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Divisions await Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood head

By on December 28, 2009

The next leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood will have to heal divisions between moderates and conservatives if the opposition group is to have any political role, a senior member of the group said.

Internal elections for the Brotherhood’s 16-member governing body, known as the guidance bureau, were held last week for the first time in 14 years, with members of the old guard securing the bulk of the seats.

Ideological differences within the group, officially banned but tolerated, have been aggravated by the inflexibility of a number of senior members, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh told Reuters in an interview on Saturday.

“The Brotherhood is more active politically now than previously, but has grown more conservative in thought,” following years of state oppression and curtailment of its freedom of assembly and participation, said Abul-Futuh, a prominent reformist member.

“There is agreement between me and many leaders, but the performance of some of them can be characterised as strict and rigid,” he said.

The group, which won a fifth of the seats in Egypt’s parliament in 2005 with members standing as independents, is divided along generational lines, with alienated younger members finding little representation in the new governing body of men mostly well over 50.

It is also divided over questions such the rights of women and religious minorities, how strict Islamic practice should be and how the Brotherhood should deal with state oppression.

Abul-Futuh and deputy leader Mohamed Habib, whom analysts consider moderates, did not win a seat on the governing body. The result of who will lead the Brotherhood will be announced sometime before January 13.


Analysts say the Brotherhood is the only group able to muster hundreds of thousands of supporters against the government in a parliamentary election in 2010 and presidential elections in 2011.

However, Abul-Futuh did not rule out a possible split of the Brotherhood into several factions representing ideological and age trends in the future, if democratic rule took hold and Brotherhood members were more able to express themselves.

“In the presence of free democratic rule, more parties would form, and people within the group would be able to form their own parties. The (current) Brotherhood as it stands now would form a less sizeable bloc,” Abul-Futuh said.

President Hosni Mubarak’s government has been squeezing the Brotherhood out of mainstream politics and has made it nearly impossible for the group to put up a candidate to succeed him.

With the rifts, Ibrahim Houdaiby, a researcher who follows the group, believes its influence is increasingly limited.

Asked about the role of Brotherhood members in parliamentary elections, Houdaiby said: “Even if they are enthusiastic about upcoming elections, their ability to coordinate and integrate with other political groups is minimal.”

“Most of the leaders currently in the guidance bureau have never participated in public life, having had only organisational roles, without engaging with other political groups,” he added.

Describing the new guidance bureau as “isolationist”, he said: “The last moderate, tolerant and integrated (Brotherhood) wing in the Egyptian political scene has been weakened.”

“The Brotherhood consists of schools of thought that were able to coexist because of historical leaders and their ability to find common ground. But now the last of them is stepping down,” Houdaiby said.

Outgoing leader Mahdi Akef steps down in January.


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