Via NY Times--click on the link to read the full story
CAIRO — 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 organization that sometimes were as long as 200 pages. His corporate employees paid regular visits for strategic advice about his investments in software, textile, bus manufacturing and furniture companies and other enterprises. 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 Mr. Shater, 62, commands far wider influence.
One year after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak brought Mr. 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 Mr. Shater is grooming about 500 future officials to form a government-in-waiting. As the group’s chief policy architect, Mr. Shater is overseeing the blueprint for the new Egypt, negotiating with its current military rulers over their future role, shaping its relations with Israel and a domestic Christian minority, and devising the economic policies the Brotherhood hopes will revive Egypt’s moribund economy.
With power he could only dream of when he padded around Mr. Mubarak’s prisons in a white track suit, Mr. Shater meets 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. 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 organization, shaped by decades of working underground, that still asks its members — including those in Parliament — 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, Mr. Shater said in a lengthy interview. “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.”
A former leftist and a millionaire businessman who is also the Brotherhood’s chief financier, Mr. Shater was known for years as the group’s most important internal advocate for moderation and modernization.
In prison, he talked radical Islamist inmates into renouncing violence. He helped chart the Brotherhood’s first steps into electoral politics, initially in Egypt’s professional associations of doctors, lawyers, engineers and the like. Then he was at the forefront of its more transformative drive to win seats in the Mubarak-dominated Parliament; the experience did more than anything to moderate the group as it forged coalitions and courted the mainstream. And over the past decade he also oversaw its stepped-up outreach to the West through Web sites in Arabic and English.
“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.”