Brotherhood's El-Shater may return to political scene

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 10 Apr 2013

Khairat El-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood's number two, may not have given up on the idea of taking public office

Khairat al-Shater
Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Khairat al-Shater (Photo: Reuters)

On Monday, Khairat El-Shater, the strong man of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued a statement on his Facebook page to discredit what he qualified as “rumours and fabricated documents.”

During the past few weeks, independent dailies and social media circulated reports that El-Shater had plans to establish an illicit intelligence network that spies on sovereign state bodies and public figures.

El-Shater’s name was also mentioned in accounts suggesting the establishment of a team of Muslim Brotherhood-based presidential guards, in what was said to be the first step towards the elimination of the role of the minister of defence, and his eventual sacking.

On the economic front, the name of El-Shater has popped up associated with a number of controversial schemes, including a plan to "rent out" the Suez Canal to Qatar, with whom the Muslim Brotherhood has very close connections.

The usually uncompromising Muslim Brotherhood leader issued a Facebook message with a reconciliatory tone, appealing to the media – often qualified by his group as "corrupt" – to show professionalism and credibility and to refrain from spreading unverified news.

The statement by El-Shater, a deputy general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, came amid speculations offered by some close to the ruling group that he will be elevated to an official state position at some point.

El-Shater was supposed to run for the presidency on behalf of his group in the 2012 elections, but was disqualified from the race because, as a former prisoner, he was not eligible to run.

Government and independent political sources say that El-Shater's legal position has changed, and he has now had full citizenship rights restored, including the right to run for and assume office.

Since the mid-1990s, El-Shater, who is known to be on the radical end of the Muslim Brotherhood thinking, has been tried and sentenced by a military criminal court for two sets of charges: reviving an outlawed group and establishing a militia of Al-Azhar university youth with links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2006, El-Shater was supposed to have been released from prison as he would by then have finished his sentence. He, however, was kept in prison by an administrative order.

A few weeks after Morsi was sworn in last year, according to one government source, El-Shater’s lawyers started a process to assure that he regains his rights, which are restored to all former prisoners once their sentence is complete.

Last winter, there was a state of speculation over the participation of El-Shater in the referendum over the constitution – in what was an indication that his name found its way back to the list of ineligible voters.

Today, sources from the government and the Muslim Brotherhood alike say that El-Shater definitely faces no legal boundaries from becoming prime minister, if selected for the job by President Mohamed Morsi, or even for running for the presidency should Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership decide that it is necessary to bow to the increasing calls for early presidential elections.

“He could now, yes; but I would not say we are heading towards early presidential elections – not this year anyway,” a leading source at the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party, told Ahram Online.

“Anyway, he does not want to; he was not interested in the matter in the first place,” the source added.

Last year, El-Shater did present his papers to the Higher Committee for Elections (HCE), but his papers were declined due to the short interval between his release from prison and his nomination.

At the time, sources close to El-Shater spoke of the "apprehension of the man" to assume this responsibility – despite undeniable instinctive ambition – but also of his determination to fulfil the job.

The fear of the Brotherhood that the papers of El-Shater would be declined – despite statements asserting otherwise from no less than the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohamed Badie – prompted the "back-up" nomination of then-FJP leader Mohamed Morsi, who took over the presidential campaign of El-Shater, which had already been launched.

Today, identical sources at the higher and middle echelons of the Muslim Brotherhood say repeatedly that El-Shater is “furious” with the performance of Morsi and is endlessly complaining to other Muslim Brotherhood leaders that Morsi is all but shooting the “Islamist rule projects” in the head – not just the foot.

El-Shater, according to the same sources, might end up doing one of two things to “rectify” the damage done by Morsi, that latter being one of his chosen aides previously.

One option, which is largely dependent on the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to bypass an upcoming political confrontation with a good part of the judiciary and intelligence, is for El-Shater to assume the post of prime minister in a government to be assembled by the FJP following parliamentary elections that could take place in the autumn of this year.

This option would suit the character of El-Shater – a man with a keen interest in business and who is a naturally tough leader, according to those who know him well and spoke about him to Ahram Online.

This option is also compatible with El-Shater’s uncontrollable urge for power, given the large authority granted by the new constitution to the prime minister.

But should Morsi's rule wobble, the Muslim Brotherhood high-level source acknowledges, then it might then be the case that El-Shater would opt for the second scenario: run for president.

“It is a possibility, yes, you are right; if there are early presidential elections that [El-Shater] would run; he is not very keen but he might have to,” according to the same Muslim Brotherhood source.

Several sources at the Muslim Brotherhood suggest that the course of early presidential elections is not at all inevitable and that the opposition is too weak and too divided – the same qualifications are used by endless foreign diplomats in Cairo - and public opinion is not all that set to force the end of Morsi's rule, especially in view of an expected short delay of an austerity package.

According to political analyst Hana Ebeid, of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, the Muslim Brotherhood are not yet in a position whereby they would have to bow to early presidential elections – despite the escalating violence.

“The Muslim Brotherhood still have considerable negotiations capital that cannot be undermined,” Ebeid suggested. In any upcoming parliamentary elections the Muslim Brotherhood will still secure a considerable share of seats; the group has its hands on the key services and supplies ministries and they still enjoy considerable external support “especially in view of the lack of a viable alternative,” Ebeid argued.

According to Ebeid, it is more likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will opt for a change of government than early presidential elections.

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