Away from microphones, US officials say that the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to run Khairat El-Shater as their presidential candidate vindicates President Barack Obama’s strategy of reaching out to radical Islamic movements.
(DEBKA-Net-Weekly 535 of March 25 named El-Shater as one of the three shortlisted MB candidates)
Had the administration not invested great effort in cultivating the Muslim Brothers, their rise would have found Washington floundering, they maintain. As it is, the administration had the foresight to host a delegation of five Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Washington for the past two weeks. Their visit was only recently disclosed.
El-Shater himself is now presented by US officials off the record as a pragmatist who fully grasps the imperative of a pro-Western orientation for the sake of Egypt’s economic wellbeing.
He is said to have been ready to meet every US representative visiting Cairo in the year since Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. This is offered as a sort of testimony to his pro-American predilections. Also emphasized is his friendship with the US Ambassador to Cairo and his repeated promises to uphold the peace accord with Israel.
In short, the Americans expect to feel comfortable with this canny, shrewd Islamic millionaire as President of Egypt.
Omar Suleiman might reappear – behind the shoulder of an Islamist president
Israeli official circles in contrast were profoundly disappointed by the most frequent Egyptian visitor to Jerusalem, former intelligence minister Gen. Omar Suleiman, declining to run as the Supreme Military Council’s candidate for president.
They saw him as the only candidate capable of challenging Khairat El-Shater. With his 20-year record of battling radical Islamic organizations, they had hoped his election would arrest Islamist domination of all branches of Egyptian government, preserve the 1979 peace treaty and maintain ties of understanding with Jerusalem.
Until he came out with his announcement Thursday, April 5, Suleiman has stayed shuttered behind the fortified and well-guarded walls of his home in Cairo ever since an assassination attempt against him almost succeeded on February 6, the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.
He may eventually reappear on the political stage, depending on who wins the presidential election – certainly not in the role of friend of America or Israel but rather as friend of the new president.
If he is smart, the incoming ruler will put to use Suleiman’s unparalleled competence as manager of government and intelligence systems.
The two leading candidates are El-Shater of the Muslim Brotherhood and Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, the man who raised Egypt’s Salafi movement to its present eminence and built it up as a rival to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Brotherhood offers Salafist contestants perks for standing down
Either way, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources, Washington and Jerusalem, like the generals or SCAF, recognize that Egypt’s fate will not be determined by foreigners but to a large extent by the organizations of the two Islamist parties, the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party-FJP and the Salafists’ Nour – depending on their impact on Egypt’s population of 80 million and its teeming city streets.
Quick-witted Brotherhood strategists have gone into action to cut down the opposition to their candidate. They are leaning hard on the Salafist leaders Abu Ismail and Mohammad Salim Al-Awa to stand down. This tactic did not work for the ex-Brotherhood leader, the independent Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, who is resolved to be a winner.
The Salafists were offered the chairs of influential parliamentary committees and financial aid for their charities if they stepped down.
In case this plan falls through, Brotherhood propagandists are launching Plan B, spreading a quiet word through certain outlets alleging “his mother became an American citizen before she died.” This would disqualify Abu Ismail from running for president under current Egyptian law.
It is therefore being driven home to the Salafi leader that it is in his best interest to accept the perks on offer by the Muslim Brotherhood or risk being drummed out of politics.
According to the March opinion poll published by Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, 57.6% of a sample cut of Egyptians would vote for an Islamist President.
Washington and Jerusalem, as well as the generals transitionally running Egypt, will therefore have to stand back and await the Egyptian voter’s decree with no way they can influence the outcome of the presidential election.