News analysts and political commentators characterized the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to field a presidential candidate as evidence that the group is willing to betray its own promises for political reasons. They point out other instances of flip-flopping. Immediately after the fall of Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) announced that it welcomed the democratic process that will usher in pluralism and end authoritarianism. To help realize that goal, they promised that they will contest only 30% of the parliament seats. Weeks before the elections’ process started, they modified that figure and decided to compete for 50% of the seats. Meanwhile they continued to insist that they will not field a presidential candidate and they will not endorse anyone else. When Abdel Mon`im Abu al-Fotuh, a member of their consultative council, announced his candidacy, they expelled him.
On March 31, the group’s consultative body met and nominated the deputy guide, Khairat al-Shater. Apparently, the decision was divisive with just under half the members voting against the decision. In addition to al-Shater, at least three known Islamists have already announced their candidacy: Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, Abdel Mon`im Abu al-Fotuh, and Mohammed Salim al-Awa.
The four will face off against another four declared candidates: Amr Moussa, Bothaina Kamel, Ahmed Shafik, and Khaled Ali. Given the number of candidates, one would wonder, why did the group field their own candidate instead of endorsing one of the Islamists so that they do not split the Islamists’ vote? Two considerations:
First, the Freedom and Justice Party (that originated from the MB) seems confident in its abilities to win elections given the results of the parliament and the shura contests. However, despite the Islamists’ control over the parliament, they were unable to recall the current government. They challenged the military over this issue and they lost. That signaled to them that if the future president were to behave like the military council, their authority will be limited. In a sense, their recent dispute with the military made them realize that if they want actual power, they must have a president they can trust. Apparently, they conducted secret negotiations with a number of candidates (declared and undeclared) and they were not satisfied with what they heard from them.
Second, given the stunning performance of the Salafis in the previous rounds of elections, the MB may have concluded that the Salafi candidate, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, could win. If that were to happen, the Salafis’ 24% share in the parliament will become much more significant (than the 42% of MB) when combined with the political authority of a Salafi president. Ostensibly, the MB did not want to take that chance.
Initially, the MB argued that they don’t want to take over the parliament and the presidency for two main reasons. They did not want to move the country from the one-man rule to the one-party rule and they did not want to face the burden of building a shattered nation on their own. Now, they are on the path of controlling all the branches of government. Those conditions are still a reality and the MB may have achieved what they did not want to achieve.