THE MAN WHO COULD LEAD EGYPT
Egyptian military judges dropped convictions against Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate Khairat el-Shater, clearing the nominee of the nation’s dominant political party to run in the election, the group’s lawyer said.
“We have taken administrative, legal and judicial measures before the military judiciary and based on this, all convictions have been dropped,” Abdel Monem Abdel Maqsoud said in a phone interview in Cairo yesterday. “All legal obstacles have been removed, and el-Shater now has the right to fully exercise all his political rights,” he said.
The Brotherhood said March 31 that el-Shater was its candidate for the presidential election that begins May 23 and May 24, making him one of the favorites to win and potentially increasing tensions between the once-banned group and the generals who currently rule the nation. He received 58 out of 110 votes at a meeting of the Brotherhood’s consultative council, according to Arab satellite network Al-Jazeera. The narrow majority suggested rifts within the organization.
Abdel Maqsoud said the needed legal steps were taken “over the last days.” El-Shater, 62, will submit his candidacy application this week, Abdel Maqsoud said. “The Brotherhood wouldn’t have named him if there were still obstacles.”
El-Shater spent years in and out of the jails of former PresidentHosni Mubarak. In the most recent conviction, he was sentenced in 2008 by a military court to seven years in prison amid a crackdown on the Brotherhood by the then government. He was released in March 2011, less than a month after Mubarak’s ouster, though the sentence wasn’t overturned then.
The nomination of the millionaire, an engineer by training and widely seen as the Brotherhood’s chief financier, drew criticism from some members of the group. Kamal el-Helbawy, the Brotherhood’s former spokesman in Europe, said he was resigning, citing what he said was the organization’s conflicting stances, the state-run daily Al-Akhbar reported.
The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice Party alliance holds 47 percent of the seats in parliament’s lower house, had previously said it wasn’t planning to run a candidate for the presidency. The group has clashed in recent weeks with the military rulers who took over after Mubarak’s ouster.
The nomination of El-Shater comes amid political tensions as the Islamist group, secularists and the ruling military wrangle over issues including the composition of the committee charged with drafting the country’s constitution.
Prime Minister Kamal el-Ganzouri said the current political situation in the country was “more than concerning” and was creating “great fear” about Egypt’s future, lawmaker Moustafa Bakri told reporters yesterday after a meeting between members of parliament from Cairo governorate that was attended by the premier and several ministers. Freedom and Justice Party lawmakers did not attend the meeting.
El-Shater’s nomination “immediately makes him a front- runner in the race,” Hani Sabra, Middle East analyst with the Eurasia Group, a consultancy, said in a telephone interview. His prominence in the group gives El-Shater more stature than other Islamist candidates such as Abdel-Monein Abul-Fottouh, who angered the Brotherhood by breaking ranks and announcing his candidacy, Sabra said. El-Shater is also seen as more pragmatic and moderate than the Salafi candidate, who follows a strict interpretation of Islam.
The businessman, who holds investments ranging from furniture and clothing to bus assembly and pharmaceuticals, said in an interview with Bloomberg News last year that he backed a strong private sector and that the Brotherhood wants “to attract as much investment as possible.”
Tension With Generals
El-Helbawy said that the army would use el-Shater’s candidacy as a pretext to stifle the country’s move to democracy and, eventually, the Brotherhood itself, Al-Akhbar reported.
The group has criticized the generals for rejecting its calls to fire the current Cabinet for failing to revive the economy. The group’s secretary-general, Mahmoud Hussein, said the government hasn’t met the needs of the people and that there is a “threat to the revolution.”
El-Shater has been a senior member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Council, its main decision-making body, and the Brotherhood’s deputy leader.
El-Shater’s campaign would have to be “something done in coordination with SCAF,” said Sabra, referring to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Hussein said the Brotherhood’s decision to field a candidate came after reports that former members of Mubarak’s regime were considering running for office, which heightened concerns that the country’s push for democracy was under threat. Omar Suleiman, who served as Mubarak’s intelligence chief and, in the waning days of his regime, as vice president, has been cited as a possible candidate.
The decision to nominate El-Shater for the presidency followed what Hussein said were the Brotherhood’s attempts in recent months to move the country forward using its party’s leading role in parliament. The government has failed to address Egypt’s deepening economic slump, deteriorating security and challenges to the transition to democracy, he said.
Egypt is trying to secure a $3.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund — money that would help it access other donor aid. The Brotherhood, while not rejecting the loan, has said it wants to make sure that the government has exhausted all other options first. The IMF, which sent a technical committee last week to Egypt, has said it wants to see broad consensus from all political groups over the government’s economic program before approving the loan.
El-Ganzouri said the government was hoping to at least sign a memorandum of understanding with the IMF, but that one of the political parties had asked that the step be delayed, according to Bakri, the lawmaker. He didn’t say which group had raised objections.
The parliament, whose second-largest membership is from the conservative Salafi party, Al-Nour, is preparing to test the military further by pushing again for a no-confidence motion against the interim government. An earlier attempt resulted in comments by the military that people needed to learn from history and avoid repeating past mistakes. Egyptian media and analysts saw that as a reference to the crackdowns on the Brotherhood under earlier governments.
To contact the reporter on this story: Digby Lidstone in Cairo at [email protected]
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at [email protected]