CAIRO — Egypt’s most powerful Islamist organization on Saturday nominated one of its members for president, breaking a promise that it would not enter the race and angering critics who called the decision an attempt to control the country.
The Muslim Brotherhood announced at a news conference that Khairat el-Shater, the group’s top financier and arguably its most influential member, would be the candidate of its political wing, as a rift grows between the Islamist group and the country’s ruling military leaders.
The group recently said it was considering fielding a candidate in the May election only because it was concerned that former regime figures backed by the ruling military council would win if it did not.
The Muslim Brotherhood is the most powerful political force in Egypt, and its political wing won nearly half the seats in the newly elected parliament. But at least two other prominent Islamists are running for president, and the Brotherhood’s move could split the vote.
Since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak more than a year ago, the Brotherhood had said it would not nominate a candidate. When a progressive member of the organization, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, announced his intent to run last year, he was ousted from the group for breaking the rules.
Critics of the Brotherhood and some within its ranks said that nominating Shater, a business tycoon and the group’s top strategist, would chip away at the organization’s credibility.
Analysts also said that the move is potentially dangerous for the Brotherhood. The next year will be a difficult period of transition as Egypt moves from military to civilian rule, and the economy has continued to stagger. If Shater becomes president, the Brotherhood could be blamed for the growing economic woes and other problems.
“Everything is risky for them now,” said Issandr El Amrani, a prominent Cairo-based blogger and analyst. “I suspect they decided to do this because they want to maximize their ability to govern and were unable to find either a consensus candidate or a trusted proxy.”
The presidential election is scheduled to begin May 23, but the parliament has only just appointed the panel tasked with writing a new constitution, which would delineate the powers of parliament and the president. But even that is controversial, with non-Islamists angry about the number of Islamists on the body. The constitution will most likely not be completed by the time the president is elected.
Shater, who was imprisoned multiple times under Mubarak, resigned his post in the Brotherhood on Saturday to become the Freedom and Justice Party’s candidate.
“We affirm that the Muslim Brotherhood does not seek power in order to reach a position or to achieve wealth or status, but seeks to fulfill the purpose it was created and worked for in the past year, which is satisfying God,” said Mahmoud Hussein, the group’s secretary-general.