CAIRO - Egypt is destined for up to eight years of friction between reformists and the powerful military seeking to safeguard its interests after handing power to a civilian president, a senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood said on Sunday.
In an interview with Reuters, deputy Brotherhood leader Mahmoud Ezzat forecast victory for the group's candidate Mohamed Mursi in the vote that gets underway this month. The generals are due to hand power to an elected leader on July 1 or sooner.
The election is the climax of a messy transition from military to civilian rule which Egyptians hope will usher in a new democratic era after 60 years of autocracy led by men with military backgrounds.
Ezzat, one of the most influential figures in the movement, predicted a political tug of war with the military establishment that has developed deep political and economic influence since army officers overthrew the monarchy in 1952.
"The military council has taken a definitive decision not to confront the people. But, at the same time, it has adopted an approach of clinging to power," he said.
"I expect this back and forth will go on for two presidential terms," Ezzat said, adding the drafting of a new constitution would be one area where the generals would seek to guard their interests.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has been governing Egypt since Mubarak stepped down at the height of a popular uprising against his rule. Outlawed under Mubarak, the Brotherhood has since moved to the heart of public life.
It won more than 43 percent of the seats in parliament in elections that stretched from November to February.
"Even if the president comes from the Brotherhood, the military council will continue to cling to power, but its chances will be lower," Ezzat said. "We will cooperate with everyone, regardless of the identity of the coming president."
Presidential race set to begin
The first round of the election gets underway on May 23 and 24, with a run-off expected in June. The Brotherhood's Mursi is part of a field including independent Islamists, politicians associated with the Mubarak era and leftists and liberals.
Mursi has been written off by some analysts who say he lacks support outside the Brotherhood's dedicated voter base.
But Ezzat dismissed the chances of Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a former Brotherhood leader who is leading the polls together with former Arab League chief Amr Moussa. Abol Fotouh is the Brotherhood's main Islamist rival.
Abol Fotouh, Ezzat said, had lost credibility in his efforts to build support among both liberals and Islamists. "You cannot join competing views, especially when you have a population whose level of awareness has become very high," he said.
The Brotherhood suffered a setback when its first choice candidate, Khairat al-Shater, was disqualified, forcing back-up choice Mursi into the race. Ezzat, in his mid-60s, carries the same rank within the Brotherhood as Shater, though he has spent less time in the spotlight in the last year.
He joined the Brotherhood as a teenager and was first jailed aged 21, in the era of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who outlawed the group and drove it underground in 1954.
The Brotherhood has also been struggling with an image problem rooted in perceptions that it wants to squeeze others out of public life - something the group describes as a lie spread by opponents who control the media.
Ezzat said most of the electorate had yet to make up their mind on how they would vote. He said that voting trends since Mubarak was deposed indicated an Islamist should win.
"What concerns the general population is that the vision is Islamic and moderate. That means you are talking to a large section of the people - the general rural population in the villages - and at the same time the educated," he said.
"Despite the heavy media campaign - not giving Dr. Mursi the same space - I see that the spread of the party among the people will compensate for this."