The Muslim Brotherhood’s Presidential Gambit

By Marc Lynch, Foreign Policy, April 2, 2012 –
The Muslim Brotherhood resolved months of speculation this weekend by announcing its intention of nominating Deputy Supreme Guide Khairet al-Shater for Egypt’s presidential election. It may not seem so surprising for a country’s largest political force and the largest parliamentary faction to field a Presidential candidate. But it was. The announcement sent an earthquake through Cairo’s already wildly careening political scene. I’m happy to admit that I was taken by surprise.

What was the Brotherhood thinking? The nomination of Shater seems to have been a response to threats and opportunities a rapidly changing political arena, rather than the hatching of a long-term plan. But many Egyptians would disagree, seeing it instead as the culmination of a long-hatching conspiracy with the SCAF. I think it will reveal itself to be a strategic blunder which has placed the Brotherhood in a no-win situation. But clearly they had their reasons for making such an uncharacteristically bold move. How will it affect the endlessly turbulent and contentious Egyptian political transition? And could Khairat al-Shater really replace Hosni Mubarak as the president of Egypt?

I’ve been studying Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood for many years, and have interviewed most of its senior leaders (including Shater) multiple times. And I’ll admit that I was surprised. So were most other MB-watchers I follow. That’s in large part because it contradicts what I had heard for months from Brotherhood leaders in private and in public, and has dubious political logic. What’s more, the decision appears to have been controversial inside the Brotherhood’s leadership, and seems to have taken even many of its own top people by surprise. There are at least three reasons to consider the Brotherhood’s move surprising, despite the obvious temptation that any political party would have to seek the top political position which it believes it can win: its promises to not field a candidate; the strategic risks of seeking the presidency; and the stakes of nominating Shater himself.

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