CAIRO -- The Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential political bloc in Egypt, is confronting a new worry among some voters as the country’s presidential election nears: Would a president with Brotherhood roots be subservient to the group’s mourshid, or supreme leader, rather than to the interests of Egypt’s population of more than 80 million?
The concern has been voiced in opinion columns and coffeehouses, with some analysts arguing that a Brother-turned-president would, at best, rule with divided loyalties. Some even describe a scenario akin to Iran’s Islamic Republic, where the highest power isn’t the president but supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Clarifying the supreme leader’s role is just one part of deeper voter scrutiny of the Brotherhood after a year of broken political promises, shrewd alliances and internal dissent.
“There will be an inevitable conflict between his oaths: Will he be loyal to a developing country or to a religious movement, a movement that could very well be considered a state within a state?” asked Mustafa al Labbad, the chairman of the Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies, a research institute in Cairo.
The Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohammed Morsi, who led the group’s spinoff Freedom and Justice Party, is considered a serious contender for the presidency, though he faces formidable opponents in a rival Islamist and former Brotherhood luminary, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, and the two figures from the era of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq and former Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
Morsi’s chances in the May 23 and 24 voting are hurt by concerns that he’s not strong enough to stand up to the generals who now rule Egypt by decree; the new president will have to negotiate just how much authority the generals retain. Outside the Brotherhood itself, Morsi has picked up the support of one influential Islamist bloc, the Islamic Legitimate Body of Rights and Reformation, but not of another, the ultraconservative Salafist Nour Party, which has endorsed Aboul Fotouh.
Roiling the campaign, however, has been a photograph that shows Morsi bowing to kiss the hands of the Brotherhood’s elderly supreme leader, Mohamed Badei, the group’s eighth supreme guide and one of its most conservative, if not radical, leaders. A veterinarian by profession, Badei was close to Sayyid Qutb, the radical Islamist theorist and top member of the Muslim Brotherhood whom Egyptian authorities executed in 1966 for plotting against the government.
Since the photo appeared, Morsi has been vocal about stressing his independence from the Brotherhood’s religious leaders.
“Neither the Brotherhood nor the Freedom and Justice Party will rule Egypt,” Morsi told a news conference recently. “Egypt will only be ruled by the president, who will abide by the constitution and the will of the people.”
Former Brotherhood members, many of whom defected because of what they described as a creeping authoritarianism within the group, say, however, that Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party would never be truly independent from the Brotherhood, or, by extension, the supreme leader.
Mohamed Abbas, a young Brotherhood defector who ran against, and lost to, a Brotherhood candidate in last winter’s parliamentary polls, said members were taught from Day 1 that the long-time goal was turning Egypt into an Islamist state. Brotherhood politicians’ statements dialing back on that goal, he added, sounded disingenuous.