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Muslim Brotherhood shocks Egypt with presidential run

Nariman El-Mofty / AP

The Muslim Brotherhood's presidential nominee Khairat el-Shater is seen here in a Jan. 24, 2012 file photo.

NEWS ANALYSIS

CAIRO – Few events have captured the attention of the global media like Egypt's revolution. Culminating, like an earthquake, with the departure of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, the world was transfixed.

Since then, Egypt has gone through a series of political aftershocks. From the rise of Islam-centered ultra-conservative political parties to deadly street riots and the missteps of the country's ruling generals, Egypt's transition (or intransigence) has been the subject of intense speculation and analysis.

Nothing, though, has piqued interest as much as the move by the Muslim Brotherhood to nominate a candidate for the country's presidency.


Political U-turn
Things have come to full boil in the past few days. And what has emerged, according to analysts and commentators, is a rupture in trust between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian people. To say the Brotherhood has lost its base of support is inaccurate, but Egyptians across the political spectrum feel a sense of disappointment to come face to face with the duplicity of politics – common the world over and now seen and practiced openly in Egypt. 

The culmination of this mood came on Saturday, when the Brotherhood, long a socio-charitable and religious organization, announced that it was nominating one of its own for Egypt's top job, a move that sent shock waves through the nascent political establishment.

Muslim Brotherhood says it will run candidate for president in Egypt election

Why the shock? Well, for the past year, the Muslim Brotherhood has categorically denied it would field a presidential candidate and repeatedly has tried to assuage fears that it was seeking control of Egyptian political life.

The signs, though, were there. Shortly after Mubarak's ouster, the Brotherhood embarked on a process of "translating" its popular social support into mainstream politics. To do so, it launched a political party, called the Freedom and Justice Party, ostensibly aimed at putting a political face on a traditional image.

At the time, the Brotherhood was, at least in public, keen on showing that it was just a part of the quilt that makes up the Egyptian political fabric; it did not want to be too much in the background while at the same time it did not want to appear to be the quilt-maker.

That image was crushed on Saturday, according to analysts and commentators, who say the move has exposed the movement’s true aspirations.

Notably, the decision to nominate a president didn't happen at the Freedom and Justice Party’s headquarters – it took place at the Muslim Brotherhood's headquarters. In addition, the announcement that Khairat el Shater was their presidential candidate was not made by the head of the political party (although he was present) but by the Brotherhood's leader, Dr.  Mohammed el Badie.

Fueling fears
The decision by the Muslim Brotherhood to seek control of the executive branch highlights a potentially dangerous political reality that has many worried in Egypt.

Already with control of the parliament and as the majority in the constitutional convention tasked with writing a new constitution, the Brotherhood is ubiquitous in Egypt's political life. Add the presidency and they would control virtually the whole political system.

Critics say such a move would allow the Brotherhood to steamroll its conservative agenda across Egypt. They compare the monopolization of power by a single party to the Mubarak-era rule of the National Democratic Party, which also controlled all three branches of government and thousands of local councils.

Proponents say the democratic consolidation of power will allow the Brotherhood to implement change at a time when political fragmentation threatens to paralyze a country in transition. They say that with a single cohesive voice in control, Egypt could take the hard decisions needed to bring about speedy reform.

But even prominent members of the Brotherhood have expressed their disappointment in the decision to put forth a candidate. It has been described by many in the organization as the single gravest threat in its nearly 80-year history.

In particular, they suggest that the organization has set itself up for failure because if it does not bring about the desired change in Egypt, it will burden full responsibility for the failure. (Others point out, though, that if the Muslim Brotherhood can turn Egypt around, it will have cemented its place in the nation’s politics.)

Back room deal making?
Part of the concern is role of the military and the possibility that a deal was struck between the generals and the Brotherhood.

One theory suggests the Brotherhood was given the green light to nominate a candidate so long as, once in power, it directs attention away from the military, the generals and their economic interests.

On the other hand, others theorize that the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling military council have been engaged in bitter accusations and power struggles behind closed doors. And that as a result of the mistrust brewing between the two groups, the Brotherhood was trying to force the military's hand by showing it had enough political clout to defy the ruling generals.

Others even speculated that the Muslim Brotherhood sought the approval of Washington before it nominated el-Shater as a presidential candidate. In a statement issued in Cairo, the U.S. Embassy categorically denied that Washington or Congress had been asked or sought to give any explicit or tacit approval to the Muslim Brotherhood’s move.

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