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Egypt clerics: Brotherhood candidate promised Shariah law is final goal

Campaign dealmaking is a sign of how the Brotherhood, which is Egypt's strongest political movement and presents itself to the public as a moderate force, could be pushed into a more hard-line agenda by competition from the ultraconservatives known as Salafis.

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In this 2011 photo, Egyptian Muslim cleric and candidate for the Egyptian presidency Hazem Salah Abu Ismail is guarded by his supporters as he enters Tahrir Square during a protest against the ruling military council, in Cairo, Egypt.

Amr Nabil/AP/File

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The Muslim Brotherhood's candidate for Egypt's presidency is lobbying hard for support of ultraconservative Muslim clerics, promising them a say over legislation in the future to ensure it is in line with Islamic law, as he tries to rally the divided Islamist vote behind him.

The campaign dealmaking is a sign of how the Brotherhood, which is Egypt's strongest political movement and presents itself to the public as a moderate force, could be pushed into a more hard-line agenda by competition from the ultraconservatives known as Salafis.

Giving Muslim clerics a direct say over legislation would be unprecedented in Egypt. Specifics of the Brotherhood promise, which Salafi clerics said Wednesday the candidate Khairat el-Shater gave them in a backroom meeting, were not known. But any clerical role would certainly raise a backlash from liberal and moderate Egyptians who already fear Islamists will sharply restrict civil rights as they gain political power after the fall last year of President Hosni Mubarak.

It would also damage the image that the Brotherhood itself promoted for the past year, insisting it does not seek a theocracy in Egypt or to quickly implement Shariah.

El-Shater, a strongman in the Brotherhood, is pushing heavily to prevent a split in the Islamist vote in the May 23-24 vote to elect the first president since Mubarak's ouster. A single Islamist candidate could enjoy a widespread popular base, since the Brotherhood and Salafis together won more than 70 percent of parliament in elections late last year.

The Brotherhood alone holds nearly half of parliament and, alongside Salafis, dominates a new commission formed to write a new constitution. It is hoping for the presidency to seal its power.

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