Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to name new conservative leader Mohamed Badie
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is expected to name Mohamed Badie as its new Supreme Guide on Saturday – a move that could alienate reformists and stymie their efforts to challenge President Mubarak.
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In addition, the new leaders lack political experience, says Khalil Al Anani, an analyst at the government-linked Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. After years of government repression, Mr. Anani expects their primary interest will be in keeping the organization alive and its members out of jail.
“There is no indication that they have the ability to build coalitions with other political parties in Egypt,” he says of new leaders like Badie who have had little public role until now. “Their main goal is the survival of the movement.”
The Brothers appear divided over issues of both style and substance, with lines drawn over social issues like the political role of Christians and women and organizational issues like coalition building and how to interact with the media.
Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, a journalist at the independent daily Al Destour and once a high profile Brother with a blog entitled “I am a Muslim Brother,” says the biggest source of conflict was the group’s 2007 political party platform, which “said the Brothers would accept a Coptic Christian or a woman running for President.”
It was the first party platform ever presented by the group, but was withdrawn “to change some of these progressive ideas,” says Anani. It has not been reissued since, and observers say the new leadership is in no rush to either raise these issues again or make noise about trying to form a legal party.
“Conservatives are interested in political engagement but are not as capable of it,” says Ibrahim Houdaiby, a political analyst and former Brother. “They have less experience of working and interacting with people who are not Muslim Brothers.”
Like many current and former Brothers with reformist leanings, Houdaiby points to ousted Bureau member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh as a leader who was comfortable working across ideological lines.
Aboul Fotouh himself says the group will not radically change and that the real problem is Egypt’s oppressive stance towards the Brotherhood, including a ban that's been in place since 1954. Such measures “lead to the presence of some narrow-minded people in our organization,” he says.
“There are people who are so narrow-minded and conservative about so many things that they scare everyone away,” he says. “They say everything is haram,” or religiously forbidden.
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Battle for the mainstream
Mahmoud takes the ouster of men like Aboul Fotouh as evidence a consensus among conservatives that they were “not really committed to the principles of the organization.”
Assem Shalaby, head of the Brothers media office, sums up this attitude when he calls the terms "conservative" and "reformist" inaccurate.
“What is more accurate is to say that some in the group, like Aboul Fotouh and El Erian, have a long history of working outside the Brotherhood framework,” he says.
But the election has raised questions about where the Muslim Brothers want to put their focus: political activism against the Mubarak regime, the spiritual improvement of the members, or a little bit of both?
Both conservatives and reformists see themselves as representative of mainstream Brotherhood opinion.
“I represent the mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Aboul Fotouh, who says the mainstream is “moderate” and “likes to communicate with society and the other.”
But Shalaby says that balancing “public work and organizational work” is the “essence” of the Brotherhood, and that reformists like Aboul Fotouh have shirked their internal responsibilities.
It is that tension that Anani says could weaken the organization going forward, as conservative leaders focus on organizational goals and reformists push for activism against the regime.
“The next general guide will be weak and won’t have the ability to control the movement,” he says.
But Houdaiby strikes a more optimistic tone. He thinks the Brotherhood could grow from these divisions as “people start to think critically about what they want from the organization and its leaders… it could make them feel a greater stake in it. The real question is: Will these two wings be able to adopt a clear and unified strategy for change?”