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Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, in reversal, may nominate presidential candidate

Egyptians hold posters of the Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie, left, and the group's former leader Mohammed Mahdi Akef during a demonstration in January. The organization says it has found none of presidential candidates worthy of its support. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Faced with a crowded presidential race that has produced no consensus candidate deemed worthy of its support, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said Wednesday that it is considering reversing a year-old pledge not to put forward a candidate from its ranks.

The Brotherhood, whose political wing dominates the newly elected parliament, had announced the policy in part to quell fears of liberal groups that the historic Islamist organization is trying to take control of Egypt after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic but secular government.

But on Wednesday, Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan said the group’s governing body has found none of the hundreds of declared candidates worthy of its support and is weighing the possibility of nominating a Brotherhood member to run in the election, set to begin May 23. Privately, officials close to the Brotherhood say talks are centering on Khayrat el-Shater, its top financier.

“So far, nobody who fits our criteria has put forth their name,” Ghozlan said.

Ghozlan’s comments are the clearest indication yet that the Brotherhood will try to take Egypt’s top government post. The two houses of parliament are led by members of the group’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party.

The organization is under intense pressure from younger adherents to back former Brotherhood member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who is already running for president. Aboul Fotouh, who was seen as a leader of a more progressive part of the Brotherhood, was ousted for breaking the rules and declaring himself a candidate. Many young members who joined his campaign were also expelled.

Rumors of a consensus candidate backed by both the military rulers and the Brotherhood never came to fruition. The general secretary of the Brotherhood, Mahmoud Hussein, said in a statement that the Brotherhood was being forced to pick “one of their own.”

Omar Ashour, an expert on Islamist movements from Britain’s Exeter University and a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, said the Brotherhood faces an internal rebellion that will intensify if the group endorses a non-
Islamist candidate — such as former foreign minister Amr Moussa or the former head of the military advisory council, Mansour Hassan — and might nominate a candidate to save itself from splintering.

“They have no options,” Ashour said.

The move would be likely to draw criticism, particularly in light of the Brotherhood’s failure to keep a pledge to compete for only about a third of the seats in parliament. It now holds about half the seats.

The Brotherhood is expected to meet Friday to discuss candidates and announce its decision.

“It’s all premature talk right now,” Ghozlan said.

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.

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