The Egyptian Islamist group is trying to consolidate its new-found power -- and fielding a presidential candidate.
The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood announced this weekend that, despite its long-standing promises to the contrary, the group will be running a candidate for president. This is a tremendous break from their previous strategy, which has been to bide their time and extend their influence very slowly, so as not to arouse the ire of the Egyptian military or the international community. The experiences of Islamists in Algeria and Turkey, where the military overturned sudden Islamist victories, were very present for Muslim Brotherhood members I've interviewed in Egypt. If there's been one constant in the Brotherhood's strategy, it's patience.
The group took a bold step last year in deciding to run a full slate of parliament candidates (breaking from their earlier commitment to contest less than 50 percent of the races). The idea of running a presidential candidate seemed like too much, too fast. But, on Saturday, they announced they are nominating outgoing Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater for the May 23 presidential race.
So why the change of heart? The Arabist's indispensable Issandr El-Amrani argues that it started with the decision of current and former Muslim Brotherhood members to run without the organization's permission. The Brotherhood might as well run a candidate anyway, they seem to have concluded -- especially since the renegade candidates would not necessarily be beholden to the Brotherhood.
Ashraf al-Sherif, a political scientist with the American University in Cairo, argues that the Brotherhood was worried that these other Islamist candidates would splinter the group, especially its youth wing:
Over the last year, both Abouel Fotouh and Abu Ismail have established themselves as viable candidates. By attracting backers and campaigners from the Brotherhood against the will of the group's leadership, both presidential hopefuls have posed challenges to an organization long known for its strict internal discipline.
The Brotherhood's deteriorating relationship with the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), as well as the rise of Brotherhood-unfriendly Amr Moussa as the presidential front-runner, has also scared the group into consolidating whatever gains they've made since the revolution -- a quest for "full-spectrum legitimacy," as Amrani calls it.
"The Brothers had to choose a candidate who could be certain of the full backing of the group in its ongoing fight with the SCAF and be a credible interlocutor in that fight," Amrani writes. "It cannot afford to rely on parliament alone." According to reports in the Egyptian press, the group had tried to convince more pro-Brotherhood outsiders to run for president and only settled on one of their own when none of the other options panned out.