Feature

Egypt’s Islamists assert power

Reversing an earlier pledge, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood announced it will field a candidate for next month’s presidential election.

Reversing an earlier pledge, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood announced it will field a candidate for next month’s presidential election. It named Khairat el-Shater, 61, a top leader of the Islamist party who was jailed several times under the Mubarak regime. The Brotherhood already controls both houses of parliament—even though it had previously promised to run for just a few seats. It also reneged on a pledge to allow liberals and Christians a hand in writing the new constitution, and instead packed the committee with Islamists.

The announcement of el-Shater’s candidacy “sent an earthquake through Cairo’s already wildly careening political scene,” said Marc Lynch in Foreign Policy. For months, the Muslim Brotherhood was vehement in its insistence that it would not field a candidate—even going so far as to expel a reformist member who insisted on running. Many Egyptians will surely see this as part of a “long-hatching conspiracy” to turn Egypt back into a one-party state.

The Brotherhood is taking “a huge gamble,” said Roula Khalaf in the Financial Times. Defeat would be enormously embarrassing, but victory “also carries tremendous risk.” If el-Shater wins, his party, which has zero experience in governing, will have sole responsibility for all of Egypt’s political institutions “at a time of deep economic malaise and exceedingly high popular expectations.” The Brotherhood would fully own every setback.

You know who’s not worried? The U.S., said Tony Karon in Time.com. The Brotherhood, after all, is less extreme than Egypt’s other prominent Islamist group, the Salafists. Without a Brotherhood candidate, the entire Islamist vote would go to the Salafist candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, “who talks of emulating Iran’s theocratic political system and of ending the peace treaty with Israel.” U.S. officials vastly prefer el-Shater, a millionaire businessman and father of 10 who is seen as “a pragmatist and modernizer.” In fact, many observers believe the Brotherhood broke its pledge because it was worried that the Salafists would take the presidency—“an outcome as unpalatable to the Brotherhood as it would be to Washington.”

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