Hani Hafez, campaign manager for Salafist presidential hopeful Hazem Salah Abu-Ismail, downplayed speculation on Monday that the Muslim Brotherhood had decided to nominate the group's number-two, Khairat El-Shater, for the presidency, insisting that allegations to this effect were baseless.
The Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) have yet to officially endorse a particular presidential candidate. It was recently rumoured, however, that the Brotherhood would field someone from within its own ranks – possibly El-Shater – in the upcoming contest.
Hafez refuted the claims, however, saying that such a decision would only serve to harm the Brotherhood's reputation and popularity.
"I doubt that the Brotherhood would embarrass itself by making such a move," Hafez told Ahram Online. "Over a year ago, the group announced that it wouldn't nominate one of its own for the presidency. There is no justification for backtracking on this. It would only cause the public to lose faith in the group."
"If this rumour was true, El-Shater would have been surrounded by considerable media hype for weeks, and the Brotherhood would face many problems," he added."It’s not just a matter of public trust; the Brotherhood's young cadres would also voice strong opposition."
"But I don’t think it’s true, especially after the less-than-stellar performance of the People’s Assembly, of which the Islamists now comprise the majority," Hafez said."They can't afford to take such a risk."
The FJP and the Salafist Nour Party together control a majority of both the Shura Council and the People’s Assembly (the upper and lower houses of Egypt's parliament).
Abu-Ismail's presidential campaign appears to be holding out hope that both Islamist groupings will eventually throw their support behind him in the presidential elections slated for late May. The Nour Party, too, has yet to announce a preferred candidate.
"We were expecting the Nour Party, the FJP and the Salafist Asala Party to support us, but they have opted to wait until the final candidate list is issued," Hafez had earlier told Ahram Online. "We understand this."
But this hasn't stopped individual members of the three Islamist parties – especially Nour – from declaring support for Abu-Ismail's campaign.
"The Nour Party's young cadres comprise one of the pillars of our campaign," Hafez said. "We have fewer supporters from the FJP, since Brotherhood members generally comply with their leaders' instructions."
"This support from young people is helpful on many levels," he added. "Apart from pushing the campaign forward, their endorsement also serves to put pressure on their parties' leaders."
“If their respective parties fail to endorse the right candidate, young members will voice strong objections – to the extent that some might defect from the parties in question," Hafez said.
For his part, Nour Party Chairman Emadeddin Abdel-Ghafour refuted reports that the Salafist party had come to agreement with Egypt's ruling military council and the FJP to support a single presidential candidate.