When it comes to dictators, it’s always best to keep your eye on Number Two. The ruler is at the front, all wrapped up in honorifics and princely manners, careful to maintain sycophancy in his inner circle — people who tell him what he wants to hear. He never takes his eyes off of his deputy, the one who does the dirty work far away from the limelight. That is what is happening now in Egypt as it teeters between the (temporary?) military council and the Muslim Brotherhood, which controls most of the seats in parliament.
On March 31, 2012, they broke the rules of the presidential election game. The Brotherhood had announced at every possible opportunity that they would not submit their own candidate for office. Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie made it clear that he understood the severe consequences of such a move — with regard to Egypt’s diplomatic relations, economics, tourism and efforts to bring in investors and create a democratic “Spring” coalition — should the next President be identified with the Muslim Brotherhood. The more the race warmed up, the more it seemed that a done deal: a candidate accepted by both the generals and the Islamists. After the presidential powers would be severely curtailed, Egypt would be run by a quadrangle comprised of the two houses of parliament, the cabinet, the army apparatus and the palace.
But Badie’s shadow, his “Big Brother,” insists on rolling up his sleeves. Khairat el-Shater, Badie’s deputy, sat for a record-breaking term of 12 years behind bars, and does not rest for a minute. Shater was pursued by no fewer than three Egyptian Presidents — Nasser, Sadat and especially Mubarak — because of his uncompromising worldview that Islam is the state, and the state is Islam — and that Islamic law (sharia) must rule daily life. Shater is an interesting, complex personality; he is astute and well-educated (he has four academic degrees) and is an eloquent speaker—but has an unflinching worldview. He is a shrewd businessman and tycoon who established an empire. He owns bus compaines and controls firms that produce medications, furniture and clothing and runs thriving high-tech initiatives. Shater used his millions to finance the wars of the Muslim Brotherhood against Egypt’s “infidel” regime. In the Mubarak era, Shater was recruited to facilitate the dialogue with hundreds of political prisoners like him in order to show the Brotherhood's moderate side and to condemn violence precisely in the movement that spawned the murderers of President Sadat.
Shater’s sudden declaration of intent — that he accepts the movement’s decision and will be a contestant for the role of the next President — has sent shock waves throughout Egypt. The stock exchange is responding nervously, 11 million Christian Copts are shaking in fear, the youths in the Muslim Brotherhood feel that they have been swindled and the media is confused. The demonstrators in Tahrir Square have not yet decided against whom to direct their slogans and protests, and no one knows how the army will respond when the masses return to the streets to announce: “we are on the map too.” Meanwhile, the most convenient thing for them to do is emphasize that “Israel is very worried” about the Islamic contestant for the presidency.
Post-Mubarak-Egypt creates drama at a murderous pace. The conspiracy theory that has been spreading by word of mouth holds that Shater has purposely been thrust into the game in order to split the votes between four Islamic-movement contestants, thus leading precisely to victory for the preferred candidate of the secular sector — along with a few discreet ballot-box stuffing tactics. One possibility is Omar Suleiman, or perhaps another public figure who will emerge at the eleventh hour before the polling booths are opened at the end of next month.
It will be interesting to find out if the circle will be closed: Suleiman has never hid the loathing and suspiciousness he feels toward the Islamic movements.
But if the “Big Brother” from Cairo (Shater) wins, that will create a nightmare for us. The palace, cabinet and parliament will all sing the same tune. Who would have believed that Amr Moussa, the contestant shown by all the polls to have an enormous lead, has become the best hope of the Israelis?