In the fall of 2005, a cheerful editorial appeared in The Guardian urging its leftist readers not to fear the Muslim Brotherhood. Identifying himself as the Vice-President of the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat El-Shater wrote, “The success of the Muslim Brotherhood should not frighten anybody: we respect the rights of all religious and political groups.”
A year later, El-Shater had been arrested and charged with terrorism, money-laundering and participating in a banned organization. The arrest of the top Muslim Brotherhood leader was not a simple matter. Egyptian police blockaded his neighborhood and raided his home confiscating computers and mobile phones. It was not the first such arrest for El-Shater. In 1992, Salsabeel, his company, had been raided exposing Brotherhood documents plotting an overthrow of the government.
The Brotherhood had gotten too cocky too fast. Its election victories in Egypt’s parliament had gone to its head and feeling omnipotent its student movement tried to intimidate other students on campus by putting on black paramilitary uniforms and masks with Islamic slogans, similar to those worn by its Hamas adjunct across the border in Gaza, and conducting a show of force.
The government cracked down and El-Shater went back to prison. But these days prison is a long way from his mind as he meets everyone from the Norwegian Foreign Minister to Senator McCain, who tweeted that he had a “thoughtful conversation” with the Brotherhood leader.
Khairat El-Shater (full name: Mohamed Khairat Saad Abdel Latif el-Shater) is no longer a top leader in a banned movement. The Brotherhood has swept parliament and his investments, frozen after a money-laundering conviction, are his again. The future of Egypt belongs to the Brotherhood and as the chief financier and deputy supreme guide of the group; he is on the ground floor to see those investments pay off.
There is talk of El-Shater becoming Prime Minister, but whether or not he takes a title, he is in the driver’s seat of the Brotherhood’s strategy. The Guardian editorial saw El-Shater in his role of selling the Brotherhood as a moderate reformist organization to the gullible West. That is still his job. Western governments are uncertain about the Brotherhood and Khairat El-Shater is there to present them with a Brotherhood that is as socialist as the left and as capitalist at the right, dedicated to free enterprise, social justice and religious freedom, to open elections and political reforms.
But that Brotherhood is only another mirage in the great desert of Muslim democracy. The Guidance Council runs the Brotherhood and its parliamentary majority, derived from the ranks of the Brotherhood, is bound by oath to obey the Council, not the voters. Despite the illusion of a democratic election, the Brotherhood’s elite will run Egypt.
The Muslim Brotherhood’ s official goal is an Islamic state, its roadmap for getting there is to copy the pro-business Islamic authoritarianism of Turkey’s AKP Party, which cloaked its suppression of the opposition and overthrow of the military in democracy and free enterprise language. Copying the AKP’s commercial oligarchy will be a snap for Khairat El-Shater who oversaw the massive business assets of the Brotherhood.
When the Egyptian government froze El-Shater’s assets, they amounted to nearly 87 million dollars. And that’s still a fraction of the total assets of the Muslim Brotherhood which derive from the tithes of its membership and are reinvested into everything from factories to fast food chains. The Brotherhood is no more committed to free enterprise than Mubarak was. Like him and the Egyptian military, it wants a seat at the top of the oligarchy.
El-Shater already sits on the board of several banks and he owns a number of companies and retail chains and his fortune will only increase as he gains the ability to dictate the economic future of the entire country. The Brotherhood’s survival was largely due to its ability to intertwine its religious, political and commercial interests, raising money as a religious organization, spending it as a political organization and investing it in business enterprises. The conflicts of interest are obvious.
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