The Muslim Brotherhood recently decided to abandon its pledge not to field its own presidential candidate, and that candidate now has Washington’s tacit approval. Obama administration officials are wary of the popularity of conservative Islamists in post-Mubarak Egypt, but they seem to have decided that the Brotherhood’s candidate is preferable to some of the more troubling alternatives. The NYT reports:
The Brotherhood’s candidate, Khairat el-Shater, a millionaire businessman considered the most formative influence on the group’s policies, is well known to both American diplomats and their contacts in the Egyptian military. . . .Mr. Shater has met with almost all the senior State Department officials and American lawmakers visiting Cairo. He is in regular contact with the American ambassador, Anne Patterson, as well as the executives of many American companies here, and United States officials have praised his moderation as well as his intelligence and effectiveness.
Effective and intelligent he might be, but Shater is seen as less charismatic than the newly popular Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, “an old school Islamist”:
He [Abu Ismail] wants to move toward abolishing Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel and cites Iran as a successful model of independence from Washington. He worries about the mixing of the genders in the workplace and women’s work outside the home. And he promises to bring extraordinary prosperity to Egypt, if it turns its back on trade with the West.
According to a new poll (which did not include any Brotherhood candidates), Abu Ismail is in second place in the presidential race. In a runoff election against a more secular candidate, he would probably receive the vast majority of the conservative vote.And so Washington is quietly maneuvering to support the Brotherhood’s more acceptable candidate, because the alternative is much worse. The competition for Egypt’s presidency isn’t between a conservative candidate and a candidate backed by the Twitterati so beloved by the Western media; it’s between conservative and more conservative, religious and more religious, anti-American and even more anti-American.