Egypt Brotherhood conflicted over presidential run

By Maggie Michael

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, March 27 2012 1:25 p.m. MDT

Members of Egypt's Parliament attend a session in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, March 24, 2012. Egyptian parliamentarians on Saturday cast ballots to select a 100-member panel that will draft the country's new constitution, amid deep polarization between liberals and Islamists over the process.

Ahmed Gomaa, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CAIRO — Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has postponed an open confrontation with the country's military rulers and other political players Tuesday when it delayed a decision about whether to field a candidate for the first presidential elections since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

An eight-hour meeting of the Brotherhood's highest leadership body failed to come up with a final decision on whether to reverse an earlier pledge not to contest the presidency. Further meetings of the Brotherhood's Shura Council were to continue next week and a senior member of the group described the discussions as "comprehensive" and "exhausting."

The lack of a decision Tuesday highlights growing divisions within the group over the thorny presidency question but also the group's hesitancy over a confrontation with the ruling military council and other national forces over the issue.

The Islamist group's increasing grip on power has fueled concerns among liberals and secularists over its intentions and whether it aims to govern alone, controlling both the parliament and the presidency. If it were to run a candidate, it would hike their fears that it aims for a monopoly.

Moreover, it could anger the military. The generals are believed to be aiming to back a consensus candidate for president — one that would have Brotherhood backing but would also protect the military's interests. If the Brotherhood goes with its own candidate, it would challenge that scenario.

"We discussed all the recent developments. There are many views, but the debate is not settled yet. So they remain points of view," said Mahmoud Hussein, the Brotherhood's secretary general. "We prefer to postpone the discussions so that minds and bodies come prepared and not tired the next round."

More than 100 members of the Brotherhood's Shura Council, which serves as a sort of legislative body for the group, met Tuesday to decide on fielding a presidential candidate, according to a statement on the group's website.

The Brotherhood has emerged as the most powerful political group since Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year, capturing nearly 50 percent of the seats in Egypt's first post-uprising parliament. The group has also claimed a firm majority for Islamists in the 100-member panel that will write the country's post-Mubarak constitution.

If the group makes a presidential bid, it would certainly deepen these fears that the group wants to govern alone. Since Mubarak's ouster, the group has promised not to field a candidate in order to allay those worries.

Given the Brotherhood's popular support and skills at rallying voters, its candidate would stand a strong chance of winning the presidency in late May's elections.

Some members have voiced reservations about the group reversing its earlier promise. A top Brotherhood lawmaker, Mohammed el-Beltagy, told Egypt's Al-Tahrir television late Monday that an internal poll showed a majority of Brotherhood members oppose reversing the pledge not to field a candidate.

Despite its popular appeal, the Brotherhood has been in a tight spot and many of its supporters have grown frustrated with the group's inability to translate its newly gained political clout into real power. The group has in recent weeks been pushing the ruling generals to sack the current military-appointed prime minister and allow the creation of a Brotherhood-led Cabinet. The military council has refused, and the two powerful players appeared on a collision course.

"The honeymoon between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military council ... has reached its logical end," Hassan Nafaa wrote in the Al-Masry Al-Youm daily. "Egypt is stuck between two powers. Each is trying to flex its muscles in the face of the other and impose its will over the other."

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