Egypt clerics: Brotherhood candidate promised Shariah law is final goal
Campaign dealmaking is a sign of how the Brotherhood, which is Egypt's strongest political movement and presents itself to the public as a moderate force, could be pushed into a more hard-line agenda by competition from the ultraconservatives known as Salafis.
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"El-Shater stressed that Shariah is his top and final goal and that he would work on forming a group of religious scholars to help parliament achieve this goal," the statement read. The commission is an umbrella group of Islamist factions, mostly Salafis, set up after last year's anti-Mubarak uprising.Skip to next paragraph
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A Brotherhood spokesman could not immediately confirm the offer and attempts to reach the head of the commission went unsuccessful.
The promise resembled an item in a 2007 political platform by the Brotherhood, when it was still a banned opposition movement. It called for parliament to consult with a body of clerics on legislation to ensure it aligns with Shariah. The proposal was met with a storm of condemnation at the time, and the Brotherhood backed off of it.
Mohammed Habib, who was the Brotherhood's deputy leader at that time, says the platform item was for a body of clerics simply to advise lawmakers, but that some in the group wanted it to have a more powerful role to vet legislation.
Of el-Shater's reported proposal, he said there were many questions. "Does it cut powers from parliament? Would it have the power to impose anything on parliament?" he said, speaking to the Associated Press.
Tharwat el-Kherbawi, a former Brotherhood member who fell out with the group, said the council appeared similar to Iran's system of clerical "guardians" over the elected government.
"El-Shater wants to give Salafi clerics what they want," he said. "The clerics will work on moving the Salafi mountain from Abu Ismail to el-Shater but first they need some melting of the ice. And this is the way to get through it."
The Brotherhood announced el-Shater's nomination over the weekend, breaking a yearlong promise that it would not run a candidate for the presidency. The move raised accusations that the Brotherhood is trying to monopolize all levers of power. It also angered many Salafis because it would split the Islamist vote.
Another Islamist candidate in the race is Abdel-Moneim Abol-Fotouh, a longtime Brotherhood member from its reformist wing who was booted out of the organization last year when he announced he would run for president. His campaign has drawn support from young, reform-members of the Brotherhood.
El-Shater has held multiple meetings with Salafis trying to win support and pressure Abu Ismail to drop out, said Salafi cleric Amin el-Ansari, who is close to Abu Ismail's campaign.
Some Salafis do see an appeal in el-Shater because the Brotherhoods' more disciplined organization could be more likely to bring results, el-Ansari said.
"This is reassuring to the clerics and to the voters," he said. "The Muslim Brotherhood members are like cogs in a machine and like soldiers who wouldn't violate the decisions of their leadership."
So far, however, Abu Ismail is staying in the race.
In a meeting in the Mediterranean city and Salafi stronghold Alexandria, Abu Ismail was asked to withdraw. He refused, replying, "the one who created sedition is the one who should put it down," in reference to el-Shater's nomination, according to his aide Gamal Saber.
Saber also threatened that unless the Al-Nour party, the Salafi's main political arm, endorses Abu Ismail, hundreds of young party members would break away.
Abu Ismail faces a possible hitch. Opponents are demanding an investigation into reports that his mother holds American citizenship. If true, it would disqualify him from the race, since the rules bar any candidate with a foreign parent. Abu Ismail has insisted his mother is not a U.S. citizen.