Muslim Brotherhood fields presidential candidate

Cairo: Egypt`s Muslim Brotherhood has nominated its deputy chairman Khairat al-Shatir as its candidate for the first post-Mubarak presidential elections, reversing its earlier stance not to contest the poll to calm western governments` fears of a complete Islamist takeover.

The Brotherhood, which dominates the country`s Parliament, said due to "a serious threat to the revolution" from candidates that represent former president Hosni Mubarak`s regime, and a government that has failed to express the will of the people, they have decided that it was necessary to field a candidate.

The election will be held on May 23 and 24. The announcement of Shater`s presidential candidacy is a historical first for the 83-year-old group, which originally pledged that no Brother would run for president amid fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will implement its hardline policies after coming to power.

Shater, 61, a multimillionaire businessman is considered one of the key leaders guiding the group through the tumultuous transition since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

Earlier yesterday, the Muslim Brotherhood`s Shura Council held an emergency meeting at the group`s headquarters in Moqattam to decide which presidential candidate to back, and whether the group will field a candidate from within its own ranks.

Brotherhood sources earlier told Al-Masry Al-Youm that Shater had agreed to run for president, but other sources from the group said that some leading members prefered not to have a Brotherhood candidate at all.

Shater had received a conviction in 2006 on charges of terrorism and money laundering. After President Mubarak left office, the ruling military council released Shater for what it said were medical reasons.

Brotherhood leaders denied that Shater was ineligible to run for the elections.

"There are no legal obstacles preventing Shater from running for president," said a statement from Secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood Mahmoud Hussein on the Freedom and Justice Party`s Facebook page.

According to Egyptian law, a person is not eligible to run for public office if he or she is serving a prison sentence. Shater`s candidacy announcement raises the question of whether a pardon is in the near future for him.

There has been already three Islamists running for the post. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former leading member of the group, Hazem Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative preacher, and Selim al-Awa, an Islamic academic. AL-Awa in a phone interview with a satellite station announced he is withdrawing and supporting Shater instead.

Banned under the former President Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the most powerful political force in the country post-uprising, with its political arm the FJP winning almost half of the seats of the parliament two chambers. The group also has been sweeping most of the professional syndicates` elections.

This month, the Brotherhood passed its plan for the formation of the 100-member panel that will write the country`s post-Mubarak constitution, claiming a majority of members on the panel.