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In major reversal, Muslim Brotherhood will vie for Egypt's presidency

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, could end up in control of all three branches of Egypt's new government. 

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Though he is entering the race months behind other candidates, Mr. Shater will be an instant frontrunner because of the Brotherhood’s clout.

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The most powerful Brother

According to many in the Brotherhood, Shater is the most powerful figure in the organization, despite his official position as No. 2. The large, bearded leader who spent more than a decade in former President Hosni Mubarak’s jails has consolidated a power base in the organization’s executive body, the Guidance Bureau. It was a result of a power struggle between himself and prominent leader Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh that the latter was dismissed from the Guidance Bureau in 2009 and expelled from the organization when he announced his presidential bid last year, against orders from Brotherhood leaders.

Shater was convicted of money laundering in a 2007 military trial, for funding and managing the finances of the organization, and sentenced to seven years in prison. He was released last March, just weeks after a popular uprising forced Mr. Mubarak from power. The military recently pardoned him for an earlier conviction, but there was no indication that the amnesty extended to the second conviction, which would leave him ineligible to run for office under Egyptian law. Yet Brotherhood leaders and the organization’s lawyer insist there are “no legal obstacles” to his candidacy. That has led some to speculate that his candidacy is not part of a confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military, but rather the result of a deal struck between the two.

Shater, who is very conservative, is also likely to gain the support of many ultraconservative salafis. Together, the Brotherhood and salafi parties took about 70 percent of parliament, though in the presidential race, Islamist votes will be split between four well-known candidates.

A risky decision

Yet fielding a candidate is a risky decision for the movement. The Brotherhood’s shura council, a sort of legislative body, was split 56-52 when it voted on whether to nominate Shater, and his nomination could open a rift among the leadership. The organization’s backtrack on promises could engender public resentment.

“I think Shater’s nomination will backfire and will be counterproductive to the movement in terms of its public image, because they pledged in the past not to field a presidential candidate, and in terms of internal cohesiveness, which will be damaged significantly,” says Anani.

If Shater wins, the Brotherhood will carry a heavy responsibility as it dominates the parliament, forms the government, and holds the presidency. In what is likely to be a rocky transition period, the Brotherhood will be the first to be blamed. If he loses, it will create even more internal divisions, and deal a decisive blow to the Brotherhood’s image as the major political power in Egypt, says Anani. “It's a very risky game, and they miscalculated…. This might be a fatal mistake.”

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