Khairat al-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate for the upcoming presidential elections in Egypt, has pledged to accommodate clerical interests and the Islamic Shariah while framing new legislation in a bid to ensure undivided radical Islamist support.
Breaking a long-standing promise, the Brotherhood recently announced its decision to field al-Shater, an influential financier of the group, as its contender for the top job post-Hosni Mubarak.
Al-Shater met with a panel of Salafi scholars and clerics called the Jurisprudence Commission for Rights and Reform Tuesday night, the Associated Press reported. The discussion focused on the shape of the state and the implementation of Shariah, the commission said on its Facebook page Wednesday.
El-Shater stressed that Shariah is his top and final goal and that he would work on forming a group of religious scholars to help parliament achieve this goal, the statement read.
Details of al-Shater's backroom meeting with the clerics were not known, but the move would most definitely draw severe backlash from the liberals who are already displeased at the Brotherhood's decision to compete in elections.
His lobbying is perceived as a sign of how the Brotherhood, the single largest political force in the parliament, would embrace a fundamentalist approach over its current moderate image to win the election defeating the ultraconservative Salafis.
Salafi candidate Hazem Saleh Abu Ismail, known for his Islamic populist views, commands a significant support from rigidly conservative sections of Egyptian society.
In fact, Ismail's controversial take of matters relating to religious fundamentalism has drawn the West closer to the Brotherhood, perceived as relatively moderate. However, with the most recent development, where both frontrunners are vying for the support of conservative Muslim votes, it will be hard for the world powers and the Egyptian liberals to pick and choose from whatever is in the offer.
Allowing Muslim clerics -- who endorse extreme penalties including lynching adulterers and amputating thieves -- to have a say over the legislation is unprecedented in Egypt. However, al-Shater, who has a strong chance of winning, is pushing to prevent a leak of votes in favor of Salafis, thereby presenting liberals a tricky situation.
There is grave fragmentation among ranks of Islamists and it's getting worse with strong polarization between the two camps of candidates, Khaled Said, a Salafi leader, told the AP.
Salafis portray themselves as the guardians of Shariah, touting a strict interpretation of Islamic law similar to Saudi Arabia's. Many of them disapprove of the moderate Brotherhood and despise its political pragmatism.
Salafis and the Brotherhood, with varying degrees of religious affinity, tout the idea that a religiously resonant brand of politics is the only solution to fix the current economic and social problems.
We need someone with clean hands who knows his religion well and is not corrupt. We should gradually have an Islamic state like in Saudi Arabia, but this must come with respect for all minorities, the Los Angeles Times quoted Yasser Adel, a campaign volunteer, summing up the election rhetoric.