• MB News
  • July 1, 2008
  • 8 minutes read

EGYPT: Muslim Brotherhood ’Stronger’ After Party Election

EGYPT: Muslim Brotherhood ’Stronger’ After Party Election

CAIRO, Jul 1 (IPS) – Recent internal elections within the Muslim Brotherhood opposition movement were trumpeted in the local press as a victory for the group”s “conservative” faction over its “reformist” rivals. But according to independent commentators and a Brotherhood spokesman, media claims of a split within the movement”s ranks are unfounded.

“As in any political movement, there will be differences of opinion,” Diaa Rashwan, analyst at the semi-official al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, and expert on Islamist movements told IPS. “But it”s an exaggeration to say there”s an ideological rift within the group.”

Late last month, five new members were elected to the Muslim Brotherhood”s Guidance Bureau, the group”s most authoritative decision-making body. The elections, which were held in secret and not announced beforehand for reasons of security, raised the number of Guidance Bureau members from 16 to 20.

Guidance Bureau members are generally elected every five years from among the Brotherhood”s 90-member Shura (consultative) council. However, since 1995, elections have been consistently delayed due to fears among the group”s members that they would face arrest by the authorities should they convene to vote.

“If we held elections in the open, winners would quickly find themselves in prison,” Brotherhood secretary-general Mahmoud Azzet explained in a Jun. 5 statement on the group”s website.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been officially banned by the state since the mid-1950s, when it was accused of plotting to assassinate former president Gamal Abdel Nasser. In the 1970s, however, it officially renounced violence and its tactics have been confined to the political arena ever since.

Although the Brotherhood remains formally outlawed, its members can field candidates as nominal independents in local and parliamentary elections. In 2005, the group captured 88 seats in parliament — roughly one-fifth of the assembly — despite widespread electoral fraud by the ruling National Democratic Party of long-standing President Hosni Mubarak.

Like other Islamist movements in the region, the group has built up considerable grassroots support by providing badly needed social services in impoverished areas, which has done much to bolster its popular standing.

Ever since the 2005 parliamentary elections, Brotherhood members have been subject to a wide-ranging campaign of arrests. Within the last year and a half, more than 2,000 have been arrested — with several hundred still in detention — on charges of “belonging to an illegal organisation.”

In April, 25 of the group”s leaders, including two Guidance Bureau members, were slapped hefty jail terms after being convicted of money laundering and “promoting terrorism” by a military tribunal.

Following the group”s recent internal elections, the local press — independent and official — was quick to interpret the results as a victory for the group”s more conservative, “hard-line” faction.

But spokesmen for the movement, along with independent commentators, say that media claims of a Brotherhood rift — pitting “conservatives” against “reformists” — are largely invalid.

“There are no competing factions within the Muslim Brotherhood,” Saad al-Husseini, Brotherhood MP and a newly-elected Guidance Bureau member, told IPS. “We all share the single goal of reforming society.

“The election results did not represent a victory for one faction over another, and no one was excluded,” al-Husseini added. “This is just government propaganda.”

Rashwan agreed that press reports of divisions within the group”s ranks had been exaggerated.

“There may be differences of opinion within the group”s leadership, but it”s an exaggeration to talk about conservative versus reformist trends,” he said. “The local press exaggerated the issue by saying there was a major rift within the movement.”

According to Rashwan, the chief “difference of opinion” within the group”s leadership revolves around the person of the president of the country.

“The Brotherhood maintains that non-Muslims and women can never serve as head of state, in accordance with Islamic law,” he explained. “But some within the group will not even discuss the subject, while others say it”s permissible to debate the issue with the sole aim of convincing others.

“But except for this one issue, there are no real divisions within the movement,” added Rashwan. “In terms of democracy and political participation, there are no ideological disputes, and the group remains unanimous in terms of general strategy.”

Rashwan went on to note that, historically, the Muslim Brotherhood has been uniquely resistant to internal splits within its ranks.

“Of all the political movements in Egypt, the Brotherhood has been the most able to contain internal squabbling,” he said. “For most of its history, the group has successfully avoided internecine division — this can be seen by the government”s failure until now to infiltrate the group and sabotage it from within.” (END/2008)