The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood believed it would be shrewd to nominate its clever and powerful symbol Khairat al-Shatar, who has become one of the Brotherhood’s most prominent figures since his detention during the reign of President Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Al-Shatar ranks among the most respected of the Brotherhood cadres, in terms of managing his commercial exhibitions as well as his political opposition. It is for this reason that the Brotherhood has nominated him as its first ever presidential candidate since the movement was established by its founder Hassan al-Banna. Since Khairat al-Shatar has been imprisoned several times, most recently during the Mubarak era, the Brotherhood has run a propaganda campaign along the lines of “the Yusuf of our era has come out of prison to govern Egypt.” Historically speaking, it is known that prophet Yusuf, peace be upon him, did not leave jail and rule Egypt, but rather he became a minister. Even if the Brotherhood consider “the Yusuf of our era” to be a pious and knowledgeable icon, thanks to his economic experience and commercial skills, then it would have been wiser to appoint him as a financial treasurer, rather than place him in a political domain that may explode at any moment.
The real shrewd move was the Brotherhood’s initial decision not to put forward a presidential candidate, rather than its retreat from this decision and its nomination of al-Shatar. The Brotherhood’s original decision took everyone by surprise, for it showed political maturity and awareness of this [politically] complex stage. This is because, at this particular time, international and regional powers – alongside the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] – will find it very difficult to contain or tolerate absolute “Muslim Brotherhood domination” over the legislative and presidential authorities in the largest Arab state; a state long seen as a source of political and ideological influence.
Failing to curb its political “desires”, or content itself with the parliament as a political spoil, the Brotherhood’s Shura Council held prolonged meetings on Saturday that resulted in this decision [the nomination of al-Shatar], with many observers pessimistic about its future impact. It is striking that the Tunisian Ennahda Movement, which is less influential and less experienced, was more politically mature than the mother Brotherhood movement; although this defies the logic of experience and history.
The Muslim Brotherhood had earlier failed to curb its political fancy when it chastised Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, one of the movement’s most prominent and charismatic symbols, by dismissing him from the group after he decided to run for president, an acceptable measure according to the customs of political parties. Yet it is surprising that the Brotherhood first disagreed with Aboul Fotouh but then repeated his “mistake” by nominating al-Shatar. My friend Dr. Saad Attiya Al-Ghamdi summed up the matter by commenting – via Twitter – that “it would have been wiser if the Brotherhood had accepted the nomination of Aboul Fotouh without directly involving themselves in the issue of the presidency. If he won [the presidential election], then he would be their loyal son, whilst if he didn’t, they could say they had dismissed him”.
So, it is clear that the Brotherhood, by nominating al-Shatar, has placed itself in a real political quagmire. Aboul Fotouh has a large Egyptian fan-base who will champion his nomination, and even a broad category of the Muslim Brotherhood’s youths are advocating him to the extent that some have defected from the movement because it denied his candidacy. In light of the current situation, the logical result is that votes will be divided between two strong candidates who share similar chances of winning, in addition to other votes being squandered on the Islamist [Salafist] candidate Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, who will take a sizeable share.
To summarize, if you scrutinize the Brotherhood’s decision to nominate al-Shatar, you will discover that the movement seems to be lacking political maturity, nor does it have an accomplished view of international, regional, or local political complexities. Indeed, the Brotherhood could have “enjoyed” the delicious “parliamentary” slice of the cake, but instead it has become greedy and now seeks the larger “presidential” slice of the cake as well. In short, the Brotherhood may have bitten off more than it can chew.