Telhami: The new Egyptian politics
Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate, Khairat Al-Shater.
April 4th, 2012
09:28 AM ET

Telhami: The new Egyptian politics

Editor's Note: Shibley Telhami is Anwar Sadat professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institution.

By Shibley Telhami - Special to CNN

In a surprising move, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood decided to field it's own candidate, Khairat Al-Shater, for the Presidency of Egypt, after months of insisting that it would not do so. Immediately, questions were raised about its credibility not only among its opponents but also among some of its supporters, many of whom opposed the move.

What explains this sudden reversal by a group that has been very calculating and careful in its political actions since the fall of Hosni Mubarak? The answer is: It found itself out-maneuvered by both the ruling Military Council and the surprisingly strong and more conservative Islamist competitors, the Salafis. And it stood to risk losing much of its gains.

The Brotherhood's strategy has been clear. It looked ahead not only to winning control of the Parliament through its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) but also to governing. From the outset, its leadership understood that the Egyptian public would ultimately judge it by how it performs once in leadership.

Above all, they understood the urgent economic rebuilding challenges that required internal and external stability in an environment where there is much international skepticism about the Brotherhood’s aims and capabilities. Much of what the Brotherhood has done in the early months was to assure domestic and international groups, from the Egyptian military, with whom it reached early tacit understandings, to the Egyptian Coptic Christian minority, to Western governments - and even to Israel.

Its view was clear: It preferred a strong parliamentary system in which it dominates with an internationally-respected President who is more liberal but is prepared to make a deal with them. They could be the kingmaker but not the king. For a while, it flirted with the idea of supporting former IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei for President until the latter polled out of the race.

But two things happened that Brotherhood leaders didn't anticipate. Following their parliamentary victory, their constituents were already judging them based on their performance, even though the Egyptian government in charge is outside their control and appointed by the military rulers. They became suspicious that the military and the interim government are deliberately acting to undermine their parliamentary credibility. The brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party threatened to bring down the government through a parliamentary vote of non-confidence. The military council countered with its own threat of dissolving the parliament–something that's allowed under the existing constitution.

This drove home the reality that the Brotherhood's move to oppose revisiting the constitution before holding elections could come back to haunt them. The military threat to dissolve the parliament may have been a bluff. But what if an elected President who’s not a member of the Brotherhood acted on his own prior to constitutional revision?

Such a scenario has become more plausible in recent weeks as the field of Presidential candidates expanded, despite the loss of some prominent potential candidates such as ElBaradei. When the Brotherhood looked around, the two leading Presidential candidates were not to its liking. Former Arab League chief, Amr Moussa, who remains popular, is seen by the brotherhood as a threat to its control, and Hazem Abu Ismail, the Salafi candidate of the Nur party, who is a direct Islamist competitor to the Brotherhood, is seen to be so conservative as to lead Egypt into isolation.

The rise of the latter and his party has been the biggest surprise to almost all observers, including the Brotherhood. During the Mubarak era, the Salafis kept a relatively low political profile while being allowed by Mubarak security services to operate freely as a religious and social organization attracting funds from conservative religious groups and individuals from Arab Gulf states - probably as way of limiting the influence of the Brotherhood.

When Mubarak fell, everyone was surprised by the strength of the Salafis and their ability to translate their social and religious organizations into political clout. And while the chances of their Presidential candidate seemed slim only weeks ago, the articulate Hazem Abu Ismail, has quickly risen to the top in the polls.

Given the fragmented field, it was no longer guaranteed that a liberal or moderate candidate would win simply by being endorsed by the Brotherhood. Some lacked international stature and significant Egyptian public support; others like Abd Al Monem Abul Futouh angered the Brotherhood by breaking from them to run for President, and had the Brotherhood endorsed him, he would have been counted as one of their own any way. By choosing one of their leaders to run for the Presidency, the Brotherhood is betting that they will rally their supporters behind the nomination and hope to get a few more backers through coalition building.

But there are risks with this move, which is probably why the Brotherhood’s decision was far less from unanimous. The cost to their credibility is one problem. Egyptian public weariness of political dominance by any party may also work against them. Potential divisions within the Brotherhood’s own ranks is probably the biggest threat, especially if, the Islamists votes are fragmented and their candidate ends up losing. Welcome to the new Egyptian politics.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of Shibley Telhami.

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Topics: Egypt • Politics

soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. ..................shiazim is evil liers

    syrian thugs will not give up the killing of cevilians, syria are sending 50 trucks a day to south leabnon hizboallah full with arms, weapons, chemical weapons, rockets and cash daily for the last month while USA, UK, FRANCE, NATO AND UN SLEEPING ...syria preparing to arm hizboallah and transfer the war to lebanon those evil my face their match and must be destroyed along with evil iran and the iraqi shiia thug stupid govrnment, unelected irawi shiia are sending weapons and cash to syria to hel the shiia killers to kill more....evil helping evil

    April 4, 2012 at 10:09 am | Reply
  2. Patrick

    All muslims lie.
    Its in the religion.

    April 4, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
    • mike

      Patrick: you are either ignorant or lieing as it is considered a big sin to lie in Islam.

      April 4, 2012 at 9:28 pm | Reply
      • justiceforall

        It is a big sin to murder in Islam yet out of 40,000 terrorist acts over the past 10 years 99% are by Muslims.
        It is a big sin to lie in Islam except if it is to deceive the infidel or for the sake of Islam.
        90% of minorities have been eliminated in majority islamic countries over the past century.
        It is a religion of genocide.

        April 4, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
      • yossi

        justiceforall it depends on how you interpret it. i think violence by muslims is more common due to the fact that years of being controlled by ottomans and brits made it difficult for them to adapt to the modern world. that allowed religious psychos to hijack muslim culture.

        April 5, 2012 at 9:16 am |
      • Patrick

        Muslims lie when it is in their interest to do so and “Allah” will not hold them accountable for lying when it is beneficial to the cause of Islam. They can lie without any guilt or fear of accountability or retribution. A lie in the defense of Islam is approved even applauded in their “holy” books.

        Muslims are permitted to lie: (1) to save their lives, (2) to reconcile a husband and wife, (3) to persuade a woman into a bedroom and (4) to facilitate one on his journey. Muslims are even permitted to disavow Islam and Mohammed if it is not a genuine heart-felt rejection. Muslims will tell you that concealment of a truth is not an abandonment of that truth if it benefits Islam.

        April 5, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
      • Steven

        Yea but it also says you can lie to an "Infidel" to protect Islam or a fellow Muslim...

        April 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm |
    • Yahya

      do you know it is ignorance to make generalisation,muslims and christians are one ie children of God.

      April 5, 2012 at 7:20 pm | Reply
      • Patrick

        yeahyeah- are you lying.....again?

        April 6, 2012 at 9:18 am |
    • max

      patrick is correct, as kafir's(look it up) it is quite alright to lie to us from a muslim perspective. if you can't see how islam is responding to the non-muslim world right now then you are blinded by something. islam is the biggest danger to the planet as a whole that i have seen in my lifetime because the architects of it's import into the west live amongst us in droves. it is too late, the cat is out of the bag, the wolves are in the henhouse and it is just a matter of time. just watch.

      April 8, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  3. fk iran

    shiia lies and called itt taqeya it is their faith shiia = evil.....
    FK ALL SHIIA IRAN ALI HUSSAIN AND FK AL SESTANI AND khomini fk all ismaili and all village idiots.

    April 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      sunny lies and called itt taqeya also.

      April 4, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Come on, you above. Please cut the Tea Party lingo out. Like I said before, the English language today already has a rather extensive vocabulary thus rendering that filthy Tea Party lingo unnecessary in expressing your intense hatred for both the Shiites and the Iranians here. Just leave that lingo for the warmongering Tea Partiers and the Republicans!

      April 4, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Reply
      • Megan Grawe

        Joseph McCarthy; This is what happens when you put an inept president in office with no clue as to what foriegn policy is and even worse it happened on Obama's watch! The TEA Party is only a threat to Obambi ...blaming it on Bush won't help you either.

        April 5, 2012 at 2:31 am |
      • norsky

        Did anyone not see this coming?? Dang, as soon as obama said he was sending monitery support for the rebels in Egypt, which included the brotherhood, the writing was on the wall. Obama knew all along what the brotherhood was, and didn't bat an eye on giving them money. To James, comment above, the brotherhood is in the U. S. already, have established themselves, have offices, and radio stations, and have been invited or have already been to the Whitehouse to meet with and thank obama for his undying support for their cause. Anybody else see something else coming???

        April 8, 2012 at 3:35 pm |
  4. j. von hettlingen

    That the Muslim Brotherhood throws its weight behind Shater is a strategic move. The man had spent 12 years in prison because of his connection with the previously banned party and was released only after last year's uprising. Yet he managed to maintain a multimillion-dollar business empire, care for his 10 children and uphold his commitment to political Islam. These credentials might resonate well with ordinary Egyptians and would boost his popularity. The 62-year-old has been taking key strategic decisions concerning the formation of the party and is its public face to visiting foregin officials and investers.

    April 4, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
    • tut

      Yes money laundry , and petrodollars ,.that is why he was in jail.

      April 9, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply
  5. shambala

    These politicians need to reject Israel lobby support.

    Down with AIPAC

    April 4, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Reply
    • justiceforall

      Yes and we should make sure that Muslims live with other Muslims in paradise because none of us are worthy to live in the presence the sons of Muhamad. After all He kidnaped his second wifes family beheading her entire family on the day he forcefully married her. Why a great and noble prophet?

      April 4, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Reply
      • Hun

        Where do you get your Islamic information, Wikepeadia?!

        April 6, 2012 at 8:22 pm |
    • norsky

      Well spoken, for a devout muslim!!

      April 8, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Reply
  6. justiceforall

    This opinion sounds as enthusiastic as the Iranians were when they got Kimenei in Iran. I suspect this may turn out as well for the egyption people.

    April 4, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  7. Benedict

    Yeah,it must be galling for the Brotherhood to be so close and suddenly so far! Can‘t wait to see the outcome!

    April 5, 2012 at 1:42 am | Reply
    • Megan Grawe

      Yes! It was to predictable, but our liberal president wouldn't beleive it!

      April 5, 2012 at 2:33 am | Reply
  8. toadears

    The Picture of Dorian Grey was a great book and great movie. For those who don't know it, the plot was about a man who could not age or show in his face and body all the evil he committed in his life. The picture, which he kept hidden and covered in the attic, was magic. The picture aged instead of Dorian Grey. It was fiction. Everything I need to know about this man is in his face. He is cruel and corrupt. You can't judge a book by looking at its cover, but you can see life lines in people's faces.

    April 5, 2012 at 3:12 am | Reply
  9. bet links

    Pretty great post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I've really enjoyed surfing around your weblog posts. In any case I'll be subscribing on your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

    April 5, 2012 at 5:50 am | Reply
  10. Troy

    Sharia Law is so stupid! Very cruel law. It violates HUMAN RIGHTS and its against GOD as well!!! GOD is full of love not HATE! Men and Women are created EQUAL!!!

    April 5, 2012 at 9:59 am | Reply
    • Patrick

      hamduliilah – the truth shall save you.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:19 am | Reply
  11. Cowardly Old World

    Where's the story about the rocket shot last night from Egypt into Israel? It didn't take long for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood to start attacking. And meanwhile, Obama hosts the brotherhood in the White House.

    April 5, 2012 at 10:36 am | Reply
  12. Coprolito

    Any radical Muslim or Islamic cleric ia a deceiver. They imitate prophet Mohammed's immoral conduct full of lies, hatred, deceive, violence, vengeance and discrimination

    April 5, 2012 at 11:48 am | Reply
    • James

      Well said and true–

      April 5, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  13. wally

    justiceforall and the like pull "stats" such as "90% of minorities have been eliminated in majority islamic countries over the past century" completely out of their behinds (you can't even get FAKE internet info on that like from Google searches) and expect anyone important to take them seriously? It's quite obvious most of the people here were lazy to even read the article, as they're not even commenting on the actual politics here but are just making random general statements about Islam, Israel or even off-topic Obama.

    April 5, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply
    • justiceforall

      It is well known fact.

      April 5, 2012 at 11:39 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

      Two weeks ago, militants in Iraq laid siege to a church in Baghdad, in an attack that killed more than 50 Christians and prompted condemnation from around the world. That attack - along with a spree of targeted killings of Christians in Baghdad this week - also put a spotlight on the status of religious minorities throughout the broader Muslim world.

      April 6, 2012 at 9:26 am | Reply
  14. Mohammad A Dar

    Brother hood have to prove nothing to no hindus' deniers of truth absolute 360* in their hindu Judaism, self center ism, but to Allah, the limit most high and good people of Egypt. hindu"s criminal can go to hind, hell and truthful Brotherhood has to nothing but a kick on hindu's, hind deniers of truth absolute.

    April 5, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  15. James

    They are a bunch of liars and always will be. They have it down to a fine art. Why does anyone believe anything they could possibly say–They will be in the USA someday–

    April 5, 2012 at 11:29 pm | Reply
  16. MG.

    The muslim brotherhood doesn't face any credibility issues here, because every on knew what they were before, during and after the uprising. The only person facing credibility issues is our inept president who couldn't see it coming before he rolled over on Mubarak!

    April 6, 2012 at 1:23 am | Reply
  17. bobalu

    Yes they have lost some credibility just like our politicians have. Obviously they feel the benefit outways the cost. They learn the game fast.

    April 6, 2012 at 8:57 am | Reply
  18. Mohammad A Dar

    Hindu word drive from Latin word hindered, negative, Hun for great, Han, to be in greatness, hind, to be negative to both of them, hinduism, way of negativity, hindu's hind, deny truth absolute 360* in their hindu Judaism, criminal self center ism, secularism to hind, fool humanity, nothing but hindu filthy animals in form of human,

    April 6, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  19. Patrick


    April 6, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  20. tarek

    islam is surely a religion of justice and tolerance . try it first .

    April 6, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Reply
    • Mohammad A Dar

      Islam is justice in truth absolute 360* and very intolerant to hinduism, injustice by hindu's deniers of truth in their hindu Judaism, self center ism, secularism to adjudicate, fabricate a hind, filthy reason to justify hindu's, criminality of hindu's in their hinduism, injustice.

      April 6, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Reply
  21. Patrick

    You say try it, you'll like it.
    And, when someone decides to leave Islam:
    The reason why executing apostates has always been well-ensconced in Islamic law is that there is an indisputable record of Muhammad and his companions doing exactly that according to the reliable Hadith. According to verse 4:80 of the Quran: "Whoso obeyeth the Messenger obeyeth Allah."
    Bukhari (52:260) – "...The Prophet said, 'If somebody (a Muslim) discards his religion, kill him.' " Note that there is no distinction as to how that Muslim came to be a Muslim.

    April 6, 2012 at 10:37 pm | Reply
  22. stephen

    CNN, Obama,and other left wing ultra liberals love the Muslim brotherhood, but they are thugs, murderers and liars. The Middle East has seen that America does not support its own allies. They, like Obama, hate Israel and all friends of Israel. God loves Israel and if America is not on Israel's side then we have no future. Israel will survive, but at what cost? America must show the world we support our friends and we must stop supporting ultra left ideologies.

    April 7, 2012 at 2:34 am | Reply
    • Chris

      Well said.......thank you.

      April 8, 2012 at 12:29 am | Reply
    • Ruppert

      Ultra Left???? exactly what Ideology is that one. To my understanding i will be a Communist. And if you read about communism, they are against any religion. have you ever heard "religion is the Opium of the people"?? well guess who said it? Oh yeah Karl Marx the Author Of "Das Kapital" which is the father of socialism. So please read a little more and stop posting like a nonsense fanatic.

      April 8, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  23. Sal

    Religion is the cause of all the strife in the world today! The world would be a much safer and peaceful world without religion! 

    April 7, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  24. Andrey

    Every people deserve its ruler – whatever the ruler is! Egyptian people behaved very naughty lately!

    April 8, 2012 at 2:18 am | Reply
  25. blairablair

    maybe we will luck out and obama will win their election.

    April 8, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Reply
  26. Ruppert

    It seems to me that we still have Crusaders in the 21st century. How about the Last Crusade to Iraq thousands of deaths of civilians etc. Even worse They try to convince us that we need another war (crusade) to Iran.

    April 8, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply

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