Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Reverses Political Tactics

In this January 24, 2012 photo, Muslim Brotherhood nominated deputy leader and presidential candidate Khayrat el-Shater speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Cairo, Egypt.
In this January 24, 2012 photo, Muslim Brotherhood nominated deputy leader and presidential candidate Khayrat el-Shater speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in Cairo, Egypt.
Elizabeth Arrott

The decision by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to field a presidential candidate marks the latest reversal in the group's tactics during the nation's political transition.  Political analysts are split over whether this will help or hurt the Islamist cause.  

Secular, Christian, and even other Muslim groups have been quick to denounce the candidacy of the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat el-Shater.

Brotherhood politicians already dominate both houses of parliament, after initially pledging to contest a minority of seats.  The prospect of an executive branch under the group's control raises fears the country ousted an authoritarian government only to replace it with something equally monolithic.

Political sociologist Said Sadek of the American University in Cairo says it is no surprise the Brotherhood went back on its promise to stay out of the race.  

"The Muslim Brotherhood is like any totalitarian, ideological movement," Sadek said.  "They have objectives.  They have an ideology and tactics, and the tactics are very flexible to changing circumstances."  

Similarly, the Brotherhood went back on its word on writing a new constitution.  After promising to include a wide array of voices, the drafting committee is dominated by Islamists, with liberal and Christian groups as well as Islamic scholars withdrawing from the very limited role they were offered.

Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies scholar Yousry el Ezbawy says the Islamists are likely to do well pushing through their constitutional agenda.

El Ezbawy says if the Islamists can frame the referendum on the constitution as they did on a similar vote last year, using "Islam is the Solution," sheer numbers in this Muslim majority nation will likely approve it.

But there are reasons to believe that not everything points to a strict Islamist future.    

AUC's Sadek argues el Shater is not in the race to win.

"Those who believe that Khairat el Shater will topple anything, no.  What he will do is to break and fragment the Islamic presidential candidates list.  He will fragment it," said Sadek.

Sadek points out the Brotherhood is still stinging from the defection of moderate Islamist and former member Abdel Moneim Abou el Fotouh to run in the presidential race.

It also faces internal rebellion from younger members of the group, and tensions between fundamentalist Salafi politicians and Muslim Brothers run high.

Having a candidate of their own in the race guarantees Brotherhood members at least some influence in what is shaping up to be a wide-open election and its likely run-off, more than 400 candidates have registered.

Even if the Islamists were unified, there are other powerful forces at play, most notably the nation's interim military leaders.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is working hard to keep the military's protected status in the next constitution.  It cleared the legal barrier to el Shater's candidacy, his past prison record, another sign that both sides feel confident they can co-exist.

Even el Shater himself presents a paradox.  Oppressed for his political beliefs by the former government, he was still able to become one of the elite by amassing a fortune in business enterprises.

According to Sadek, Egyptian voters have become more savvy during the past year, and aware of such nuances.   

"Many simple-minded people were addicted with catchy slogans: 'Islam is the solution.'  Fine.  Everyone wants a solution to their chronic problems, inflation, unemployment, traffic problems.  So they also wanted to get rid of the secular, the traditional corrupt politician and they wanted those people they believed are the men of God.  Now, they are becoming disillusioned.  They just feel that those people who make such lofty promises of a better world, of an ideal utopia are not that idealistic," Sadek explained.  

Stories of corrupt Islamists are fodder for the media, with one Salafi member of parliament resigning after lying about his cosmetic surgery.

Sadek says he believes the various competing forces in Egyptian politics are being seen as just "normal politicians" with their own agendas and calculations, willing to be opportunistic and "speak with two tongues."

While the future of democracy in Egypt remains unclear, Sadek argues the chance of any one interest group dominating now is slim.

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Comment Sorting
by: Rebecca
April 07, 2012 3:21 PM
Glad they used the word 'utopia' - what they call secular - we would call theocracy - you can't leave your Islamic religion - extreme restrictions on Christian, Baha'i worship..

That's not secular. So with the promise of this Islamic utopia - they are willing to give up even more of their rights - to put their faith in these men of god - to rule their perfect Islamic state without accountability - freedom + individual rights would allow - will end up in dictatorship & counter revolution.

by: National Service for Egyptian youth is part of the solution
April 04, 2012 8:03 AM
The way Egyptian economy is today, its best to give them the seat to Islamic Brotherhood, and see them fail. Once they prove to the world and their supporters they are not the solution. The solution to Egyptian problem is concentration of people in one area, along the river Nile. They need to spread throughout the country, make technology work for them through solar power generation in the desert. Through National Service to tap on the available manpower is the solution for Egypt's economy.

by: Maye
April 03, 2012 11:45 PM
I blieve that Egypt will benefet more , if the the islamic Brotherhood win the comimg election , Becouse they have new ideas which is defrrent from old western democratic sytem which Egyptions already pracices and experianced its result of Economical development , integrity and even thier role of wold power compitition , there fore, I can say let us see Islamic Brotherhoods rule.

by: nabal el fahid
April 03, 2012 10:53 PM
Egypt should be secular gov. religion should not be a part of political activity. Mislim brotherhood is a dictatorship organization which is well known to suppert terrorisim and prosecute christain in the name of allah. Their existing in the gov will have negative impact and the country collapse
the country which is known egypt is dead

by: Artan
April 03, 2012 10:39 PM
it is very good Deicision the Muslin brotherhoods for their selection of presidentail candidate , Becouse Egypt has experianced the practice of western democratic system , so, let us see Islamic democratic Shura system .

by: Robert Makoi
April 03, 2012 8:50 PM
Muslim brotherhood are part of the broader islam project to prepare for the coming of the imam. Poverty and ignorance are the fertile soil for sowing their agenda.

by: sania el alma
April 03, 2012 4:00 PM
egypt in the verge of economic collapse because muslim brotherhood. They do not believe in democracy and want dominate all poltical to impose their agand.ant western,ant christion ,terrorist sypter.Mr. shater can be another Hitler

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