Brotherhood Reconsiders Plan to Sit Out Presidential Race in Egypthttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/
CAIRO — Muslim Brotherhood officials said on Wednesday that the group was debating whether to field its own candidate in Egypt’s upcoming presidential contest, after failing to persuade several outside figures to run with the group’s backing.
The Brotherhood had previously said it would not nominate a candidate for president, for fear of scaring voters who are wary that it would dominate the political scene or provoke a response by the country’s military rulers. Any candidate chosen by the popular Brotherhood, an Islamist group whose political wing won nearly half the seats in Parliament, could emerge as a front-runner for the presidency.
Members of the Shura Council, a policy-making body within the Brotherhood, planned to debate the matter this week, officials with the group said. Mahmoud Hussein, the Brotherhood’s secretary general, said, “The Shura Council was the one that made the decision not to nominate any Muslim Brotherhood member for the presidency, and it is the one that has the power to retract the decision.”
He added, “All options are open.”
The signals pointing to a possible reversal seemed to reflect a variety of pressures on the Brotherhood before Egypt’s first competitive presidential election, which is scheduled to begin in May. Despite its parliamentary majority, the group is concerned about a loss of influence if a president hostile to the Brotherhood’s interests should win.
One candidate, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, is a former leader of the Brotherhood who was an advocate of reforming the group and was expelled last year for insisting on running for president. Still, his candidacy has attracted other Brotherhood members, especially younger ones. The Brotherhood has threatened to expel anyone who backs him, and his supporters say that if he succeeds he could seriously damage the group’s credibility and discipline.
Another candidate, Amr Moussa, who had served as the country’s foreign minister under President Hosni Mubarak, is seen as the front-runner because of his name recognition, but is considered too secular by the Brotherhood’s leaders.
Mr. Hussein said some leaders in the group felt the Brotherhood had no choice but to present a candidate after approaching several people who refused to run with the Brotherhood’s endorsement. Analysts said a decision to run a presidential candidate runs several risks for the group.
“Real interests are at stake,” said Samer Shehata, a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University who specializes in Egypt. “Even though they have reneged on promises in the past, I think this one is more serious.”
He said if the group’s candidate lost, it would be “a serious blow to the organization.”
Khairat al-Shater, the Brotherhood’s chief financier and political strategist, is considered the group’s leading choice for either prime minister or president. Mr. Shehata said that Mr. Shater had “nowhere near the charisma or eloquence” of Mr. Aboul Fotouh, a bitter rival. Mr. Shater is technically not eligible to run because of a previous conviction, though his lawyer said he expected the conviction, from the Mubarak era, to be annulled.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily worth it. They don’t need the presidency,” he said.
Issandr El Amrani, an independent journalist and blogger who closely follows Egyptian politics, said the Brotherhood preferred the role of kingmaker instead of the more risky prospect of backing a candidate. “The cost is high,” he said. “It’s a wide-open field, and they would be starting a campaign eight months or so later than the leading candidates.”
He said that the signals about reversing course reflected confusion within the Brotherhood about what strategy to pursue as the elections approached.
“This is their first big internal test,” Mr. Amrani said. “It’s a difficult puzzle for them to resolve.”