Egypt presidential candidate is shrewd strategist (JERUSALEM POST) By OREN KESSLER 04/06/12)
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Khairat al-Shater, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential
candidate as of last week, is the epitome of the Islamist movement’s
mix of pragmatism and deep religious conservatism.
A follower of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab socialism in his youth,
Shater studied engineering in university but gradually shifted to an
identification with political Islam. After a few years in Britain in
the early 1980s, he returned to Brotherhood activity in Egypt and
became its Cairo branch leader in 1995.
Shater, widely known by his nickname “The Engineer,” has made
millions through a successful chain of home-furnishing stores. His
business savvy and strategic skills soon made him the Brotherhood’s
Now 61, Shater engaged in Islamist activity that earned him 12 years
in prison in six different spells. He was released last year
following the popular uprisings that ousted longtime president Hosni
The Brotherhood has dominated Egyptian parliamentary elections,
garnering half of all votes in balloting that ended earlier this
year. Still, until last week the movement had insisted it would not
run a presidential candidate.
The decision to renege on that pledge has shaken up Egypt’s
presidential race. The latest polls by Al-Ahram newspaper show
Mubarak’s foreign minister Amr Moussa leading the pack with 32
percent support, followed by the Salafi Islamist candidate Hazem
Salah Abu Ismail with 23 percent.
The results, however, were tallied before the announcement of the
Shater is already considered one of the front-runners of the race,
and his official campaign Facebook page has accumulated
85,000 “likes” in just its first week.
Shater’s technical education, business career and years in Britain
appear to have made him more attuned to Western sensibilities, and he
has spoken positively of free-market principles and foreign
investment in Egypt’s troubled economy.
Brotherhood figures have delivered contradictory signals over its
commitment to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel, but Shater has
remained cautiously tight-lipped. His only reference to the treaty
came in a January interview with Al- Ahram in which he said the group
would abide by Egypt’s past diplomatic agreements.
“We will abide by the commitments of the Egyptian government
regardless of our reservations,” he said. “We commit to all matters
pertaining to the agreements in general, and not only with Israel.”
In 2005 he penned an op-ed in the Guardian newspaper in a bid to
assuage Western fears over the prospect of Islamic governance.
The Brotherhood hopes to “trigger a renaissance in Egypt, rooted in
the religious values upon which Egyptian culture and society is
built; for we believe these values can effectively deal with the
obstacles that have hindered reform and development,” Shater wrote.
“The success of the Muslim Brotherhood should not frighten anybody:
We respect the rights of all religious and political groups,” he
Shater’s Facebook page hails the candidate, in Arabic and English, as
the “Engineer of Egypt’s Renaissance.”
The page also features an article from the US magazine Foreign Policy
listing Shater as one of last year’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers.” The
magazine’s editors explained that Shater was included on the
list “for working to reconcile Islamism and democracy [we hope].” (©
1995-2011, The Jerusalem Post 04/06/12)
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