April 1, 2012 in Nation/World

Islamists going for presidency in Egypt

Turnabout sure to rile military, secularists
Maggie Michael Associated Press
 
Candidate knows jail

 Khayrat el-Shater is deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and chief financier of the group. He is seen as the iron man within the group, the one who steers talks with the military council, the orchestrator of parliamentary elections and the negotiator with Arab Gulf countries and the International Monetary Fund over loans.

 El-Shater, 62, who has 10 children and 16 grandchildren, made millions with a successful textile and furniture business.

 He was prosecuted by the Mubarak administration multiple times on charges of financing a banned movement, most recently in 2008, when he was sentenced to seven years in prison. Shortly after Mubarak was removed from office, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces pardoned el-Shater.

CAIRO – The fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood named its chief strategist and financier as a candidate for president on Saturday, a surprising reversal of an earlier pledge to stay out of the race and a move that sets the group on a collision course with Egypt’s military rulers.

The long-outlawed Brotherhood already controls about half of the seats in parliament and had been concerned that contesting the presidency would bring a backlash from liberals and Western countries fearful of an Islamist takeover.

But in a dramatic shift that amounted to a political bombshell in Egypt, the Brotherhood nominated deputy leader Khayrat el-Shater. The multimillionaire businessman has played a key role in guiding the group through the tumultuous transition since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in last year’s popular uprising.

Because of the Brotherhood’s success in the parliamentary vote and the reach of its grass-roots political organization, the candidate it nominates or backs will be considered the front-runner in the race for the May 23-24 vote.

And if el-Shater wins, the Brotherhood would completely dominate the political arena and could push for changes such as stricter adherence to Islamic law. A Muslim Brotherhood government could also translate into rockier relations with Israel and the United States.

The decision will likely antagonize the ruling generals, who are worried about shielding their significant business interests and other privileges from civilian oversight and are wary of too much power concentrated in the hands of a single group.

“We don’t want to reach a confrontation that affects the path of the nation,” said Mohammed Morsi, top leader of the Brotherhood’s political arm.

The decision will also widen the gap with liberals and secularists, who fear that the Brotherhood – which has largely espoused moderate rhetoric in the past year – will implement a hard-line Islamist agenda once it has solidified its political position.

Already, Islamists enjoy a comfortable majority on a 100-member panel tasked with drafting a new constitution for Egypt, which has raised serious alarm among the nation’s large Christian minority and liberals.

The candidate was announced at a Cairo news conference and ended weeks of speculation and confusion within the group.

El-Shater will go up against other candidates with greater name recognition and a stronger television presence, such as ex-Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

© Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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