CAIRO: A senior official of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said Thursday that the group would expel any member who runs for president, after a leading Brotherhood reformer was quoted as saying he might stand.
Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, a former member of the Islamist group’s politburo, told the Al-Shorouk newspaper he had decided to stand in the election scheduled for November even though the Brotherhood said it would not nominate a candidate.
“Any member of the Muslim Brotherhood who nominates himself for the presidency will be expelled, because it is a violation of the Brotherhood’s collective decision,” said Sobhi Saleh, a senior official.
Secular groups and the West are concerned by how much power the Brotherhood may gain after the first elections since the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak. Decades of authoritarian rule has curbed the development of potential rivals.
Egypt’s biggest Islamist movement had sought to assuage fears by saying it would not seek the presidency in polls due by early next year; nor would it pursue a majority in September parliamentary polls, contesting only 50 percent of seats.
But Abul Futuh also told Reuters: “I will run as an independent candidate in the coming presidential elections. I am not a member of any party now.”
Abul Futuh said his move did not mean the Brotherhood had changed tack. “The Brotherhood as a group is not competing for the presidency and is now separating its mandates, a move I had called for four years ago,” he said, a reference to a new political party the Brotherhood has set up.
Under Mubarak, the group fielded candidates as independents in elections, skirting a ban on its political activities and maintaining a nationwide organization others lacked.
The military council, in charge until a new president is elected, said Egypt will not become an Iran-style theocracy.
A poll published April 22 in the state-run Ahram newspaper showed Abul Futuh and outgoing Arab League chief Amr Moussa, with the highest voter support at 20 percent, while Mohamed ElBaradei, a retired U.N. diplomat, had 12 percent support.
A senior Brotherhood member said Abul Futuh’s decision was personal and the group would not back his candidacy. “Abul Futuh’s decision counters the Brotherhood’s official decision,” said Sobhi Saleh, a leading Brotherhood member in Alexandria.
Abul Futuh said he would be able to heal divisions between Muslims and Egypt’s minority Christians. Sectarian clashes in a Cairo district this month killed 12 people. “Such sectarian strife makes me more determined to pursue the presidency. As elements of religious extremism creep up in the transition period, the country needs someone who is best connected to the Muslim, Christian and liberal sides of the political spectrum,” he said.
Decades of rigged elections make it difficult to gauge the Brotherhood’s popularity. It won 20 percent of the seats in a 2005 parliamentary election, despite rigging. Analysts said many Egyptians picked the Brotherhood in a protest and for want of choices.
The Islamist group was officially banned but tolerated within limits under Mubarak, who used military trials and security sweeps to repress the group. But it kept a broad, grassroots network through social and other charity work.
“The Brotherhood will get around 25 percent of seats in the new Parliament and there’ll be no more protest votes going its way now the wheel of democracy is rolling,” said Abul Futuh.
Abul Futuh added his decision to run for president did not breach the Brotherhood’s rules.