It’s not as if no one in the West has been warning about it; and it’s not as if Egyptians, exposing themselves to violence while demonstrating gallantly in a relentless effort to topple a corrupt, repressive regime, weren’t aware of the possibility of it; nevertheless, the prospect of an imminent takeover—albeit using democratic means—by the radical Muslims is terrifying.
According to Al Ahram, Saturday, the Muslim Brotherhood, reneging on its former commitment not to participate in the presidential race—a commitment made largely to allay the fears of Egypt’s military, which is forever suspicious of just such an Islamist takeover—elected a religious conservative businessman named Khairat Shater, 62, who had been the architect of the movement’s economic empire, as its presidential candidate. This is the Brotherhood’s endgame, about which experts have been warning since the day the first massive demonstration disturbed the peaceful Tahrir Square.
For a self portrait of the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate, visit his profile on his own website, khairatshater.com. The text appears to have been processed via Google Translate (“Students began his public and political at the end of his secondary education in 1966” and similar gems).
A week earlier, Egyptians discovered who were the 100-member of the post-revolution constituent assembly which will draft Egypt’s new constitution, divided equally between members of parliament and unelected public figures. Picked from 2,078 nominees, the final list is reported to be 70 percent Islamist. This guarantees that a future Egypt will not reflect the values of liberal Egyptians who were yearning to institute a Western democracy in their country, but will resemble instead the new Islamist regime in Tunisia.
The NY Times surmises that a presidential run had been part of Khairat Shater’s plans ever since he had been freed from prison following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak: “With firm control of Egypt’s Parliament, the Brotherhood’s political arm is holding talks to form the next cabinet while Mr. Shater is grooming about 500 future officials to form a government-in-waiting.”
Al Ahram suggests the Brotherhood had not planned to break its word on avoiding a presidential bid for now. Believing in gradual change, the Brotherhood leadership even threatened members with expulsion if they ran for—or even supported anyone who run for—the Presidency.
Back in the summer of 2011, the Brotherhood actually expelled one of its most admired leaders, Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who disobeyed the party elders and announced he was running for President.
In the end, the Brotherhood appears to have been dragged into Presidential politics before it felt ready for the challenge. It was becoming worried about the growing success of two Islamist candidates, their own former brother Abul-Fotouh and a Salafist preacher named Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who were both becoming too popular for comfort with the radical youth.
Ever eager to prevent a clash with the military, the Brotherhood is now facing the very situation it was seeking to avoid, by gaining too much too soon, only to have its new gains be thwarted by a military pushback which would suspend state institutions indefinitely.
Still, as the Times put it, “Egypt’s Brotherhood, the original Islamist movement at the center of the Arab world, has never flinched from demanding an Islamic government and opposing secular rule.”
Mohssen Arishie, writing in The Egyptian Gazette, suggests that “el-Shater the Conqueror should not expect that his ‘Battle of the Caliphate’ in May would be an easy task.” Besides his expelled former colleague in the Brotherhood Abul-Futuh, Shater will be facing the very colorful Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, an unusual candidate in any election, in Egypt and elsewhere.
Abu Ismail’s platform envisions 10 great national projects in every area of Egyptian society, topmost among them is doing away with the centralized presidential system, buolding instead an institutional democracy which is, nevertheless, run according to Muslim principles.
And, according to Arishie, Abu Ismail has expressed a deep interest in imitating Israel’s economic success story to stimulate Egypt’s ailing economy.
That won’t be easy to accomplish without a real, Western-style democracy.