On Saturday, Muslim Brotherhood leader Khairat el-Shater announcement his candidacy for the presidency of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, the ideological and political group that controls much of Egypt’s parliament, made this announcement in spite of their previous pledge to not put forward a candidate for the presidency. The Muslim Brotherhood is a powerful group of which many are wary in the West, and this announcement is sure to increase fears of a further power grab in the Egyptian government.
The candidacy of Khairat el-Shater is hard to decipher in terms of U.S. foreign policy interests, because Mr. Shater is a complicated man with complicated views. His role within the Brotherhood is certainly influential upon his life, and it will be interesting to see how much he will push the party line if he is to gain the presidency. As a wealthy businessman with the backing of a powerful political organization, the possibility of Mr. Shater becoming the next president of Egypt is great, and he would certainly shape the role of Egypt on the international stage.
Encouraging takeaways from a Shater presidency would be his commitment to free trade and democracy. If he truly holds these values dear, he could be a valuable partner to the U.S. in continuing the stability of Egypt as a major player in the Middle East. Shater would also be favorable in his stance towards Israel. He currently has committed to upholding Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel, a significant stance given Egypt’s relevance in the region.
But his candidacy also brings up troubling issues. As the official candidate to the Muslim Brotherhood, it is hard to know the direction he would take Egypt in the future. Mr. Shater has advocated for a strict Islamic government and has been a driving factor in the Brotherhood executive committee’s strict control over its politics and removal of dissidents. It is also not clear how much the Brotherhood’s official party line would come into play in his decisions. On Israel, the Brotherhood has taken a much more aggressive stance that would make the Egypt-Israel peace deal contingent on Israel's treatment of Palestinians, a contentious issue in the region.
Overall, Shater’s candidacy should be observed with caution by the United States. His campaign threatens the candidacy of Abdoul Fotouh, considered a liberal reformer who has included more secular elements in his fold, and the candidacy of Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative who is very anti-West and anti-Israel.
In a perfect world, Shater would be able to sweep aside the inequities of the current military government and implement democratic reforms that would protect the rights of Egypt’s minorities and show an example of how moderate Islam can peacefully rule. But this outcome is not at all clear and until Egypt can tackle its crippling economic problems and move past military rule, the U.S. should be wary of Egypt’s role in the fragile balance of the Middle East.