Brotherhood changes tack?

Brotherhood changes tack?

Considered by many a conservative academic who will avoid confrontation with the regime, Mohamed Badei, the 67-year- old newly-elected supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), used his first week in office to attack the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). In an interview with the BBC Arabic service Badei claimed the constitutional amendments passed in 2007 were tailored to allow the NDP to hijack elections and monopolise power. “The NDP has appointed itself both judge and plaintiff,” he said.

Badei urged President Hosni Mubarak to step down as chairman of the ruling NDP. “President Mubarak should be the father of all Egyptians and not just one party,” said Badei. “He should entrust a neutral government with organising free parliamentary and presidential elections.”

“In this way, for the first time, Egyptians would be able to freely choose their leaders.’

Badei also argued that the amended constitution has made it impossible for independent figures to run in the presidential elections. “It is not important who the candidates might be. What is important for now is that independent presidential hopefuls be allowed to run.”

Badei attacked the national press and denounced the vitriolic attacks they had launched against Mohamed El-Baradei, ex-head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), “simply for announcing that he might consider running in the next presidential elections”.

He also announced that, “the Brotherhood has no reason to refrain from contesting parliamentary elections in November.”

“I will say only that Brotherhood members will run on their own ticket and not within the framework of a deal with the government, as some allege.”

“A number of Brotherhood sisters have already decided to run in districts designated for female only candidates.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group, was able to secure a fifth of the 454 seats up for grabs in the 2005 parliamentary elections, with candidates running ostensibly as independents. Many observers believe the group will lose a majority of its seats in November’s election. In an address on Police Day on Sunday, Interior Minister Habib El-Adli warned that “the outlawed group [the Muslim Brotherhood] will never be allowed to tamper with constitutional legitimacy”.

“Security forces will remain firm in the face of all the mouthpieces of this outlawed group which would like to cry foul about a lack of democracy and legitimacy.”

On an earlier occasion El-Adli said, “the outlawed group of the Muslim Brotherhood might have won a large number of seats in the 2005 elections but the situation is different now.”

On Sunday security forces arrested nine Brotherhood members as they prepared for the poll in the Aga district of the Nile-delta governorate of Daqahliya. The seat has remained vacant since 2005 owing to legal disputes. On Monday, in a conflicting signal, 104 Brotherhood members were freed after spending nine months in detention when they were accused of staging anti- government demonstrations during Israel’s assault on Gaza last year. Some analysts believe that in spite of Adli’s tough words the Interior Ministry is seeking rapprochement with the group.

“The Interior Ministry was happy to see the Brotherhood elect a conservative figure like Badei as its leader and in return offered a reward in the form of releasing some of the group’s members,” speculates Ammar Ali Hassan, a researcher on Islamist movements.

In an interview with the Qatar-based Arab satellite channel of Al-Jazeera , Badei surprised many by saying he had no objections to Gamal Mubarak, the 46-year-old son of President Mubarak, becoming the next president of Egypt. He did, however, qualify his statement by saying Gamal Mubarak “must come to power via free and fair elections and in competition with rival candidates”.

“Badei’s words suggest the Brotherhood will cancel any objections to Gamal Mubarak succeeding his father in return for the security forces softening their campaign against the group and even allowing it to win some seats in the next parliament,” says Hassan.

The Brotherhood’s lawyer, Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud, insists the 104 members were released for legal reasons. “The Interior Ministry was forced to release them to comply with final judicial verdicts, not because of a deal between the new supreme guide and the government,” he told reporters on Monday.

“The allegation that I was elected supreme guide as part of a deal with the regime is entirely unfounded,” Badei told the BBC. “We just want to extend a helping hand to the regime to help it solve the country’s problems. Sadly, it always rejects our hand. We are ready to give advice to the regime but we are not ready to give up our rights and commitments in return for it softening its iron grip.”

“Suggestions that the Brotherhood currently suffers from serious divisions between hardline conservatives and a new generation of young reformists also lack foundation,” Badei said. “People are fond of repeating the allegation to tarnish the image of the movement but the truth is all members of the Guidance Bureau, including myself, are reformists who call for greater political reform and democracy.”

Badei, who before becoming supreme guide was head of the group’s indoctrination and ideological education unit, chose Mahmoud Hussein, a member of the newly-elected Guidance Bureau and a professor of civil engineering at Assiut University, as the movement’s new secretary-general on 21 January.

Hussein, 73, replaces Mahmoud Ezzat, the Brotherhood hawk thought to have engineered the coup against reformists in the 27 December Guidance Bureau elections. Hussein, who had been in charge of the group’s human resources development department, has been arrested three times. Like Badei he is considered a “Qotbist”, a devotee of the extremist doctrines of the Brotherhood’s theoretician Sayed Qotb. He is also a staunch supporter of Hamas. Ismail Haniyeh, the group’s leader in Gaza, was among the first to phone and congratulate Badei on becoming supreme guide.