Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood names ex political prisoner as its presidential candidate

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 31, 2012 

CAIRO — Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood announced late Saturday that it had decided to nominate Khairat el Shater, a member of its ruling Guidance Council and a powerful business tycoon, to become Egypt's next president.

El Shater's candidacy was decided on a secret vote by the Guidance Council.

The move is likely to roil Egypt's already tense political scene. The Brotherhood, whose Freedom and Justice party already controls 47 percent of the country's new Parliament and a majority of the 100-member Constituent Assembly charged with writing a new constitution, had pledged months ago that it would not run its own candidate for president. Liberal political groups and others have complained that the Brotherhood, effectively outlawed during the regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak, is now putting itself in a position to wield unchallenged power.

Mohamed Badei, the Brotherhood's supreme guide, the movement's top official, announced El Shater's nomination at a news conference at the group's headquarters.

"Khairat el Shater accepted the decision and filed his resignation as member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Council and deputy to the supreme guide to become a president representing all Egyptians," Badei said.

Mahmoud Hussein, the Brotherhood's secretary general, said a number of factors had led to the movement's decision to name a candidate. Among them he said were "the lack of an effective government that represents the public, threats to dissolve the Parliament, and the presidential candidacy of members of the former regime."

"The movement changed its decision after spotting real threats to the revolution and democracy," Hussein said.

He said El Shater was nominated after the movement failed to persuade other unnamed public figures to run.

El Shater, 62, who has 10 children and 16 grandchildren, made millions with a successful textile and furniture business and has been a top financier of the Brotherhood for years. He was prosecuted by the Mubarak administration multiple times on charges of financing a banned movement, most recently in 2008, when he was sentenced to seven years in prison. It was the longest sentence ever handed to a Brotherhood member during Mubarak's rule.

Shortly after Mubarak was removed from office, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, pardoned El Shater.

That pardon made El Shater eligible to run in the May 23 presidential election.

"El Shater has every right to practice politics, including running for the presidential post," said Abdelmonem Abdelmaksod, the Brotherhood's top lawyer.

The decision to nominate a candidate had been expected in recent days, but it was still viewed as a shocking reversal by many, especially since the Brotherhood had essentially dismissed another former member of the Guidance Council, Abdelmonem Abolfotoh, for joining the race in defiance of the movement's earlier vow not to offer a presidential candidate.

"The decision is very late and shocking," said Mahmoud Abdelshafi, the head of the independent Islamist Lawyers Union who's represented both El Shater and Abolfotoh in the past. "They've just announced repenting on what they'd promoted for months."

Meanwhile, the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Morsi, defended the change.

"The current circumstances led us to decide differently," said Morsi. "We have taken this decision and we are fully responsible for it."

(Sabry is McClatchy special correspondent.)

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