Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Reverses Political Tactics
April 03, 2012
Elizabeth Arrott | Cairo
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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