Egypt’s opposition names new head

Egypt’s opposition names new head

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood named a conservative as its new leader on Saturday, suggesting that Egypt’s biggest opposition group may lower its political profile and focus on a social agenda.

Mohamed Badeea’s appointment followed a heated debate between conservatives wary of stepping up political activities that have already triggered repression from the state and many from a younger generation seeking more political activism.

The Brotherhood, which seeks to introduce Islamic rule by democratic means, is officially banned but grudgingly tolerated by the state, and took about a fifth of the seats in parliament in 2005 by fielding candidates as independents.

Since then, and with 81-year-old President Hosni Mubarak due to step down or stand for re-election in 2011, the state has been squeezing the Brotherhood out of mainstream politics, often arresting activists and holding them for weeks without charge.

Together with the appointment of a more cautious leader, this is likely to mean less representation for the Brotherhood after the next parliamentary election, due this year.

Badeea, 66, who like many Brotherhood members has been arrested in the past, is a member of the group’s 16-member governing body. In an internal election to the body last month, conservatives secured most seats.

“Mohamed Badeea has been chosen by majority vote by the Shura Council as the new leader,” Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the former leader, in his 80s, who stepped down this month, told a news conference.

The Shura Council has more than 100 members. Reform-minded members, mostly from a younger generation, are pushing for more engagement in Egyptian politics, at the risk of angering the state, but also want internal changes, such as giving women and young people more representation.

“With such a conservative leadership in place, they (the Brotherhood) no longer have the power to inspire Egyptian society politically at grassroot level,” political analyst Khalil El Anani said before Saturday’s announcement.

He said the government’s crackdown, coupled with the group’s growing reluctance to confront the state politically, might leave a vacuum that more militant voices could fill. Until now, the Brotherhood has been the only group able to muster hundreds of thousands of supporters against the government.

“The state has a strategic plan to squeeze any group with Islamist leanings and this may backfire,” he said.

Analysts said that, under its new leadership, the Brotherhood is likely to focus on its agenda of social and charitable work, which includes building and running hospitals.

“We may see development in terms of social grassroots work, but not much is expected on the political front,” said political analyst Diaa Rashwan.

The Brotherhood renounced violence decades ago. But the government of Mubarak, whose predecessor was gunned down by militants in 1981, is wary of any group with Islamist leanings, having quashed an Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.

Mubarak has not yet said if he will run for office again in 2011. Many Egyptians speculate that he is grooming his son, Gamal, 46, a former investment banker who already holds a senior position in the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), to take over. Father and son both deny this.

Election rules make it is almost impossible for any candidate who does not have the NDP’s backing to put up a realistic challenge for the presidency.-Reuters

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