Egypt's Brotherhood Goes into Election Hamstrung
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has activated its formidable grassroots ahead of next week's presidential vote, but the Islamists may have hemorrhaged the support that helped them take parliament earlier this year.
Pressed in by the military rulers who took charge after president Hosni Mubarak's ouster last year, and facing an electorate impatient with the weak parliament's performance, the Islamists are desperate for executive power.
"They created the circumstances by which they got burned," said analyst Michael Wahid Hanna with U.S. think tank The Century Foundation.
"They went along with the military transitional plan that increased the military's power, and they stayed silent with a few exceptions because they saw the military as hastening their electoral victories," he said.
Many voters may not sympathize with the fact that it is ultimately the ruling council of generals that decides policy, he added.
In the run up to the legislative elections, the Muslim Brotherhood alienated other parties by breaking a pledge to contest no more than half the seats and ending up dominating parliament and senate, which they found to be largely powerless.
After last February, with both houses under control, the Brotherhood then tried to dominate a constituent assembly boycotted by liberals, Coptic Christians and the influential Sunni Muslim Al-Azhar institute.
A court ruled the panel illegal and now parliament must elect a new one.
The Islamists' pressure on the ruling military to sack its government and allow the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), to pick a cabinet also led nowhere.
"All they see is the Brotherhood unable to do anything, involved in sideshows, not engaging in policy making and in fact screwing things up," Hanna said.
Mahmoud Ghozlan, a member of the Brotherhood's executive bureau, said the movement was forced to put forward a candidate -- breaking a previous vow -- after it realized that it could not implement its program through parliament.
"It was clear that the executive and the legislative had to cooperate, and that is what impelled us to try to get part of the executive," he said.
In a massive show of force, the Islamists rallied thousands of supporters in a Cairo square weeks before the May 23-24 vote in a campaign rally for their candidate Mohammed Mursi.
The former engineering professor and head of the FJP now stares out, rather uneasily, from posters that have sprung up across the country.
Despite what analysts say is a loss of support for the movement because of its parliamentary work, it still enjoys the largest and best disciplined network of activists, cultivated over decades of work.
The Brotherhood in 2005 won almost a fifth of the parliamentary seats, despite election rigging, and believes their candidate has a real shot at the top job.
But the movement's organization would not be enough for a presidential victory, argues Hanna.
"It's not just the get-out-the-vote machinery. People think he is not the preferred candidate," he said.
Detractors have labeled Mursi a "spare tyre," because he was not the Brotherhood's first pick. Their first choice was deputy leader Khairat El Shater, disqualified over a previous military trial conviction.
Other influential Islamist groups have said they would support another Islamist, Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh, over Mursi.
Mohammed Nour, a spokesman with the Salafist Al-Nur which came second in the parliamentary elections, said the party had asked its members to vote on their choice and they decided on the moderate Islamist, a former Brotherhood member.
"Abul Fotouh represents a program that has an Islamic reference. He can be a president for all Egyptians, and can start a serious dialogue; he has the support of Islamists and others, such as liberals," he said.
Nader Bakkar, a senior member of the hardline Islamist party, had said that even some senior Brotherhood members would not vote for Mursi, who denied to foreign journalists earlier this month that there were splits about his nomination.
"This is not true," he told a press briefing. "All the party's members are working with the candidate."