Muslim Brotherhood Picks Presidential Candidate

Robert Siegel talks to Samer Shehata of Georgetown University about the Muslim Brotherhood's decision to put up a presidential candidate for Egypt in the post-Hosni Mubarak regime.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Well before the Muslim Brotherhood won Egypt's parliamentary election, the formerly illegal Islamist group eased the concerns of secular and Christian Egyptians that the Brotherhood might monopolize political power in the post-Mubarak era. They said they would not field a candidate for president. Well, now, they've abandoned that pledge.

Khairat al-Shater, a conservative businessman, former political prisoner and a leader of the Brotherhood was nominated by the group on Saturday. He is regarded as pragmatic. And as to why he is running and what his candidacy might mean, we turn to Samer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab Politics at Georgetown University. Welcome to the program.

SAMER SHEHATA: Thanks for having me.

SIEGEL: And why is Mr. al-Shater running despite the prior position of the Brotherhood that they would not run a candidate for president?

SHEHATA: Well, there's some confusion about that and a great deal of speculation in Egypt now. People are sensing that they are becoming increasingly confident and ambitious after their electoral success in the parliamentary elections. And I think, when it comes down to it, they really are getting close to power now. They're smelling power. And I think they just are a little bit overeager and can't really wait and want to make sure that they actually obtain power as opposed to having their hopes dashed at the last minute.

SIEGEL: When you speak of the Muslim Brotherhood's reformist agenda, how Islamist is that agenda?

SHEHATA: Well, I would say it's a moderate Islamist agenda. Certainly, they, I think, want to have an Egypt that looks different than the Egypt of Mr. Mubarak. Although they have claimed they do believe in elections and a rotation of power, it's not a liberal democratic Egypt, and this is quite important to note.

SIEGEL: Last year, Foreign Policy magazine described al-Shater as a - I'm quoting now - "A media savvy engineer who became prosperous as a textile and furniture trader developing a knack for working with foreign investors." What do you know about him? What kind of a man is this?

SHEHATA: Well, he's very powerful in the organization. He's 62 years old. He's an engineer, incredibly successful businessman. He has spent 10, 11 years in jail under the Mubarak regime, only coming out after the revolution, and he's the deputy guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. That's certainly going to be unpopular among Egypt's liberals and Egypt's Christian community, as well.

SIEGEL: And if he, indeed, is now one of the front-runners - given his representing the Brotherhood - who are the other serious contenders for the presidency?

SHEHATA: Well, the other contenders - the other serious contenders are few. There's Amr Moussa, of course, the former Egyptian foreign minister and secretary general of the Arab League. There's also Ahmed Shafik who was the former prime minister under Mubarak in the last weeks of the presidency, and a military man.

There is this gentleman Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh who was also a high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood official, until he was expelled from the organization for announcing his candidacy for president. And then, I would put up there as well a gentleman by the name of Hazem Abu Ismail, a Salafi Islamist, much more conservative.

SIEGEL: Does the very fact of reversing this stand on whether to run a presidential candidate, does that in any way dent the credibility of the Brotherhood with Egyptian voters?

SHEHATA: I think it certainly does. And in fact, this isn't the first time in the last year that they have reneged on a promise. When it was first announced that there would be parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood said they would only contest 30 percent of parliamentary seats. Then later, they said they were going to contest 50 percent of parliamentary seats. Their performance, winning 43 percent of all parliamentary seats, shows us, I think, that they actually contested much more than 50 percent.

This is the second major decision with consequences that they have flip-flopped on. So I think it is damaging to their credibility among Egyptians quite broadly.

SIEGEL: Well, Professor Shehata, thank you very much for talking with us today.

SHEHATA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's Samer Shehata, who teaches Arab Politics at Georgetown University.

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