CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on Sunday the ruling generals planned to reshuffle the government in an apparent attempt to defuse a political feud overshadowing a presidential election campaign that gets under way on Monday.
The Brotherhood has pushed for more say in the government for months since sweeping to a dominant role in parliament in an election marathon that ended in February this year.
Essam el-Erian, a senior Brotherhood lawmaker, told Reuters the generals would initiate talks over the reshuffle but army officials did not immediately confirm any plans to do so.
Reports that the head of the ruling military council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, would revamp the government were also splashed across the Brotherhood’s website late on Sunday.
State-run news website Al-Ahram reported separately that Tantawi would bring Islamists and other parliamentary political forces into the government, quoting government sources.
Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri, an army appointee, has struggled to build momentum for reforms and mend an economy since the overthrow last year of President Hosni Mubarak.
On Sunday parliament decided to suspend its work for a week, saying the military had ignored demands for a cabinet which the Brotherhood says should reflect the make-up of parliament.
The Brotherhood has said the military’s refusal to give it a share of executive power was a major factor in its late decision to enter the race for the presidency. Voters go to the polls on May 23-24, with a run-off expected in June.
But its candidate, Mohamed Mursi, suffered a blow on Saturday when an influential hardline Salafi movement endorsed his main Islamist rival for president.
The Nour Party of the Salafi movement, which espouses a puritanical version of Islam, on Saturday endorsed Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a former Brotherhood member ejected from the mainstream Islamic movement last year, for the presidency.
That should bring to Abol Fotouh many of the votes that propelled the Salafis into second place behind the Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliamentary elections.
Abol Fotouh, 60, has presented himself as a moderate Islamist, holding out a vision of sharia (Islamic law) that promotes the interests of Egypt’s diverse society, though critics say he has yet to clarify exactly what that means.
His support base includes some of the liberals who had supported Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog who withdrew from the race in January.
The Salafi endorsement was the latest boost to Abol Fotouh’s campaign after the disqualification of other top Islamist contenders, including the Brotherhood’s first-choice, Khairat al-Shater. Abol Fotouh chances have also been enhanced by the broad support he has built across the political spectrum.
“This is a big blow to the Brotherhood. It could even be considered the biggest blow yet,” said Shadi Hamid, an expert on Islamist groups based at the Doha Brookings Center.
“The Brotherhood has to think seriously about the perception of being defeated, and defeated by Abol Fotouh.”
Abol Fotouh was ejected from the Brotherhood last year when he decided to defy its wishes by running for the presidency. He is described by Brotherhood experts as a reformist who was at odds with more conservative figures who now lead the movement.
Mursi, the Brotherhood’s current candidate, went on the campaign trail on Sunday in southern Egypt. “This (Salafi decision) creates an incentive for our members to make more effort,” said Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Brotherhood.
The Nour Party and al-Daawa al-Salafi, the religious movement to which it belongs, decided to back Abol Fotouh after its board heard presentations from the top Islamist candidates.
“We see him as the most appropriate person for this period,” said Mohamed Nour, a spokesman for the Nour Party. “He does not belong to any party and he adheres to principles and the project of Islamic civilization to a great extent,” he said.
“We will only pick someone who is the best for leading Egypt, even if we disagree with him in some ideological matters,” he added, without elaborating.
The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, had been dismissive of the Salafi parties that were set up last year. But after deciding at the end of March to throw its hat into the presidential ring, the Brotherhood sought to rally the Salafis to its side.
But as it has courted the conservative right, the Brotherhood has faced ever sharper criticism from liberal reformists and others who say it has rowed back on promises that it would not seek to dominate the post-Mubarak era.
One area of dispute has been who should draft a new constitution that could well curb presidential powers, casting doubt on how much authority the incoming head of state will have. Another unresolved question is how much power the long influential military might continue to wield behind the scenes.
Additional reporting by Ali Abdelati and Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Maria Golovnina