Shater as president! Is Brotherhood turning Egypt into Sunni Iran?
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is to field its deputy chairman Khairat al-Shater as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, the group's party and supreme guide said on Saturday.
"The Freedom and Justice Party will nominate Khairat al-Shater as a candidate for the presidency," the FJP said on its Facebook page.
The 61-year-old professor of engineering and business tycoon will be standing in the country's first presidential election since a popular uprising ousted veteran leader Hosni Mubarak last year.
The election is scheduled for May 23 and 24.
The Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, confirmed Shater's nomination at a news conference when he read out a brief statement from Shater, who was not present.
"After it was decided to field my name in the presidential elections, I can only accept the decision of the Brotherhood. I will therefore resign from my position as deputy chairman," Shater's statement said.
The Muslim Brotherhood had repeatedly said it would not put forward a member for the election, but its leadership insists that Shater's nomination is not an about turn, but a necessary measure in the face of developments.
"There is a real threat to the revolution and to the democratic process," said the Brotherhood's secretary general, Mahmud Hussein.
But the decision to field Shater could draw criticism, particularly after the group expelled another member, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, when he said he would run in spite of the Brotherhood's pledge not to seek the presidency.
"This is not only a breach of their promise, but deliberate defiance of the (ruling) Supreme Council of the Armed Forces," said a Western diplomat, adding the U-turn suggested the group was worried others could disrupt its rise to power.
"The Brotherhood are so close to power they can smell it, but they are so scared that someone else will snatch it from them," the diplomat said.
The nomination is likely to intensify a stand-off with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power when Mubarak was ousted in February, 2011.
The Muslim Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, has been pressuring the military to sack the cabinet -- which it accuses of stalling the revolution -- and to appoint an FJP-led government.
But the SCAF has stood by the cabinet and its head Kamal Ganzuri, lashing out at the Islamists over their demand.
Hussein said their demand to sack the government had been ignored, and said there had been "threats to dissolve the parliament" which it dominates, in reference to a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the electoral process.
He said the fact that "one or more members of the former regime" are planning to run for the country's top job is proof that there is a plan to bring back the old regime.
Shater's nomination would have been unthinkable before the uprising in January 2011, when the Muslim Brotherhood was banned and its members were subject to periodic government crackdowns.
But the uprising turned the political order upside down, with Mubarak in jail on murder and corruption charges and the Islamists dominating parliament and now fielding a presidential candidate.
The move will worry liberals and others who fret about the rising influence of Islamists after they swept parliament and now dominate an assembly writing the new constitution.
But the Brotherhood, the oldest and most well-established Islamist group, could use its political clout to encourage Islamist politicians and voters to unite around Shater.
Shater will face competition from former Arab League chief Amr Mussa, who registered his candidacy last week, and from former Brotherhood member Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh who enjoys support from both young Islamists and secular movements.
Egyptian Islamist Hazem Abu Ismail, who subscribes to the ultra-conservative Salafi brand of Islam, launched his candidacy on Friday.
Presidential hopefuls need to either be nominated by a party represented in parliament, get the backing of 30 MPs or collect 30,000 signatures from eligible voters in 15 provinces in order to qualify as candidates.
But it was unclear how Shater, who received a military conviction in 2006 on charges of terrorism and money laundering, will be able to stand without an official pardon.
At the news conference in Cairo, Badie said there were "no legal barriers" to Shater running, but did not elaborate.
"Egypt now needs a candidate from among us who can take on the responsibility," FJP head Mohammed Mursi told reporters, insisting that the decision to field a candidate "is not a change of principles.
"Egypt has problems that have not been solved," Mursi said, listing among them fuel shortages, security problems and petrol shortages.
"All this has pushed us towards the executive authority," he said.