Following the Muslim Brotherhood's unprecedented victory in elections for both houses of parliament, tensions have increased between the organization and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The brotherhood is demanding that the people's will be realized and that power be transferred to the elected bodies, while the military refuses to relinquish the authority it gained following Hosni Mubarak's ouster.
The Muslim Brotherhood has behaved with restraint and discretion when dealing with the military council, but it recently began to sound warnings – and threatened to incite the Egyptian street if military leaders do not transfer authority to elected institutions. The selection of engineer and businessman Khayrat el-Shater as the brotherhood's candidate for presidential elections to be held next month is a continuation of this threat. El-Shater is a symbol of the sacrifice the brotherhood has been willing to make in the struggle against the regime, and in an effort to respect the people's will and usher in democratic processes.
Over the years El-Shater has served several prison terms and became one of the brotherhood's top leaders. In addition to the skilled fieldwork the brotherhood has performed in recent decades and its flawless political conduct over the past year, the group also deserves credit for the price it has paid over time. Brotherhood members have been imprisoned and endured interrogations and torture – and a few have even been executed.
El-Shater is perceived as a man who paid a heavy personal price, including suffering health problems, in his just and principled struggle against the steadfast tyranny of the regime. His large family lost its breadwinner while he was in jail and, like many others, was forced to face a difficult socioeconomic reality. His wife's coping garnered widespread coverage and the brotherhood made sure to publicize her travails. Now the group hopes the Egyptian people will reward El-Shater for his sacrifice during the elections.
In Egypt, he is perceived as religious, educated in various fields, charismatic, diligent and principled – as a self-made man. This is the image that the brotherhood is marketing to the Egyptian people, as opposed to the military officials pegged as survivors of the previous, "hated" regime. The brotherhood concluded that nominating a presidential candidate can only work to its benefit and ensure the transfer of authority. This is an extremely calculated move, which could pave the way for the brotherhood to take over Egypt's government.
The brotherhood blames the military council for hindering the assembly charged with drafting a new constitution and also claims that the army is preventing the creation of a coalition government. Both of these things fall under the parliament's authority – and the brotherhood, as is known, has a majority in the parliament. Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, the brotherhood's former secretary-general and an expert in microbiology, was elected parliament speaker in January.
El-Katatni is known for the tough talk and scathing criticism he has leveled at the regime. In his current post, he has proved to be remarkably consistent in the political campaign against the military council. El-Shater has surpassed El-Katatni's record in the struggle against the "survivors of the previous regime," and as such became the brotherhood's nominee for president.
The brotherhood is using El-Shater's candidacy to convey to the military that, in the event power is not transferred, it is prepared for a protracted struggle and to pay a price.
It should also be noted that, contrary to the recent reports about El-Shater's apparently pragmatic character, another look at his actions over the years reveals a different conclusion. He is combative and holds steadfast views – as evidenced by his violation of the law on more than one occasion in an effort to advance the brotherhood's goals: namely, toppling the Mubarak regime and establishing a civil state that is subject to a ruling Islamic legal body.