CAIRO — At a campaign rally for the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate for president, a hardline cleric and TV preacher sang Mohammed Morsi's praises before thousands massed in the stadium of an industrial city in Egypt's Nile Delta.
"We are seeing the dream of the Islamic Caliphate coming true at the hands of Mohammed Morsi," the cleric, Safwat Hegazy, blared from his podium.
"The capital of the Caliphate and the United Arab States is Jerusalem, God willing," he added, as thousands cheered and waved the Brotherhood's green flag, chanting, "The people want to implement God's law."
On the campaign trail for the presidential election, now only nine days away, the Muslim Brotherhood has taken a sharp turn rightward, becoming bolder in saying it wants to bring a state where religion and Islamic law play a major role — and insisting that it has the right to rule.
As a result, it has moved away from the more moderate face that it promoted since even before the fall of Hosni Mubarak 15 months ago. During campaigning for parliament elections late last year, the Brotherhood insisted that implementing Islamic law was not its immediate priority, instead speaking vaguely of an "Islamic background" to government. It also sought to assuage fears that it seeks to take over the country by promising to work with other, liberal factions.
Critics and former Brotherhood members say the greater assertiveness represents the 82-year-old group's true face, brought by hard-liners who over the past decades have squeezed out moderates and taken control of its leadership. Those hard-liners, the former members say, are more confrontational, more determined to impose Islamic strictures and less likely to share power with others.
Former members believe the group's turn comes out of frustration that the political power they have long dreamed of is slipping away from them. The Brotherhood emerged from the parliament elections as the biggest party in the legislature, a victory it touted as proof of its right to push through its agenda. But it has discovered that the parliament is largely powerless in the face of the ruling military's control.
Its initial candidate for president, Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat el-Shater, was disqualified from the race because of a Mubarak-era conviction. That forced them to turn to Morsi, seen as a weaker candidate. Morsi has struggled to rally religious voters behind him in the face of competition by Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh, a more moderate Islamist, who has gained support from some of the ultraconservatives known as Salafis.
Morsi has lagged in polls, generally in fourth place in a field of 13 candidates for the May 23-24 first round of elections — behind two former regime candidates and Abolfotoh. The poor showing is so surprising given the Brotherhood's electoral strength that many question the polls' accuracy.
Whatever the reasons, the group no longer tap-dances around questions of implementing Islamic Shariah law.
"We will not accept any alternative to Shariah ... The Quran is our constitution and it will always be so," Morsi told a crowd of supporters at a Cairo University rally.
In an interview with The Associated Press, el-Shater — who appears alongside Morsi on the campaign trail so often that critics say he would be shadow president — said laws must conform with Shariah. He said the Brotherhood would stipulate that officials tasked with reforming Egypt's economy, politics, media and other sectors also have religious expertise.
"Those who decide what system works best are specialists who are not only political scientists but who also studied Shariah," he said. "They will work on putting together a system that abides by the general rules of Shariah but also with an eye on realities, experience and other countries' experiences."
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