public as a moderate force, could be pushed into a more hard-line
agenda by competition from the ultraconservatives known as Salafis.
Giving Muslim clerics a direct say over legislation would be
unprecedented in Egypt. Specifics of the Brotherhood promise, which
Salafi clerics said Wednesday the candidate Khairat el-Shater gave
them in a backroom meeting, were not known. But any clerical role
would certainly raise a backlash from liberal and moderate Egyptians
who already fear Islamists will sharply restrict civil rights as they
gain political power after the fall last year of President Hosni
It would also damage the image that the Brotherhood itself promoted
for the past year, insisting it does not seek a theocracy in Egypt or
to quickly implement Shariah.
El-Shater, a strongman in the Brotherhood, is pushing heavily to
prevent a split in the Islamist vote in the May 23-24 vote to elect
the first president since Mubarak´s ouster. A single Islamist
candidate could enjoy a widespread popular base, since the
Brotherhood and Salafis together won more than 70 percent of
parliament in elections late last year.
The Brotherhood alone holds nearly half of parliament and, alongside
Salafis, dominates a new commission formed to write a new
constitution. It is hoping for the presidency to seal its power.
But there are multiple candidates running on their Islamic agenda,
dividing the vote and raising a possible window of victory for a non-
El-Shater faces tough competition from a lawyer-turned-TV preacher,
Hazem Abu Ismail, who is the favorite of Salafis. Abu Ismail has
become ubiquitous in the campaign, plastering what seems like every
other lightpost and wall in Cairo with campaign posters showing his
cheerfully smiling face and long, conservative beard. After el-Shater
announced his candidacy over the weekend, Abu Ismail rejected
pressure to quit the race and many prominent Salafis announced they
were sticking with him.
"There is grave fragmentation among ranks of Islamists and its
getting worse with strong polarization between the two camps of
candidates," Khaled Said, a Salafi leader, said.
Salafis are the most hard-line of Egypt´s fundamentalists, depicting
themselves as the "guardians of Shariah" and touting a strict
interpretation of Islamic law similar to Saudi Arabia´s. Many of them
see the Brotherhood as too willing to compromise on implementing
Shariah and despise its political pragmatism.
Leading clerics with their trademark long, bushy beards and robes
have become regular guests on TV talk shows and issue fatwas or
religious edicts attacking secularists, saying Christians and women
can´t run for president, and calling for greater segregation of the
El-Shater met for four hours Tuesday night with a panel of Salafi
scholars and clerics, called the Jurisprudence Commission for Rights
and Reform, trying to win their support.
The discussion focused on "the shape of the state and the
implementation of Shariah," the commission said on its Facebook page
"El-Shater stressed that Shariah is his top and final goal and that
he would work on forming a group of religious scholars to help
parliament achieve this goal," the statement read. The commission is
an umbrella group of Islamist factions, mostly Salafis, set up after
last year´s anti-Mubarak uprising.
A Brotherhood spokesman could not immediately confirm the offer and
attempts to reach the head of the commission went unsuccessful.
The promise resembled an item in a 2007 political platform by the
Brotherhood, when it was still a banned opposition movement. It
called for parliament to consult with a body of clerics on
legislation to ensure it aligns with Shariah. The proposal was met
with a storm of condemnation at the time, and the Brotherhood backed
off of it.
Mohammed Habib, who was the Brotherhood´s deputy leader at that time,
says the platform item was for a body of clerics simply to advise
lawmakers, but that some in the group wanted it to have a more
powerful role to vet legislation.
Of el-Shater´s reported proposal, he said there were many
questions. "Does it cut powers from parliament? Would it have the
power to impose anything on parliament?" he said, speaking to the
Tharwat el-Kherbawi, a former Brotherhood member who fell out with
the group, said the council appeared similar to Iran´s system of
clerical "guardians" over the elected government.
"El-Shater wants to give Salafi clerics what they want," he
said. "The clerics will work on moving the Salafi mountain from Abu
Ismail to el-Shater but first they need some melting of the ice. And
this is the way to get through it."
The Brotherhood announced el-Shater´s nomination over the weekend,
breaking a yearlong promise that it would not run a candidate for the
presidency. The move raised accusations that the Brotherhood is
trying to monopolize all levers of power. It also angered many
Salafis because it would split the Islamist vote.
Another Islamist candidate in the race is Abdel-Moneim Abol-Fotouh, a
longtime Brotherhood member from its reformist wing who was booted
out of the organization last year when he announced he would run for
president. His campaign has drawn support from young, reform-members
of the Brotherhood.
El-Shater has held multiple meetings with Salafis trying to win
support and pressure Abu Ismail to drop out, said Salafi cleric Amin
el-Ansari, who is close to Abu Ismail´s campaign.
Some Salafis do see an appeal in el-Shater because the Brotherhoods´
more disciplined organization could be more likely to bring results,
"This is reassuring to the clerics and to the voters," he said. "The
Muslim Brotherhood members are like cogs in a machine and like
soldiers who wouldn´t violate the decisions of their leadership."
So far, however, Abu Ismail is staying in the race.
In a meeting in the Mediterranean city and Salafi stronghold
Alexandria, Abu Ismail was asked to withdraw. He refused,
replying, "the one who created sedition is the one who should put it
down," in reference to el-Shater´s nomination, according to his aide
Saber also threatened that unless the Al-Nour party, the Salafi´s
main political arm, endorses Abu Ismail, hundreds of young party
members would break away.
Abu Ismail faces a possible hitch. Opponents are demanding an
investigation into reports that his mother holds American
citizenship. If true, it would disqualify him from the race, since
the rule bar any candidate with a foreign parent. Abu Ismail has
insisted his mother is not a U.S. citizen. (© 2012 The Associated
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