Analysis: Muslim Brotherhood divided over its presidential election strategy
Many say that standing will cost the party dear. Hardliners say only the brotherhood can stop a return to the Mubarak era
The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for the Egyptian presidential election, Mohamed Morsi, responded with uncharacteristic fiery rhetoric to the constitutional court’s decision to abolish parliament.
There was no turning back, Morsi said: “The legitimacy of the people is above any legitimacy imposed by the Mubarak regime and its forged constitution. They will continue to challenge, to overthrow the remainder of the corrupt regime. People will not allow them [the regime] to return and they will participate in the elections in full force to protect their will from forgery.”
It was a challenge to the army leadership and the old regime: if Ahmed Shafiq, their placeman and a former prime minister, is declared the winner on Monday, Morsi was saying, it would be back to Tahrir Square and the streets.
But the rhetoric masks a deep division within the brotherhood, or Ikhwan, as it is known, over the question of whether it should be contesting the elections at all. The split is tactical rather than ideological but, ever since Dr Aboul Fotouh split from the brotherhood over his decision to contest the elections as an independent, there have been many inside the brotherhood who believe Fotouh was right when he said they should not contest the elections because it would create too many enemies.
Fotouh said:” I was always against the idea of the [brotherhood] participating. It’s a religious proselytising organisation, and this one of the basic reasons of the difference between me and the Ikhwan.”
The liberals pushing for the brotherhood to stand back to allow a broader alliance argue that the leadership has misread the revolutionary mood. Morsi, they say, risks legitimising the result if he loses, and then the revolution will be left with nothing. The hardliners say the efforts of the military council vindicate their tactics, and the Ikhwan is the only opposition force big enough to stop a counter revolution.
Fahmi al-Huweidi, a veteran political commentator, said: “I was against the idea of Ikhwan participation in the elections, for the presidency or the government. I said the society is not ready for this and, most importantly, the Arab world is against this.
“The Saudis, Kuwaitis and Emirates are against this, and this is very dangerous. Can you imagine the international complications? If, on top of this, the media in Egypt, the administration, the security people and the intellectuals are against the Ikhwan, how can they lead a country like this?” he said.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership believes that only by gaining power will it be able to force through the changes.
Khairat al-Shater, the deputy leader of the Ikhwan and the real power in the organisation, rejected claims that the brotherhood had tried to go it alone. He said the task of rescuing the country from corruption was beyond the capacity of any single party.
“If the old regime continues with the [vote] rigging we are detecting now, the situation will not be stable in Egypt,” he said. “There will be political strife.”
Al-Shater, the brotherhood’s first choice as candidate, controls the money, the organisation and has a shrewd political brain. His supporters say the Ikhwan represents the only political force strong enough to carry on the work started by the revolution in Tahrir Square.
In a political system destroyed by Mubarak, no other parties are strong enough to capture the presidency even in coalition. With the decision to force matters to a head on this weekend’s vote, the hardline approach has prevailed. The brotherhood may get the support of leftist parties and the youth movement, but even if that fails to materialise, the message now is that it is determined to go it alone.