Egypt’s Secularists Criticize Brotherhood Presidency Run

Muslim Brotherhood Candidate Khairat El-Shater
Khairat el-Shater of the Muslim Brotherhood waves as he arrives to al-Galaa court in Cairo on Dec. 10, 2007. Photographer: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

Egyptian secular groups and politicians accused the Muslim Brotherhood of seeking to monopolize power after the Islamist group reversed course and nominated a candidate for the presidential vote.

The nomination of Khairat el-Shater, a millionaire businessman who supports free-market policies, comes at a time when disputes between the ruling military, the Brotherhood and other groups vying to shape the country’s future are stymieing efforts to revive the economy.

Net international reserves fell to $15.1 billion at the end of March, down over 50 percent since the start of the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, according to central bank data released today. A $3.2 billion International Monetary Fund loan is also still pending amid criticism from the Brotherhood and others over the government’s economic program.

The presidential race in May will be the first since Mubarak’s ouster from power last year, and the entry of el-Shater makes him a frontrunner among a wide group of candidates, including two other Islamist candidates.

El-Shater’s nomination, announced on March 31, “was not surprising” after the Brotherhood indicated it would “follow in the footsteps” of the former ruling National Democratic Party in seeking to control decision-making, Ahmed Saeed, the head of the secular Free Egyptians Party, said in an e-mailed statement today.

“Who will truly govern Egypt if el-Shater takes on the post of head of state? Would he govern in the name of the people or under orders from the Muslim Brotherhood,” Saeed said.

The Wafd Party said the Egyptian people “would pay a hefty price” for the decision, the official Middle East News Agency reported, citing the party’s head.

‘Threats to the Revolution’

The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice political party holds 47 percent of the seats in the parliament’s lower house, said it was putting forward a candidate because of “threats to the revolution.”

Group officials said nominating a candidate was a step taken to preserve the momentum of the uprising after the government failed to address the needs of Egyptians, including the economy.

The Freedom and Justice party head, Mohamed Morsi, said concerns that the group was trying “to control all leadership positions in the state” were unfounded, according to a statement e-mailed late yesterday. The group, along with the Salafist Al-Nour Party, commands a majority in both houses of parliament.

‘Never Happened’

A Facebook page opposing el-Shater’s candidacy, created after the decision was announced, has garnered over 89,000 “likes,” while his official Facebook campaign page, has received a 10th of the interest.

Presidential contender Amre Moussa, a former foreign minister and Arab League head under Mubarak, said a win by el-Shater, coupled with the Brotherhood’s dominance in parliament and on the committee charged with drafting the country’s new constitution, would make it seem as though “the revolution had never happened,” MENA quoted him as saying.

If el-Shater, who served as the deputy to the Brotherhood’s leader Mohamed Badie were elected, would Badie then “be the president of the president of Egypt?” MENA quoted Moussa as asking.

El-Shater spent years in and out of Mubarak’s jails amid a crackdown on the group. He was released early in March 2011 following his latest conviction, less than a month after Mubarak’s ouster. To run for office, he would need a pardon from the military.

Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Monem Abdel Maqsoud said in a phone interview yesterday that the military judiciary had expunged the candidate’s convictions and that el-Shater now “has the right to fully exercise all his political rights.”

The nomination marked a clear determination by the Brotherhood that it is “ready to assume sole responsibility for governing Egypt, and that in its power struggle with SCAF, it enjoys a slight edge,” said Hani Sabra, Mideast analyst with the New York-based Eurasia Group, in an e-mailed note that referred to the ruling military council by its acronym.

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