CAIRO (AFP) - The Muslim Brotherhood's candidate for Egypt's presidency, Khairat el-Shater, has pledged to press for the implementation of sharia (Islamic law) if elected, a Muslim think tank said on Wednesday.
Shater, whose candidacy for the May election sent political shock waves throughout the post-uprising country, said implementing the sharia was "his first and final goal," said the Legal Authority for Rights and Reform after meeting with him on Tuesday.
Shater, who stepped down as the Brotherhood's deputy leader to run, said "he would work to form a group of scholars to support parliament in achieving that goal," according to a statement on the group's website.
When asked by AFP, a senior official with Shater's campaign did not deny the statement, but clarified that Shater shared his electoral programme with the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.
The FJP calls for an "Islamic, constitutional and democratic" state, but not a "theocracy," which it defines as rule by religious men. The Muslim Brotherhood advocates an Islamist state achieved through peaceful means.
The official said Shater, who has refused interview requests, would prioritise "democratic institution building and an economic renaissance" if elected.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, he added that Shater "is committed to the constitution and Article 2, which all Egyptians agree on."
The constitution was suspended by the military after an uprising overthrew president Hosni Mubarak last year. Article 2 stipulates that the principles of Islamic law are the main source of legislation.
But there is not universal interpretation of sharia.
Many Coptic Christians, who comprise about 10 percent of Egypt's 80-million-strong population, worry about the growing power of Islamists in the country, but Shater's campaign official said he would guarantee them their rights.
Secularists and liberals are also concerned.
Mainstream Islamic scholars say sharia, which stipulates punishments such as amputation for theft and stoning for adultery, offers Christians and Jews protection under an Islamic state. But they believe that only Muslim men can rule.
The candidacy of Shater, jailed under Mubarak and released only after his overthrow, created a rare public rift within the powerful Islamist movement which liberal opponents accuse of trying to monopolise power.
The Brotherhood is now trying to persuade other Islamist candidates to stand down in favour of Shater.
The Islamists have benefited the most among political parties after the uprising, to the dismay of secular youth groups that spearheaded the revolt.
The FJP already dominates the senate and parliament, which appointed a mostly Islamist constituent assembly to prepare a new constitution.
The Coptic Church, the prestigious Sunni Muslim Al-Azhar institution and liberals have pulled out of the panel because of their meager representation.
Mohammed al-Beltagi, a prominent FJP parliamentarian, warned on Tuesday that the Brotherhood was overreaching by appointing Shater.
"It harms the Brotherhood and the nation, to have one faction assume all the responsibility under these conditions," he wrote.
But another lawmaker with the group, which is pressuring the ruling military to sack the government, said the party would lose support in future elections if it did not have the executive power to push through its programme.