By Mai Shams El-Din
CAIRO: The surprising nomination of Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Khairat Al-Shater for the presidential elections will only be in favor of candidates affiliated with the former regime as it will split the Islamist vote, analysts concluded.
“Candidates belonging to the former regime are the ones who are benefiting the most from Al-Shater’s nomination, because simply it will split the vote of the Islamist candidates who are willing to confront the old regime remnants,” researcher in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Nabil Abdel Fattah told Daily News Egypt Sunday.
In a press conference aired live on Saturday, Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, said that the group had to change its previous decision of not contesting the presidential race due to drastic changes in the political scene.
“We have witnessed obstacles standing in the way of parliament to take decisions to achieve the demands of the revolution,” said Mohamed Morsy, head of the Freedom and Justice Party.
“We have therefore chosen the path of the presidency not because we are greedy for power but because we have a majority in parliament which is unable to fulfill its duties in parliament,” he said announcing the decision to put Al-Shater’s name forward.
Badie read a statement by Al-Shater declaring his resignation from his post as deputy supreme guide to run for presidency.
“After it was decided to field my name in the presidential elections, I can only accept the decision of the Brotherhood. I will therefore resign from my position as deputy chairman,” Al-Shater’s statement said.
“There is a real threat to the revolution and to the democratic process,” the Brotherhood’s Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein said during the conference explaining the reasons that led to the U-turn in the group’s decisions.
The group that dominates a majority in the parliament decided earlier to sack its veteran member Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh when he decided to run for the top post, fiercely opposing his presidency and threatening its members of a similar fate if they decided to back him.
In addition to Abol Fotoh, Salafi candidate Hazem Salah Abou Ismail enjoys wide popularity among the ultraconservative community. Due to numerous statements critical of the ruling military council, both are described by supporters as revolutionary figure.
With Al-Shater in the race, both candidates are expected to lose votes from Egypt’s Islamist constituency.
“Al-Shater’s nomination will harm Abou Ismail more than Abol Fotoh,” Abdel Fattah said.
The target voters of Abol Fotoh, the analyst explained, are not from the same category as Al-Shater’s.
“Abol Fotoh targets youth and those who adopt a moderate thinking of Islam, while the target of Abou Ismail is very similar to those of Al-Shater,” he said.
Abdel Fattah believes that the Salafi community, main target voters of both Abou Ismail and Al-Shater, will be split between both of them.
“We have to put in mind that 52 in the MB Shoura Council voted against the decision to nominate El-Shater, those votes will definitely go to Abol Fotoh,” Abdel Fattah added. Fifty-six members of the decision-making council of the group voted for Al-Shater.
Professor of political science at the American University in Cairo (AUC) Rabab El-Mahdy agreed with Abdel Fattah, but said that Abol Fotoh and Abou Ismail will be equally harmed.
“In the parliamentary elections, 70 percent of the total voters simply voted for Islamists to counter the remnants of the old regime. Now after Al-Shater is nominated, this bloc will split to the three strong Islamists, leaving more space for the remnants to win,” explained El-Mahdy, who also works with Abol Fotoh’s campaign.
“Both Abol Fotoh and Abou Ismail will be affected. The Salafi Al-Nour Party and most of the Salafi Sheikhs will go for Al-Shater, and some of the MB members who intended to vote for Abol Fotoh will go for Al-Shater,” El-Mahdy added.
The ultraconservative Al-Nour Party is yet to announce its candidate of choice.
Researcher of Islamic movements Abdel-Reheem Ali told DNE that Al-Shater’s nomination will only affect the Islamist vote as liberals, leftists, and the revolutionary youth will never vote for him.
“Al-Shater’s candidacy will not just split the votes for the sake of the candidates affiliated with the former regime, but it will encourage those who voted for the Islamists in the parliamentary elections not to do the same in the presidential race,” he explained.
The decision to nominate Al-Shater despite earlier pledges not to has put the credibility of Islamists in general on the brink, and this will fuel reluctance to vote for Islamists, Ali added.
“Islamists now will be seen in general as not fulfilling their promises, failing to achieve the demands of the revolution inside the parliament, which will be in favor for the old regime-affiliated candidates,” he said.
Al-Shater’s nomination: confrontation or a deal?
The general consensus, which also relied on previous Brotherhood statements, was that the group was reluctant to shield all political responsibility at this critical stage. Many relied on this theory to prove that the Brotherhood won’t contest the presidential race. Generally conservative in its politics, the group was also seen as treading a fine line of diplomacy with the ruling generals. An alleged power-sharing deal has been repeatedly denied by both sides.
The recent development, which came a week after the group started an exchange of critical statements with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, accusing it of backing the “failing” Cabinet of Ministers and a jab at the revolution, left analysts confused between two theories.
Some saw Al-Shater’s nomination as a clear confirmation of a deal between MB and the SCAF to weaken the chances of the two outspoken Islamist candidates in favor of the candidates affiliated with the ousted regime, which would better serve SCAF’s interests.
Others saw the nomination as an escalation in the confrontation with SCAF, challenging the generals’ plans to dominate the scene after officially ceding power.
“This is not only a breach of their promise, but deliberate defiance of the SCAF,” a Western diplomat told Reuters, adding the U-turn suggested the group was worried others could disrupt its rise to power.
“The Brotherhood is so close to power they can smell it, but they are so scared that someone else will snatch it from them,” the diplomat said.
The Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, have become increasingly critical of the army-appointed Cabinet, led by Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzoury. The group wants to form a new government under its leadership, citing the FJP’s majority in parliament. The SCAF on the other hand rejected these attempts, citing powers granted by the constitutional decree it wrote to appoint and sack the ministers.
“The truth is that they are proving each day that power is their only goal,” Ahmed Said, head of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, told CBC TV, saying the Brotherhood appeared to have taken the decision when it found “that it can’t control the government.”
“Al-Shater is the real power center and he is struggling to expand the group’s powers within Egypt’s system and institutions against the generals’ will,” expert on Islamist movements Khalil El-Anani told AP.
“The heart of the conflict is the new political arrangement, the power sharing scheme and what share the Muslim Brotherhood would have,” El-Anani said. “The Al-Shater card will complicate the game and push the relationship with the ruling military council to risky ends.”
The legal stance of Al-Shater further complicates the situation. He received two different prison sentences by a military court under ousted president Hosni Mubarak. One of which was in 1995 from which we was officially pardoned by SCAF.
He was pardoned by SCAF for the 1995 conviction. The latest ruling, which was handed down in 2006, is still on his record. While he was released for health reasons last year after the uprising that ousted Mubarak, Al-Shater was yet to receive another pardon by SCAF before his Saturday nomination. The Brotherhood lawyer said Sunday that Al-Shater had indeed received the second pardon.
“His nomination is definitely a declaration of a fiery political war against the SCAF, as the MB will be depicted as attempting to manipulate all the state branches and the process of drafting the constitution,” Abdel Fattah explained.
“The keys of the game are now only in the hands of the ruling military council,” he added.
Ali, on the other hand, said that the deal scenario was not realistic; adding that presidency for the MB now is their last resort if the parliament is dissolved.
The High Administrative Court referred to the Supreme Constitutional Court a recommendation to deem the candidacy of a third of the parliament members as unconstitutional as this third was initially allocated for the individual seats to be contested only by independents.
Members affiliated with political parties contested these seats, and the third became mostly dominated by Islamists as well.
The same court will also issue another verdict against the formation of the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly to draft the constitution, as 50 percent of the panel is chosen from inside the parliament, which critics regard as contradicting to the constitutional declaration.
“What if the parliament is dissolved and constituent assembly was deemed unconstitutional? What’s left for the MB then? They have to run for presidency to make sure they still have their grip on the power,” Ali theorized.
“The MB is aiming for the worst case scenario. They cannot even form a deal with another candidate from outside the group, because this candidate may break the deal once he wins the top post,” Ali added. –Additional reporting by agencies.