Egypt voters back Islamic state: Senior Brotherhood leader

For more than a dozen years,Khairat el-Shater guided his family of 10 children,his sprawling business empire and Egypt’s largest Islamist movement,the Muslim Brotherhood,all from a prison cell

Written by New York Times | Cairo | Published: March 13, 2012 12:36:05 am

DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK

For more than a dozen years,Khairat el-Shater guided his family of 10 children,his sprawling business empire and Egypt’s largest Islamist movement,the Muslim Brotherhood,all from a prison cell.

Each week,he held court behind prison walls as young Muslim Brothers delivered to him dossiers about the organisation. And before consenting to the marriages of his eight daughters,he met in prison with each of their suitors. Some of the grooms were prisoners with him,others made the pilgrimage,and five said their vows in his presence,behind bars. Now Shater,62,commands far wider influence.

One year after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak brought Shater freedom,he has emerged as the most decisive voice in the leadership of the Brotherhood,the 83-year-old fountainhead of political Islam,at the moment when it has established itself as the dominant power in Egyptian politics.

With firm control of Egypt’s Parliament,the Brotherhood’s political arm is holding talks to form the next cabinet while Shater is grooming about 500 future officials to form a government-in-waiting. As the group’s chief policy architect,Shater is overseeing the blueprint for the new Egypt.

To the Brotherhood,he tells them,Islam requires democracy,free markets and tolerance of religious minorities. But he also says that recent elections have proved that Egyptians demand an explicitly Islamic state. And he is guiding its creation from a position that his critics say may undercut his avowed commitment to open democracy: he sits atop a secretive and hierarchical organisation,shaped by decades of working underground,that still asks its members to swear obedience to the directions of its leaders,whether in the group’s religious,charitable or political work. “The Islamic reference point regulates life in its entirety,politically,economically and socially; we don’t have this separation” between religion and government,Shater said.

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