Khairat Al Shater, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, casts his vote during the Egyptian parliamentary elections last year. The Brotherhood has nominated Al Shater to run for the presidency. Image Credit: EPA

Cairo: The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful political group, has intensified contacts with the West in an obvious bid to promote its controversial decision to nominate its deputy leader Khairat Al Shater for president, say observers.

A US Republican Party delegation led by Congressman David Dreier met this week in Cairo with Al Shater, a billionaire and a key Brotherhood strategist, amid criticism of the group's breaking of a promise not to field a candidate for the presidential polls due next month.

Al Shater assured the US visitors about his commitments to human rights, women's rights and a peace treaty Egypt signed with Israel in 1979, according to sources inside the group.

Al Shater's surprise nomination has raised fears in Egypt and abroad that the Muslim Brotherhood, banned until last year, is becoming too powerful. The group already controls the two houses of parliament and a constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution.


Last year, the group expelled its senior official Abdul Moneim Abul Fetouh for defying its pledge not to allow any of its members to run for president.

"Several oil-rich countries will be reluctant to keep their promises of supporting the ailing Egyptian economy and pumping fresh investments into the country due to the Islamists' domination," said Nabeel Abdul Fatah, an expert at the Al Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies.

He added that several Gulf countries are pollitically at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The US and Europe will, meanwhile, exercise pressure on Egypt through aid and armaments by supporting a certain presidential nominee whom they see as being ready to preserve their interests in the country," added Abdul Fatah.

The Muslim Brotherhood was suppressed under former president Hosni Mubarak, and was allowed to create its first ever political party, the Freedom and Justice, only in March 2011, two months after his ouster.

Its decision to nominate Al Shater, the group's main financier who spent years in prison under Mubarak, has brought to the fore the number of Islamists eyeing Egypt's top post.

It has also brought the group under heavy criticism with detractors accusing it of being as monopolising as Mubarak's now-disbanded National Democratic Party.

The Muslim Brotherhood is in negotiations with Hazem Salah Abu Esmail, a popular Salafist presidential hopeful, to quit the race to be Al Shater's running mate, reported the official Middle East News Agency, quoting sources in the group. Abu Esmail has previously vowed not to withdraw from the race.

"The Islamists' monpoly of power could lead to instability in Egypt and can even result in political isolation," said Abdul Fatah, citing a blockade that has been imposed on the Palestinian Gaza Strip since Hamas seized the enclave in 2007.

Brotherhood leaders have said their decision to field Al Shater in the presidential election was in response to what they called a serious threat to the revolution that toppled Mubarak and to democratic transition from the ruling military council to a civilian administration.

However, some senior officials in the group have gone public with their opposition of the move.

"The Brothers have fallen into a trap," said Mohammad Al Beltagui, a Brotherhood lawmaker.

"It is unfair for both the nation and the Brothers that the Brotherhood solely shoulders all national responsibilities under these critical circumstances," he added in a statement on his Twitter account.

In the past two days, Al Shater, 62, has met with Western diplomats and economists visiting Cairo, according to local media reports. Their talks tackled Egypt's political and economic future, said the reports.

US meeting

Meanwhile, a Muslim Brotherhood team started this week a visit to the US for meetings with White House officials, policy experts and others apparently to dispel increasing worries about the group's agenda.

"We represent a moderate, centrist Muslim viewpoint. The priorities for us are mainly economic, political — preserving the revolution ideals of social justice, education, security for the people," Sondos Asem, a member of the delegation, told The Washington Post.

In an interview with the paper, members of the team defended their group's decision to field a presidential candidate.

"We approached people outside the Brotherhood that we respected, like people in the judiciary, but none of them would agree to be nominated," said Khalid Al Qazzaz, the foreign relations coordinator for the group's Freedom and Justice Party.