A few weeks before Egypt’s first post-Mubarak presidential elections, members of the country’s Constitution Writing Committee nominated Dr. Saad al-Katani, president of Egypt’s parliament and a senior Muslim Brotherhood member, as their chairman. The committee is expected to shape Egypt’s new constitution and determine the authority of the next president.
It is very likely that this step caused great consternation among the more liberal members of the committee, even if it did not come as a complete surprise. One hundred members were elected to the committee: 50 of these were members of parliament, and another 50 were civilians chosen by the parliament. Forty-seven percent of the parliament is composed of Muslim Brotherhood representatives. If we further recall that Egyptian democracy handed the Salafists an additional 20 percent of the parliament, it is perhaps understandable why the Muslim Brotherhood viewed Saad al-Katani as a natural choice.
Secular Egyptians chosen to serve on the committee (as fig leaves, most likely) have already threatened to leave it. They are demanding that the committee be more balanced. Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court has already withdrawn its representative from the Constitution Committee on the argument that “there is currently doubt and confusion concerning the committee.” The Muslim Brotherhood is not at all bothered by such concerns. Their parliamentary victory allows it, in the name of democracy, to pick from all the choice fruits. With the parliament and constitutional committee under its belt, the time has come for it to take the presidency as well. Originally, it only intended to field a candidate in the next term or the one after that, but why not take advantage of the new reality now, despite the fact that just a few days ago it insisted it would not put forward a candidate?
The world caught the Muslim Brotherhood in a lie on Saturday. Khayrat el-Shater, deputy to the movement’s supreme guide, Muhammad Badie, is going to run for president. Egyptians may be worried, but the New York Times was quick to downplay fears, describing Khayrat el-Shater as conservative but pragmatic. The newspaper of record was also quick to point out that American officials who had met with the leader had been very impressed. El-Shater, a prisoner under the Mubarak regime, is expected to lift Egypt’s economy out of the mud, and especially, to moderate the more extremist Salafis, who are fielding their own presidential candidate.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology, and its raison d'etre, are marginal details for the New York Times. El-Shater will enter the ring with two other Islamic candidates who are already inflaming the masses, the Salafist sheik Hazem Abu Ismail and a former Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. Both support the imposition of Shariah law and oppose the peace treaty with Israel. Another candidate, Egypt’s former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa, is suddenly looking moderate.
Egypt’s new reality has given the Muslim Brotherhood a boost. At first, Khayrat el-Shater argued that this was not the time to put forward a presidential candidate because he did not want Egypt to suffer the same fate as Algeria in 1991, recalling how the Islamic movement’s electoral victory in that country led to a bloody decade-long war, which the Algerian military ultimately won.
The Muslim Brotherhood, for its part, is feeling strong enough to campaign openly against the military. Its democratic victory has given it the moral authority to rule. It reminds us that it is where it is through the voting booth, whereas the generals are where they are thanks to Mubarak. Tensions between the Supreme Military Council and the brotherhood reach a new peak nearly every day. Parliamentary elections wiped out Egypt’s Revolutionary Youth Movement, while the presidential elections are expected to wipe out the military.
There are many people engaged in wishful thinking. Some hope that the multiplicity of Islamic candidates means that the Islamic vote will be split and that they will not win in the elections. Others see in the Revolutionary Youth the hope of a new revolution that will oust the Muslim Brotherhood. The problem is that the world saw the million Egyptians who took to the streets and not the other 84 million, and most of them, as we saw in parliamentary elections, are not as worried as we are about the Muslim Brotherhood’s expected takeover of all the centers of power. Egyptians will come to miss Mubarak sooner than we think, and el-Shater can begin work on his book, “The Unbearable Lightness of Victory.”