Ashraf Khalil writes: Last week, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leading light, Khairat al-Shater, looked like a confident front-runner in Egypt’s presidential race. On the night of April 12, more than 5,000 men — and another 1,000 or so women, in their own section — packed into a huge canvas-walled enclosure in the working-class district of Shubra al-Kheima, a Brotherhood stronghold, to hear what their candidate would do upon capturing the Egyptian presidency.
The rally, one of Shater’s first since announcing his candidacy, managed to be both tightly organized and raucous — Muslim Brotherhood cadres of all ages drowned out the noise from the neighboring multi-lane roadway. Supporters brought dozens of rolled white flags declaring a coming “Egyptian renaissance,” which they joyfully unfurled on cue. Meanwhile, senior officials at the head table drank from coffee mugs emblazoned with Shater’s rather imposing headshot.
Shater’s last name means “clever” in Arabic — a fitting moniker for the self-made millionaire — and one handmade sign carried by a young woman declared, “Egypt needs someone clever!”
A tall broad-chested man who spent years in prison under the Mubarak regime, Shater commanded the room without even rising from his seat. He barely talked religion, instead focusing on rebuilding the economy, the country, and Egyptian pride. “My brothers, we need to feel like we’re at the beginning of a true renaissance,” he said. “We want to build our country. We’re coming out of a period of looting.”
As befits a frontrunner, Shater generally avoided attacking his political rivals. However, he made one notable exception: He repeatedly called out Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s longtime intelligence chief and Hosni Mubarak consigliere, who had recently thrown his hat in the political race.
“Omar Suleiman and Hosni Mubarak’s intelligence men are trying to drag us backwards,” he half-shouted. They want to “steal the revolution and forge the elections.”
Just over 48 hours later, Suleiman was out of the race. But so was Shater — and the landscape of Egypt’s post-revolutionary transition had morphed yet again. [Continue reading…]