Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is to field its deputy chairman, Khairat al-Shater, as a candidate in the upcoming presidential election, the group’s party and supreme guide said on Saturday.
“The Freedom and Justice Party [FJP] will nominate Khairat al-Shater as a candidate for the presidency,” the FJP said on its Facebook page.
The 61-year-old professor of engineering and business tycoon will be standing in the country’s first presidential election since a popular uprising ousted former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year.
The election is scheduled for May 23 and 24.
The Brotherhood’s supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, confirmed al-Shater’s nomination at a news conference when he read out a brief statement from al-Shater, who was not present.
“After it was decided to field my name in the presidential elections, I can only accept the decision of the Brotherhood. I will therefore resign from my position as deputy chairman,” al-Shater’s statement said.
The Muslim Brotherhood had repeatedly said it would not put forward a member for the election, but its leadership insists that al-Shater’s nomination is not an about turn, but a necessary measure in the face of developments.
“There is a real threat to the revolution and to the democratic process,” the Muslim Brotherhood’s secretary-general, Mahmud Hussein, said.
The nomination is likely to intensify a standoff with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power when Mubarak was ousted in February last year.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm, the FJP, has been pressuring the military to sack the Cabinet — which it accuses of stalling the revolution — and to appoint an FJP-led government.
However, the SCAF has stood by the Cabinet and its head, Kamal Ganzuri, lashing out at the Islamists over their demand.
Hussein said their demand to sack the government had been ignored and said there had been “threats to dissolve the parliament” which it dominates, in reference to a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of the electoral process.
He said because “one or more members of the former regime” are planning to run for the country’s top job is proof that there is a plan to bring back the old regime.
Al-Shater’s nomination would have been unthinkable before the uprising in January last year, when the Muslim Brotherhood was banned and its members were subject to periodic government crackdowns.
The uprising turned the political order upside down, with Mubarak in jail on murder and corruption charges, and the Islamists dominating parliament and now fielding a presidential candidate.
Al-Shater will face competition from former Arab League head Amr Mussa, who registered his candidacy last week, and from former Brotherhood member Abdelmoneim Abul Futuh, who enjoys support from both young Islamists and secular movements.
Egyptian Islamist Hazem Abu Ismail, who subscribes to the ultra-conservative Salafi brand of Islam, launched his candidacy on Friday.
Presidential hopefuls need to either be nominated by a party represented in parliament, get the backing of 30 lawmakers or collect 30,000 signatures from eligible voters in 15 provinces in order to qualify as candidates.
It was unclear how al-Shater, who received a military conviction in 2006 on charges of terrorism and money laundering, would be able to stand without an official pardon.
At the news conference in Cairo, Badie said there were “no legal barriers” to al-Shater running, but did not elaborate.
“Egypt now needs a candidate from among us who can take on the responsibility,” FJP head Mohammed Mursi said, insisting that the decision to field a candidate “is not a change of principles.”
“Egypt has problems that have not been solved,” Mursi said, listing among them fuel shortages and security problems.
“All this has pushed us toward the executive authority,” he said.
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