Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The el-Shater Candidacy

As you could perhaps guess from the lack of blogging, I've been really busy for the past two weeks. During that time, one big story was the decision of the Muslim Brotherhood to send Khairat el-Shater into the presidential race, where he becomes an instant favorite. Intense speculation has ensued as to why the Brotherhood would go back on their emphatic refusals to enter the presidential race. I believe that it was primarily out of fear that the salafi candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail would win without a strong Islamist competitor, a fear shared among the Muslim Brotherhood which stood to lose their reputation as Egypt's dominant Islamist voice and the military and its foreign (especially American) allies which wanted a more trusted foreign policy and economic hand.

Here is what David Kirkpatrick wrote of al-Shater in the New York Times:
"The Brotherhood’s candidate, Khairat el-Shater, a millionaire businessman considered the most formative influence on the group’s policies, is well known to both American diplomats and their contacts in the Egyptian military. Though in and out of prison, he was the Brotherhood’s main point of contact with Mr. Mubarak’s security services and is now its main conduit for talks with the council of generals who took power at his ouster.

"Mr. Shater has met with almost all the senior State Department officials and American lawmakers visiting Cairo. He is in regular contact with the American ambassador, Anne Patterson, as well as the executives of many American companies here, and United States officials have praised his moderation as well as his intelligence and effectiveness."

As the Egypt Independent reports, the path to el-Shater's candidacy was cleared by official moves to wipe away Mubarak-era political-criminal convictions which would have prevented him from running legally.

That el-Shater is mainly trying to pull votes from Abu Ismail is seen in his troubling promise to give ulama a role in Egyptian lawmaking. The form this would take is not entirely clear, and it may simply be political pandering to a given audience, but it is a shift in Brotherhood rhetoric probably linked to the rise of a strong salafi movement to their right. Without the salafis around and Abu Ismail's strong support in polls, I simply don't think that el-Shater would be running, and the Americans would certainly still see the Brotherhood as the force to be avoided. The only question is whether there is some sort of actual deal between SCAF the the MB. I don't think it needs to be that formal. See Issandr el-Amrani, however, for some of the potential nuances.



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