Khairat al-Shater, the strongman of the Muslim Brotherhood, filed last Thursday the required documents to take part in the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt. The decision has been very controversial, given that the Brohterhood had promised several times since last year that they would sit out of these elections.
From my point of view, these are the keys to interpret Brotherhood’s reversal, a real earthquake in the Egyptian political scene:
-Increased confidence: The Brotherhood made the promise not to run for the elections to reassure foreign powers and the Egyptian army. Having a long history of suffering and repression, the Islamist movement acted with a lot of caution in the wake the Revolution. One year later, after its overwhelming victory in the parliamentary elections and having achieved the recognition by the US, they don’t think a coup d’Etat by the army is really possible. The “Algerian scenario” is not scary anymore.
-Lack of an alternative candidate: For a long time, the Brotherhood searched for a candidate to endorse. They wanted someone with enough popular support so it could win, but without too much carisma, so they could control him. Few weeks before the deadline set up by the Electoral Comission, they realized that there was no candidate who fulfilled all the requirements.
-Internal cohesion: The selection of a presidential candidate had become a real headache. Some factions, especially the youth, had become very vocal about whom to support, and there was a real risk of an internal rebellion in a organization characterized by its sense of discipline. Presenting al-Shater, considered to be the strongest figure in the movement, the Brothers tried to force their ranks to unite.
-Fear of losing it: The Brotherhood have never been so close to power, and they absolutely don’t want to miss this chance. Right now, it is clear that writing the the Constitution will not be finished before the elections, which means that the new president will assume its position under the current basic law, which grant pharaonic powers to the “rais”. The Brothers are afraid that “their Parliament” becomes a weak and ineffective institution subordinated to a strong president they can’t control.
Although, considering all these reasons, the decision to run for the elections make sense, I still think it was a big blunder that the leadership of the organization will soon regret. And here it is why:
-Loss of credibility: After promising some many times that they would not run a candidate, they have lost a lot of credibility among many Egyptians, who just see them as an opportunist and greedy organization who puts first its own interests to the nation’s.
-Strained relations with other political parties: After having imposed the composition of Constitutional Assembly, this decision will definitely make very difficult for the Brothers to form any kind of alliance with other political parties in the coming future. Maybe now they think they don’t need it, but sooner or later their power will erode, and they will need partners. At that point, it will be very difficult to win their trust.
-Risking a showdown with the military: By pushing so hard in the Egyptian power battle, they have invited other actors to do the same, setting them in a course of collision. Of course, I am talking especially about the army. The stakes are now very high, so no wonder that the Junta has pushed Omar Suleiman to also run for the elections.
-Losing by winning: Even if they have another electoral success, their victory might short-lived. The expectations of the Egyptian population are very high, and the chances for the next Government to fulfill them are very small. The economy is in shambles, and there is no easy path to recovery. By assuming full powers, the Brotherhood will have full responsibility for the failure of the new elite to live up to expectations.