Many in Egypt have interpreted Khairat al-Shater’s presidential candidacy as a tactical maneuver by the Muslim Brotherhood in which the group agrees to use al-Shater’s candidacy to divide the Islamist vote in an exchange of interests with the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Others claim it is a “deal” between the Brotherhood and the SCAF that includes al-Shater as a consensus candidate. But assuming al-Shater’s nomination is a deal or tactic would be both naïve and superficial—underestimating the real tension that has escalated between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military following the breakdown of negotiations, as well as ignoring the internal dynamics of the Brotherhood. 

Interpreting al-Shater’s nomination as a tactical maneuver denotes unfamiliarity with his place within the Brotherhood. Unlike other prominent figures such as Saad al-Katatni or Mohamed Morsy, al-Shater is squarely positioned at the core of the organization’s power structure, having organized the Brotherhood through a web of regional, family, and funding loyalties. He is a force to be reckoned with, and it is very unlikely that he would be offered as a sacrifice to the SCAF in a maneuver for marginal gains.  

But it is difficult not to read al-Shater’s nomination as a strategic mistake. His chances of victory are slim. Ultimately, despite the Brotherhood’s efforts, the Islamist vote is still divided, and many will favor Abu Ismael and Abu al-Futouh. Compounding this is the fact that al-Shater is relatively unknown outside the Brotherhood’s networks and lacks the fame and statesman’s reputation of others like Amr Moussa. If he loses, it will be a monumental defeat, and reduce people’s confidence in him and his standing.  Meanwhile, if he wins, he will be embroiled in a situation where success is virtually impossible with the rampant economic and social crisis. 

The candidacy comes with other losses for the Brotherhood. For one, its inconsistent message and its violation of previous vows not to run for the presidency has lost it much credibility. But the gravest loss comes from the polarization of the political arena into SCAF and MB camps. Meanwhile, in parting ways with the revolutionary bloc after the March 2011 referendum, the Brothers made another serious error which will only now just begin to manifest; they will not find the necessary mass revolutionary backing to turn their battle against the military establishment into the revolution’s battle against the SCAF.

Khairat al-Shater has embarked on the gamble of his life with a nomination where he will lose out whether he wins or loses. The only advantage to the current tension is that what was once concealed is now slowly inching out into the open. 

Ashraf El Sherif teaches political science at the American University in Cairo and specializes in political Islam. 

* This article has been translated from Arabic.