The Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt named its chief strategist and financier as a candidate for president on Saturday, despite earlier pledges to stay out of the race.
The Brotherhood, outlawed during the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, already controls about half of the seats in parliament.
The Associated Press reported that the presidential nominee is the group’s deputy leader, Khayrat el-Shater, a multimillionaire businessman who has played a key role in guiding the group through the tumultuous transition since the Mubarak’s ouster last year.
AP noted that because of the Brotherhood's success in the parliamentary vote and the reach of its grassroots political organization, the candidate it nominates or backs will be considered the frontrunner in the race for the May 23-24 vote.
If el-Shater wins the Brotherhood would completely dominate the political arena and could push for changes such as stricter adherence to Islamic law. A Muslim Brotherhood government could also translate into rockier relations with Israel and the United States.
The Muslim Brotherhood recently denied that it plans to uphold the peace treaty with Israel, after U.S. State Department Victora Nuland told said that the Muslim Brotherhood had assured Washington it would uphold extant diplomatic accords, including the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.
The candidate was announced at a Cairo news conference and ended weeks of speculation and confusion within the group.
Mahmoud Hussein, the group's deputy leader, was quoted by AP as having said the decision to run a candidate was made in the face of "attempts to abort the revolution," after the military council refused several requests by the Brotherhood to appoint a government.
El-Shater, who is in his early sixties, joined the Brotherhood in 1974. He has been jailed four times for a total of seven years on charges relating to his membership in the Brotherhood, which was outlawed more than 50 years ago.
AP noted that he is seen as the iron man within the group, the one who steers talks with the military council, orchestrator of parliamentary elections and the negotiator with Arab Gulf countries and International Monetary Fund over loans.
El-Shater will go up against other candidates with greater name recognition and a stronger television presence, such as ex-Arab League chief Amr Moussa.
The announcement comes at the end of a week in which the Islamists' public power struggle with the country's ruling generals escalated.
On Thursday, the Muslim Brotherhood-led parliament began drawing up a no-confidence motion against the military-appointed government.
The Islamists have also been squabbling with liberal and secular groups over the commission that is to draw up the nation's new constitution. After the Brotherhood took a clear majority on the 100-member body for itself, 25 other members resigned.
Liberals fear the Islamists plan to impose their religious agenda on the constitution, while Islamists say liberals are a minority who have no popular support.
Relations between the military and the Brotherhood have deteriorated in recent weeks, as the fundamentalist group has pushed for the army to fire the Cabinet for alleged incompetence. The Brotherhood wants to form a new government, a task it claims is urgent because of Egypt's deteriorating security and economic situation.