Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Chooses New Leader

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Chooses New Leader

 CAIRO (AP) — Egypt’s largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, announced Saturday it has chosen a new leader, a conservative academic who looks unlikely to challenge the government’s relentless crackdown on the group.

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood managed to make a strong showing in 2005’s parliamentary election with candidates who ran as independents, and soon after the government intensified its campaign of arrests against the group.

Mohammed Badie, a 66-year-old professor of veterinary pathology, indicated he would avoid taking the group in a direction that would directly confront the government through such steps as pro-democracy street protests or an attempt to turn the movement into an official political party.

”We reaffirm that the Brotherhood was not for one day an adversary to the regime,” Badie said at a news conference Saturday.

A small group of younger, more moderate members have been pressing for the Brotherhood to take a more active political role before this year’s parliamentary election — a role that would be distinct from the group’s other operations, which include running schools, clinics and religious programs.

Doing so, however, would be sure to provoke the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, who has quashed all challenges to his three-decade rule. Presenting another obstacle, the constitution bans religion-based political parties, and the committee that approves new parties is dominated by the ruling National Democratic Party.

Badei is the Brotherhood’s eighth supreme leader since its founding in 1928.

He succeeds the charismatic and popular Mohammed Mahdi Akef, known for fiery comments challenging Mubarak’s government. He was the group’s first leader to step down; all the others died in office. Amid reports of internal disputes, he announced last year that he would not seek a new leadership term.

Despite being banned since 1954, the Brotherhood is tolerated to a degree and has fielded independent candidates for parliament.

They currently hold a fifth of the 454 seats in parliament’s lower house. Many believe the group will lose many of those seats in October’s election.

The group, which had an armed wing that carried out bombings and other attacks until it renounced violence in the 1970s, inspired the formation of radical Islamic groups around the Middle East, including the Palestinian Hamas.

Badie, who was once part of group of radical members charged with seeking to overthrow Egypt’s government, was jailed for nine years in the 1960s.

On Saturday, he reaffirmed the group’s rejection of violence and urged other members to do the same.

”Show the world the true Islam, the Islam of moderation and forgiveness that respects pluralism in the whole world,” he told them.

Badie, a senior member who most recently headed the group’s ideological education unit, indicated the Brotherhood’s traditional mission of spreading a religious message must take precedence over an effort to make Egyptian politics more democratic.

A young group within the Brotherhood has been pressing for a more moderate strategy to replace its fundamentalist ideology — and especially for the formation of a political party, instead of just an Islamic movement.

Abdel-Gelil al-Shernouby, a 35-year-old member and the editor of the group’s Web site, played down the disagreements, laying the blame on a repressive political environment. A new generation is taking over, he said, and change needs to mature.

”We try to develop and review, but we are always under a security guillotine, which prevents internal dialogue and dries up our street base through which we operate,” he said, referring to the government’s crackdown.

Authorities have jailed around 5,000 members over the last five years and banned others from running in local or national elections.

Abdel-Monem Mahmoud, a journalist and blogger who follows the group’s affairs, said the new leader is focusing on mending internal rifts and preserving the group’s survival at a time ”when the regime is holding a stick.”

(This version CORRECTS that election is to be held this year.)