The scene of the Egyptian presidential elections, due to take place late next month, seems perplexing and confusing, but even more than that, it raises concerns about the fate of the revolution that has suffered extensively from the tug-of-war between those who fear it and those who fear for it. The last minute surprise in the announcement of candidates has increased the confusion, the temperature, and the rate of fear, especially after the controversy surrounding the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to put forward a candidate for the elections after they previously announced that they would not contest them. This was then followed by the controversy that accompanied the late announcement of Omar Suleiman’s candidacy, the former vice president, hours after he declared that he would not run.
In our Arab world which is rich in conspiracy theories it is not surprising that there are those who believe there is a secret deal between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] and the Muslim Brotherhood aspiring to rule, and that the matter will be decided by trade-offs that will take place between the two parties before the elections. This may culminate in a power sharing agreement, according to those who promote this theory, whereby the president will be a SCAF candidate and the government will belong to the Brotherhood and their allies. It may be difficult to say for certain whether such a deal exists or not, but there is a lot of evidence to suggest that any relationship between these two parties would be borne out of skepticism and apprehension rather than trust, coordination and partnership. Thus we may in fact see maneuvers taken in order to make an about turn, or to pull the rug out from underneath the other party, as SCAF may see the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat rather than an ally, especially in light of the tempestuous and difficult relationship between the two over the past decades. It is true that there have been periods during which there has been a sense of calm, convergence or coexistence, but the relationship has remained one of tension and conflict most of the time.
There is another factor, namely that many parties – internally and abroad – consider the military establishment to be a guarantee for Egypt in the coming period which is fraught with tension and anticipation, whether after the presidential elections or during the stage of drafting the constitution. It is worth noting that this phase in its entirety is considered a transitional one, to prepare the constitutional ground for other elections later on. This atmosphere is also fuelled by accumulating economic pressures, security chaos and the concerns of many regarding the discourse and actions of the Islamist groups over the past months, fearing the dominance of a single current over the scene, especially after the polarization that took place during the formation of the constituent assembly.
The Brotherhood, for their part, do not seem reassured by SCAF, and are manoeuvring to neutralize it or get around it, because they consider it an obstacle in the way of their monopolization of the arena. They consider SCAF to be an extension of the former regime that worked to limit or exclude them, and after their sizeable victories with other Islamist trends in the parliamentary elections, it seems their appetite now extends to the presidency. However, they still fear SCAF and the Algerian scenario, even if this is implemented in a modified or revised manner.
Amidst this ambiguous atmosphere came the Brotherhood’s announcement of the nomination of Khairat al-Shatar, the group’s Deputy General Guide and member of its Guidance Bureau, to contest the presidential election, By taking such a step, they retracted their old promise not to stand for the elections, and even to oppose the nomination of any Islamist candidate, on the basis that “this would not be in the interests of the Brotherhood or Egypt.” Although al-Shatar announced his resignation from his Brotherhood post, saying that he wants to be president of all the Egyptians and that he does not want to be an affiliate of the [Brotherhood’s] Supreme Guide or a representative of a party, his words only further blurred the actual stance of the Brotherhood. How can an announcement be made through the Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, and in the presence of the leader of its political party, about al-Shatar’s nomination, and then the Brotherhood claim that al-Shatar is not representing both? If the Brotherhood were trying to reassure the people, they have only increased their fear, whilst if they were seeking to suggest a sense of distance between themselves, al-Shatar and their political party, then they have not succeeded, particularly as people are not convinced by the Brotherhood’s rhetoric that it will focus only on [Islamic] Dawa and social work, and that they will leave their new party to take care of political affairs. In fact, this policy of appeasement casts doubt over the Brotherhood’s obscure conduct, confused movements and contradictory statements. The Brotherhood could have been clearer and more consistent, like the Islamist groups in Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, who all entered the domain as political movements without claiming that there was a difference or obstacle between their Dawa aspect and their political one.
In fact, the Brotherhood and its party have not only put forward one candidate, but two: one major candidate and another alternative as a back-up plan if appeals hinder al-Shatar’s nomination. The list of candidates issued following the nomination deadline also include the name of Mohamed Mursi, the leading Brotherhood figure who was elected last year by the group’s Shura Council as the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, something that clearly indicates the cohesion between the Brotherhood and its party. With two nominations, the Brotherhood’s ultimate candidate remains undecided, or according to the Brotherhood’s lawyer Abdul Monem Abdul Maqsoud, the group will name its chosen candidate as soon as the appeals made against al-Shatar are settled. According to the statements issued by Dr. Yasser Burhami, Vice Chairman of the Salafi Movement, the eventual choice for the Islamist candidate shall be decided through a Shura Council that will incorporate the Brotherhood, the Salafis, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and their parties.
It is striking that Khairat al-Shatar, in an interview he gave to the al-Arabiya television channel three days ago; implicitly threatened SCAF by saying that the people would be entitled to take to the streets once again if they sensed that their revolution was being jeopardized. Again, he repeated the same threats later on when he said that if there was even a one percent chance that the presidential election was rigged, “the people would not remain silent.” Such threats reflect the current levels of fear and doubt, and may also indicate the nonexistence of a clandestine deal between SCAF and the Brotherhood. It is likely that the tug-of-war game will continue, or rather intensify as we approach the election date. Then, the door will be open for new surprises and trade-offs and last-minute withdrawals, or a difficult and highly risky electoral battle.