The Elections of the Egyptian Muslim Brothers: The Hawks on the Rise
Since October 2009, the Egyptian Muslim Brothers (MB), one of the largest and most influential Islamist movements in modern history, has been going through a leadership crisis between the General Guide, Muhammad M. Akif (leader of the MB), and some of the members of the Guidance Office (GO – the highest executive body in the MB).
In the latest elections held on 18 and 19 December, the Conservative factions held an outright majority in the 18-member GO. This is not good news. But it should not come as a surprise either.
Despite (incorrect) rumors that the leadership crisis originated from Akif’s statements siding with Hezbollah against the Mubarak regime; the General Guide asserted in an interview with al-Jazeera Network that the decision to support Hizbullah was unanimous in the GO.
This crisis (like in 1949, 1951, 1964, and 1995) had more to do with the enduring factionalism within the MB, a persisting phenomenon within the organisation since the 1930s. The different factions can be loosely termed as ‘Reformists,’ ‘Pragmatists’ and ‘Conservatives.’ The main points of contention between them are the nature of relationship with the Mubarak regime, with the West (and with the “other” in general); the relationship between the missionary and the political activities; and, finally, the relationship between the organisation and its peculiarities on the one hand and the society on the other.
The Reformists, whose leading figures include Dr Abd al-Moneim Abu al-Futuh (a member of the GO until this month) and Dr Essam al-Arayan (a former MP in 1987), tend to be more open towards the “other” and more interested in separating the missionary (or the religious) and the political (in other words secularism finally!).
The most well-known figure of the Pragmatic camp is Dr Muahmmad Habib, a geology professor from Assyut University in Upper Egypt and the first deputy of the General Guide. The stance of this camp shifts quickly depending on the balance of power within the organisation. The Pragmatist camp is perceived as the main losers in the latest GO elections. As a result, Habib declared that the elections were “illegitimate.”
The Conservatives, or as some analysts like to call them, the ‘Qutbists’ (though it is a bit misleading since they include more than just the followers of Sayyid Qutb) are led by Dr Mahmud Izzat, the General Secretary of the MB. That faction has multiple ideological orientations. But its defining characteristics include utter secrecy when it comes to internal organisational affairs (in other words the MB should remain a black box for the outsider), mistrust regarding the “other,” and less inclination for political alliances. Many of the Cons leaders (Izaat included) belong to the so-called “1965 generation” (the grassroots and mid-ranks who were imprisoned with Sayyid Qutb in 1960s, witnessed the time of his execution, and were severely repressed by the state). The mentality of that generation is usually different from those of the “1970 generation” (the mid-ranks who were active during the time of relative openness of the Sadat regime). Most of the leading Reformist figures belong to the latter generation.
The success of the Conservatives in the recent elections are rooted in the conditions of political repression and frustration in Egypt do not in any way reward moderation of behavior or encourage openness or toleration. For the grassroots, the mid-ranks and the shura (Consultative) Council members, the intense cycles of repression made the Conservatives’ preferred behavior of secrecy, mistrust and exclusion sound necessary for survival.