Khairat Shater, the candidate who wasn’t supposed to run

Not only Israel but Egyptian liberals, too, are wary of the Islamist bidding unexpectedly to be president

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Khairat Shater's new election banner (photo credit: Muslim Brotherhood website image grab)
Khairat Shater's new election banner (photo credit: Muslim Brotherhood website image grab)

Visitors surfing to the Muslim Brotherhood website on Sunday will encounter a banner with the smiling face of Khairat Shater, on a backdrop of a large Egyptian flag with a logo reading “Shater — president of the republic.” But who is Khairat Shater, the new candidate of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP)?

Shater, 61, is the deputy supreme guide of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group’s number two. An engineer by profession and a successful businessman, Shater made millions in the early 1990s through a computer information systems company and later as a consultant and manufacturer of products as diverse as furniture and machinery.

The Muslim Brotherhood, supported by Shater himself, had promised not to field a presidential candidate for the May 2012 elections, avoiding a takeover of Egypt’s political scene feared too swift for society to stomach. But on Sunday the organization’s General Guide Muhammad Badie explained that the military’s insistence on maintaining the “failed government” of Kamal Ganzouri pushed the Muslim Brotherhood to renege on its pledge.

“The government is not performing its role at this stage,” Badie said on the Muslim Brotherhood website. “This disrupted the performance of parliament and left the management of the country with a government that is not qualified and which does not realize the will of the Egyptian people.”

An Egyptian human rights activist who requested anonymity told The Times of Israel that many Egyptians are disappointed by the Brotherhood’s sudden change of heart.

“People are generally disappointed and calling him [Shater] a liar,” she told The Times of Israel. She added that a recent parliamentary statement calling on Egypt to cut diplomatic ties with Israel did not bode well for the future attitude of the Brotherhood towards the Jewish State.

“This is not good — not only for our neighboring countries, but also for us.”

Shater was incarcerated six times for his political activities in the Brotherhood, beginning in the days of president Gamal Abdul Nasser. His last imprisonment, between 2007 and 2011, following a military tribunal ruling will likely help boost his popularity on the street.

On March 31, an official Facebook page was created to endorse Shater’s election campaign, garnering 40,000 “likes” within a day. His personal website, which provided updates in Arabic and English, had crashed on April 1.

Shater has spoken little on Israel, but in an interview with establishment daily Al-Ahram in January he pledged the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to past agreements signed with Israel.

“As Egyptians, we will abide by the commitments of the Egyptian government regardless of our reservations of any part of them,” Shater told Al-Ahram. “We commit to all matters pertaining to the agreements in general, and not only with Israel. All agreements, be they gas or petroleum or anything else, are tied to institutions and not individuals.”

This position was echoed by three leading members of the Freedom and Justice party, who declared last week that their party would uphold peace agreements signed with Israel.

He added that any re-examination of the agreements with Israel should be done through parliament, and not an Egyptian political party.

Israeli concerns regarding Shater’s candidacy, however, were highlighted in Egyptian press Sunday. An article in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth was quoted by independent Egyptian daily Al-Masry Al-Youm as saying that despite his moderate positions on Israel, “Shater has not become a Zionist. He is still a Muslim Brotherhood man and is not pleased with the peace accords with Israel.”

On Saturday, a snide meme began circulating on Facebook. Written in rhyme, it played on the word Shater, which means wise in Arabic.

“Lying is wise, betrayal is wise, and I am still able to laugh at the people.”


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