CAIRO A politician in Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood publicly exposed rifts in the usually disciplined group on Tuesday over its surprise decision to seek the presidency, breaking a promise not to do so.
Mohamed Beltagy, head of the Cairo bureau of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party used his Facebook page to air his disquiet at Saturday's decision to field Khairat al-Shater, a top Brotherhood strategist and millionaire businessman, as presidential candidate.
"It is unfair for the nation and for the Brotherhood that it bears alone the responsibility for the nation completely in these critical times," Beltagy wrote, adding that he had voted against the decision, but would respect the majority.
Egypt's ruling military council, which took over after a popular uprising unseated President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, has vowed to hand power to an elected president by July 1. The first-round of voting takes place on May 23 and 24.
Even without formally launching his campaign, Shater is viewed as one of the front runners because of the Brotherhood's organisational clout and grassroots network.
He is pitted against Islamist candidates and others such as former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, who had been tipped as favourite in the latest opinion poll before Shater's entrance.
To back his argument, Beltagy pointed to the main state institutions that Brotherhood already dominates or is seeking to control, a list that now includes the presidency.
As well as constituting the biggest bloc in both houses of parliament, the Brotherhood dominates an assembly drawing up a new constitution, prompting liberals and Christian leaders to quit in protest. It is also demanding that the military council sack the army-backed government and let it lead a new one.
The Brotherhood had said it wanted to avoid monopolising political institutions in the new Egypt and has angered some voters and rival politicians by reneging on its pledge.
The Brotherhood's grip on state institutions will give the once-banned group the huge challenge of single-handedly fixing a shattered economy and meeting sky-high voter expectations - and saddle it with most of the blame for any failings.
The vote by the Brotherhood's shura, or advisory, council was close, according to members. Two rounds of voting were against fielding a candidate, but a third vote was in favour, by the narrow margin of 54 to 52.
The Shura council has 127 members, including Beltagy, but not all attended the meeting.
The Brotherhood's guide, or leader, Mohamed Badie, indicated there had been divisions, but said members had rallied round the decision. "Those who initially were against the decision are now supporting it," he said.
Other Islamists have also expressed misgivings, but public comments have largely been limited to former Brotherhood members or those from outside the group.
The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, usually maintains a public show of unity. One member, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh, who said he would seek the presidency when the group was still vowing not to run, was expelled last year. He is now among Shater's rivals.
Mohamed Habib, a former deputy leader of the Brotherhood who resigned last year, told Reuters that fielding Shater was a "strategic mistake ... that would carry a high cost for the group" in terms of public credibility.
A former Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Mahdi Akef, also questioned the decision, although he said he would respect it.
(Additional reporting by Marwa Awad; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alistair Lyon)