Print options

April 05, 2012

Muslim Brotherhood's Goals Questioned as Candidate Runs for Egyptian Presidency

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate, Khairat el-Shater, submitted his candidacy forms on Thursday, just days after Egyptian clerics said el-Shater pledged to them that he would introduce Sharia, or Islamic law, if he is elected in May.

El-Shater's supporters chanted and cheered as he submitted his formal candidacy documents in Cairo.

But some minority party members in Egypt as well as some outside observers are concerned that the Muslim Brotherhood is a step closer to holding a monopoly on power in that country.

Marina Ottaway, a Middle East expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, says the Brotherhood did nothing illegal when it opted to field a candidate, even after it had pledged to not do so.  Still, Ottaway says, it was not the Brotherhood's best move.

"I think it was a very unwise decision because it increased the level of anxiety that exists in Egypt about the role of the Muslim Brotherhood," Ottaway said.  

The Muslim Brotherhood is proving to be a dominant force in Egyptian politics, and it holds almost half the seats in parliament.  It is well-organized, given that the opposition party was banned until after the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last year.

Ottaway says she does not see anything sinister in the Brotherhood's decision to put forth a presidential candidate, noting that politicians often change their minds, particularly as political campaigns progress.

"[Hazem] Abu Ismail, who is a Salafi that had presented himself as a candidate, appeared to be getting a lot of support ahead of the election, so that there was some concern that a radical Islamist might end up getting, you know, winning the election," Ottaway said.

As el-Shater submitted his candidacy papers, Islamist political party representatives spoke with researchers, reporters and government officials in Washington.  Representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood have held several closed-door meetings with U.S. officials this week and appeared at public events, describing their party as moderate and committed to a multiparty system.

Yet, the Brotherhood reversed its pledge to include a variety of voices in the creation of a new constitution.  Liberal and Christian groups as well as Islamic scholars are withdrawing from the limited  role Islamists offered them.

At a Carnegie Endowment conference, the foreign relations coordinator of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Khaled al-Qazzaz, sought to dispel an audience member's suggestion that Islamists preach democracy until they are in power.  

Qazzaz said the Brotherhood is actively working to ensure that Egypt's political system has all of the checks and balances to prevent tyranny.

"So we're actually trying to do so, and this is the number one reason of why we pushed our presidential candidate -- so that this is our guarantee," Qazzaz said.

Qazzaz said el-Shater strongly supports a parliamentary system.  He said the same could not be said for all of Egypt's other presidential candidates.  

According to Egyptian clerics, el-Shater also supports the quick implementation of Sharia, if elected in May.

The Brotherhood's Qazzaz says people often misunderstand the principles of Islamic law.

"These are not contradictory to universally accepted values like freedom, justice and democracy, rule of law, et cetera.  These are in conformity with Sharia.  They are not against Sharia."

Qazzaz added that Islamic values shape Egypt's identity, just as other religious values shape political and cultural identities in Europe and the United States.