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Chief Policy Architect of Egypt Brotherhood

Published: 12/03/2012 05:18:14 PM GMT
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CAIRO — Spending more than a decade behind prison bars during former president Hosni Mubarak's rule, leading businessman Khairat el-Shater has emerged (more)

CAIRO — Spending more than a decade behind prison bars during former president Hosni Mubarak's rule, leading businessman Khairat el-Shater has emerged as the most decisive voice in the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, commanding a far-wider influence as the group's chief policy architect.

“He is the behind-the-scenes guy,” Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who recently met with Shater along with a group of mostly Republican lawmakers, told The New York Times on Monday, March 12.

“Very impressive,” she added.

Known for years as the Brotherhood's most important internal advocate for moderation and modernization, Shater emerged after the revolution that toppled Mubarak last year as the most decisive voice in the leading political group.

Staying a dozen years behind bars, he helped chart the Brotherhood's first steps into electoral politics, initially in Egypt's professional associations of doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like.

“No need to be afraid of us” declared the headline of a 2005 article he wrote from behind bars for the British newspaper The Guardian.

“The Brotherhood,” he wrote, “believes democratic reforms could trigger a renaissance in Egypt.”

Following the massive victory of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt's first parliamentary elections after Mubarak's fall, the 62-year-old millionaire businessman established himself as the major figure among Egyptian politicians. Shater, deputy to the Brotherhood's top leader, known as the supreme guide, was engaged in talks with other political powers to form the next cabinet.

As he oversaw negotiations with the current military rulers, he was also grooming about 500 future officials to form a government-in-waiting.

Moreover, he was also meeting foreign ambassadors, the executives of multinational corporations and Wall Street firms, and a parade of United States senators and other officials to explain the Brotherhood's vision.

Noting that Islam encourages democracy, free markets and tolerance of religious minorities, Shater opines that the recent elections have proved that Egyptians demand an explicitly Islamic state.

“The people are insistent,” Shater told The New York Times.

“All institutions should revise their cultures, their training programs and the way they build their individuals in the light of this real popular choice.”

Value-based Organization But Shater's critics accuse him of enforcing the Brotherhood's traditional view of itself as the guardian of a single, take-it-or-leave-it vision that does not tolerate differences.

“Is it OK that the Freedom and Justice Party takes direction from the Guidance Council of the Muslim Brotherhood? No, it is a majority party now, not the Muslim Brotherhood party,” Abdulrahman Ayyash, 22, a former Brotherhood member, told The New York Times.But the Brotherhood leaders, Ayyash said, “are building all their authority on the policy of blind obedience.”

Some young members of the Brotherhood argue that the group should let its members enter politics on their own while focusing on its missionary work in preaching and charity.

As the group created the Freedom and Justice Party as its political arm, Brotherhood's members were barred from publicly contesting against the party or its positions.

Shater defends the group's decision, saying the only reason the Brotherhood had set up an ostensibly independent party was because Egyptian law required it.

Otherwise, he said, they would be “one thing.”

“You have one of two choices,” Shater told a group of dissenting Brotherhood youth.

“Either you stay in the Muslim Brotherhood and the Muslim Brotherhood's party, or if you insist on another party, then you'll be the ones leaving us.”

“This is normal because the party is an expression of a political vision. If you have the same vision, you will join this party. You can't adopt a different vision from the party that represents us, that represents the vision of the group.”

Shater reiterates that the Muslim Brotherhood was committed to Islamic rules that require democracy, free markets and tolerance of religious minorities.

“The Islamic reference point regulates life in its entirety, politically, economically and socially; we don't have this separation” between religion and government, Shater told the New York Times.

“The Muslim Brotherhood is a value-based organization that expresses itself using different political, economic, sportive, health-related and social means. You can't take one part from one place and another part from another — this isn't how it's done.”

Reproduced with permission from