, the deputy chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood has added his name to the list of candidates in Egypt’s presidential elections scheduled for May 23rd. The announcement came after nearly a year of statements by the Muslim Brotherhood that the party would not contest the presidential elections. Khairat al-Shater is a wealthy businessman who has made his money from textiles and furniture. Throughout the years he has used his personal wealth to help finance the Brotherhood.
In 2007, al-Shater was convicted of money laundering for funding and managing the finances of the Muslim Brotherhood, while the organization was officially banned under former President Mubarak. Al-Shater was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released last March after Mubarak was forced from power. Prior to his 2007 conviction, al-Shater spent five years in prison for a 1995 conviction for reviving the banned organization. Al-Shater was arrested along with 48 other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood following a meeting of the Shura Council on January 2, 1995. Under Egyptian law, the prior convictions could bar al-Shater from running for President, unless the military pardons him. Earlier this week, SCAF pardoned Ayman Nour, who was convicted of forging petitions to register his political party in the 2005 elections, thus allowing him to also run for office. By announcing his candidacy, the Muslim Brotherhood is forcing the military to either pardon al-Shater or confront the popular organization.
The decision to field a candidate comes after frustration over the lack of power that the Brotherhood has in Parliament. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood won nearly 50 percent of the seats in the Parliament, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) continues to control the government.
Mahmoud Hussein did not explicitly cite the SCAF as the determinative factor in the Brotherhood’s decision to field a candidate, but he said that “threats to the revolution” motivated the party to nominate al-Shater. It his statements, Hussein specifically cited the SCAF’s threats to dismantle the parliament and refusal to dismiss the military-appointed cabinet.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to run al-Shater as a candidate has raised concerns both within the organization and among secularists. The Brotherhood acknowledged the concerns of the military and liberals that the party could potentially claim political power in all branches of Egypt’s new government, including the parliament, the presidency, and the body charged with writing Egypt’s new constitution. The divide within the party is further evidence of the potentially risky decision to nominate a candidate. The decision to field a candidate was narrowly supported by the Brotherhood’s leadership. The Shura Council voted 56-52 in support of al-Shater’s nomination.
Furthermore, the party’s reversal on its statements not to field a candidate could cause political challenges for the Brotherhood. Officially the Brotherhood accepted the resignation of al-Shater, and thus the Brotherhood is not officially fielding a candidate, but given al-Shater’s history with the party few, if any, will see the distinction. This is also not the first time that the Brotherhood has gone back on its word to limit its role in elections. The Brotherhood made a similar claim earlier during the parliamentary elections. The Brotherhood pledged that it would only support a limited number of constituents in parliamentary elections, but the group ended up supporting candidates in nearly all of Egypt’s parliamentary constituencies.