Brotherhood steers tricky currents of post-Mubarak Egypt (CNN) Cable News Network) By Ben Wedeman and Mohamed Fadel Fahmy CAIRO, EGYPT 04/05/12)
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Cairo (CNN) -- Barely a year after the revolt that toppled longtime
strongman Hosni Mubarak, Egypt´s long-banned Muslim Brotherhood has
become the leading force in the country´s new politics.
But that success is already leading to grumbles on the streets of
Cairo that the world´s oldest and largest Islamist movement has
become just another bunch of politicians, or worse.
"The lower house is with the Brotherhood. The upper house is with the
Brotherhood. The constitutional council is with the Brotherhood. The
presidency will be with the Brotherhood. The unions and professional
associations are with the Brotherhood," Nasser Ibrahim, an
archaeologist, told CNN. "It will be as if Mubarak´s party never
The Brotherhood announced over the weekend that its political arm,
the Freedom and Justice Party, had nominated 62-year old
multimillionaire businessman Khairat al-Shater as its candidate for
president in May. Al-Shater is the party´s longtime second-in-
command, a top strategist and financier.
It says its decision to enter the presidential race -- reversing
repeated pledges to sit out the contest -- was made to maintain a
smooth transition of power in Egypt, where a military junta took
power after Mubarak´s ouster.
"We came by the vote of the people and by the choice of the people
from within the system itself, so I think we are quite democratic in
terms of the process and the means," said Jihad Haddad, who is
helping organize al-Shater´s campaign. "What we really want is
application of real reform policies on the ground, and we can´t have
that opportunity if we are out of executive power."
The Brotherhood has as its stated aim the establishment of a more
traditional Islamic society in Egypt. It was officially banned in
Egypt under Mubarak but unofficially tolerated, though its members
were periodically harassed and jailed.
With Mubarak gone, the Brotherhood claimed the lion´s share of seats
in Egypt´s parliament and is expected to play a prominent role in the
writing of a new constitution. But its decision to field a
presidential candidate after all has hit a sour note in some quarters.
"We are surprised that the Muslim Brotherhood never keeps their
word," said Ahmed Maher, founder of the April 6th Movement, one of
the youth groups that led the uprising against Mubarak. "They said
they would not seek more than 20% of parliament seats, and now they
have the majority. Same with the president -- they specifically said
they would not field a candidate and now they come with al-Shater."
Meanwhile, U.S.-based analyst Shibley Telhami said Freedom and
Justice MPs he met with in Washington this week are already facing
complaints from disgruntled Egyptians, even before they form a
government of their own. He said one lawmaker told him, "I go back
home to my constituents and they already are blaming me for a lack of
Sondos Asem, a spokeswoman for the Brotherhood, told CNN on Monday
that the group decided to enter al-Shater in the May presidential
vote because the rest of the roughly 450-member field lacks
the "leadership potential that would bring about stability in Egypt
and in our international relations."
"We believe there is some type of leadership vacuum among the current
candidates, and we feel that we now have a historic responsibility to
field the candidate who we believe will provide this kind of
responsible leadership and who will safeguard the democratic
process," she said. That process "is threatened by many attempts to
dissolve the current parliament or to hinder the establishment of the
current assembly," she said.
But Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for Peace and Development at
the University of Maryland and a Brookings Institution scholar, said
the decision to enter al-Shater is a risky move reflected in the
leadership´s split vote on whether to nominate him.
Despite its dominance, the Muslim Brotherhood appeared to have been
caught by surprise by the strong showing of the more conservative
Salafist movement, which advocates the adoption of strict Islamic
law. The Brotherhood has been most interested in keeping a strong
hand on the writing of a new constitution, and it assumed that they
could have enough influence on the presidency by endorsing another
party´s candidate, Telhami said.
"They could back a liberal president who understands their interest
and could make a deal with them," Telhami said. "But things didn´t
work out the way they envisioned, in part because they didn´t expect
how tough the attack from the right was going to be."
The Brotherhood was late to join the protests that toppled Mubarak,
and the liberals and secularists who led that uprising fear that it
may use its electoral victories to impose a fundamentalist Islamic
agenda. While considered a conservative, al-Shater is also credited
with being the driving force behind the Brotherhood´s affirmation
that Egypt should continue to honor its international agreements --
including its peace treaty with Israel.
Haddad said that if the Brotherhood wins the presidency, "We will be
accountable for everything." But Cairo businessman Usama Hassan
complained that the Brotherhood remains far too secretive.
"There is no transparency, and since there is no transparency, we are
still in the reign of Hosni Mubarak," Hassan said.
And Islam Lotfy, a former leader of the Brotherhood´s youth movement,
says he was kicked out of his job at al-Shater´s orders for trying to
set up a centrist party after the revolution.
"I believe Khairat al-Shater likes everything concentrated around
him," Lotfy said. "He holds all the threads in his hands -- the
threads of politics, money and missionary work -- and that is very
He said Egypt may find itself with another strongman in the mold of
Gamal Nasser, who founded the modern state, "but with the beard of
In recent weeks, the group has clashed with the Supreme Council of
the Armed Forces and the civilian government the generals installed,
led by Mubarak-era Prime Minister Kamal Ganzouri. But Alaa al-Aswani,
a liberal novelist and commentator, says it has played into the hands
of the generals.
"The Muslim Brotherhood has been used as a tool by the SCAF to stop
the real change, just to make a change on the top, on the surface, in
order to change the revolution into a coup d´etat," al-Aswani said.
Others see its entry into the presidential race as a way to secure
its position in the face of gains from the Salafists, who took the
second-largest share of seats in parliament.
"The Muslim Brotherhood, like the former NDP, are only concerned with
their self-interest," Maher said. "We see this by their refusal to
participate in major protests or events. They failed to join the
revolutionary voice against the current Ganzouri government and
boycotted protests when he was first instated, and now they are
fighting and challenging SCAF to expel him when he did not serve
their interests." CNN´s Matt Smith in Atlanta contributed to this
report. (© 2012 Cable News Network 04/05/12)
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