The Muslim Brotherhood’s nomination of Khairat Al-Shater as a presidential candidate has muddled the local political scene. The unexpected decision came after the Brotherhood repeatedly pledged to the military council, political parties and the public not to nominate any candidate. Many an eyebrow has been raised and there are concerned reactions at all levels.
The Brotherhood’s decision has shaken the already unstable political balance that took more than a year to establish. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has hijacked the transitional period, beginning with the referendum on the Constitutional Declaration and the legislative elections. Afterward, a conflict emerged between the Brotherhood and the SCAF when the latter wanted to impose a set of “constitutional principles,” which were soon abandoned under pressure from the Brotherhood. Another conflict has emerged between the SCAF and the young revolutionary liberals and leftists regarding their demands to hold a referendum on a new constitution ahead of the presidential elections. The young revolutionaries believed that such a move would prevent the military authorities from reviving the old regime. In this battle, the Muslim Brotherhood lost their support, which was further evidence of a tacit understanding between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood on a consensus presidential candidate.
The weeks leading up to the elections may bring many surprises in the street, politically and in the “legal framework” of the nominations. It is very likely that the rival Salafist candidate Hazem Abu Ismail may be forced out of the race due to the American citizenship of his mother. If this were to happen, this would change the political circumstances. The nomination of Al-Shater would no longer be considered an attempt to scatter the Islamists’ votes, as the Salafists originally claimed when he was nominated.
Although the surprise candidacy of Al-Shater critically damaged the Muslim Brotherhoods’ political credibility, the group insisted that the nomination was not a ploy. However, it is the first time in modern Egyptian history that a dogmatic religious political party declared its intention to seize power. There is a strong possibility that it may monopolize the power in this civil statist country.
This fact raises five main issues.
First, the nomination of Al-Shater represents a concession of the Brotherhoods’ future relationship with the SCAF. The military has been the backbone of the political, economic and administrative elite over the past six decades. Al-Shater’s nomination could turn into a dangerous game if it was not the result of an unproven understanding between Washington – the main provider and trainer of the Egyptian army – and the SCAF and the Brotherhood. Al-Shater gained Washington’s confidence due to his pragmatism and his active role in the business world. What’s more, Al-Shater had promised to strengthen relations between the two countries and pledged not to abolish the peace treaty with Israel. The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, trusts Al-Shater as it considers him its financial adviser. If there was a covert understanding, should Al-Shater emerge as the winner, the relationship between the SCAF and the Brotherhood would greatly depend on the content of their agreement. This is without considering the evolution of the army with the differences between senior and junior officers and their increasing affiliation with Islamic movements.
Second, an Al-Shater victory would be tragic for the separation of powers within the modern state. This is not to mention the Brotherhood’s appetite for monopolizing the pillars of Egypt’s polity. This appetite manifested itself during the formation of the constitutional founding committee, which was entirely under Brotherhood control.
Third, if Al-Shater eventually wins the presidential race, there will be an attempt to end the diversity in Islam and to exclude Al-Azhar, which has recently issued a document on “public freedoms and human rights” and the Sufi orders.
Fourth, should it win the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood may gradually replace or suppress individual and public freedoms with radical ideologies. In particular trouble is the freedom of opinion which was shunned by the Brotherhood over the years, based on the hisbah (verification) doctrine. This law took its toll on many thinkers such as Nasr Hamed Abu Zeid, despite the amendments which were introduced in 1996 that made this law a prerogative of public prosecution.
Fifth, religious and cultural diversity will also reach its end. The historic discrimination against Copts will increase, along other negative effects on national unity.
These represent the results not of governance, but rather of its substitute: a caliphate.
The Egyptian Brotherhood raised banners proclaiming a caliphate when they were welcomed Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Later, they denounced his secularism and deemed his views to be interference in the internal affairs of others. They did this while demonizing other factions during the referendum on the constitutional declaration.
They do not resist society's inclination toward Salafism, which is a product of the changes that are ruining the economy, social bonds and traditional political representation, while also increasing poverty, weakening the middle class and collapsing education and public services.
The competition is now favoring the politically rising Salafists because these changes are now intellectually imprinted on the Brothers. They are increasingly losing ground against the Salafists, and in turn the Salafists are escalating their assault.
This is reflected by the deplorable public debates and heresies. For instance, there was a warning against attacking Al-Shater during the recitation of his candidacy statement "because his prayers are always answered."
Despite any of the stated justifications, such as claiming that the nomination of Al-Shater was to contain and confront the Salafist candidate, the exposure of the Brotherhood’s lust for a monopolization of power opens the door for non-Islamic political forces to assume the heavy responsibility of defying the current direction of Egyptian politics.
These non-Islamic parties can exploit the deteriorating symbolic "morality" of the Muslim Brotherhood and the critical positions of some of their young members and leaders. They can also take advantage of the relative awakening of the "revolutionary masses" to form new coalitions. If they can be efficient and produce positive results in the presidential election, they would turn the nomination of Al-Shater into a failed ploy.
Otherwise, the Egyptian Brothers will become the forefront leaders of the Islamic counter-revolution, twisting the nature of the Arab Spring, which had originally emerged from the depths of Arab societies out of a need for freedom and dignity.