Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood picks new leader
The Muslim Brotherhood, the banned fundamentalist party considered the largest opposition force in Egypt, has chosen a new leader who is expected to reduce the group’s participation in politics.
Mohamed Badie, a conservative figure, was elected by the party’s “guidance bureau” as the new “guide”. The Brotherhood has been the target of repeated crackdowns by the Egyptian authorities since 2005, when its candidates managed to capture a fifth of the seats in parliament.
Thousands of members have been arrested without charge in a revolving door policy of detentions and releases designed to keep the organisation on the defensive.
The constant pressure has divided the party, with conservatives worried about the survival of the Brotherhood’s structures competing against a handful of younger reformers, pushing for more political participation and openness.
Mr Badie’s emergence as leader is seen as a victory for the conservatives. “Mohamed Badie’s record in public work is very weak,” said Abdul Moneim Mahmoud, an independent Islamist blogger and analyst who says he grew up within the Brotherhood. “He will lead the group in an inward direction. His aim will be to mend rifts within the organisation after all the differences we have seen. Also the atmosphere now is not amenable to political work.”
Speaking at a press conference held at the weekend to announce his election, Mr Badie, a 66-year-old professor of veterinary pathology, said the Brotherhood has not been “for one day an adversary of the regime”. He stressed that the group wanted a gradual transformation of society through peaceful means.
But he also said the Brotherhood regarded it as a “religious duty” to participate in elections and call for reform.
Egypt is due to hold parliamentary elections later this year. The Brotherhood is expected to run some candidates, but analysts believe it will not attempt to replicate its gains in 2005, which shocked the regime and hardened the official stance towards the Islamist opposition.
In 2005, the group presented 160 independent candidates, 88 of whom won seats. Brotherhood officials say they would have won another 35 had it not been for election rigging. Egyptian polls are traditionally marred by irregularities, and the police often prevent voters from entering polling stations in constituencies where the Brotherhood is known to have significant support.
Changes to the constitution, introduced in 2005, bar the formation of political parties based on religion and abolish the supervision of polling stations by members of the judiciary- removing a crucial safeguard which has often worked in favour of the opposition.
Traditionally a secretive organisation, the Brotherhood, has revealed more about its inner workings this year than at any other period in its 80-year history.
The arguments between conservatives and reformers who support political participation have spilled over into the open.
A trigger for this internal turmoil has been the decision by the outgoing leader, Mohamed Mahdy Akef, to step down at the end of his term.
Analysts, however, do not expect a split in the organisation. “The reformers do not really form a current within the Brotherhood, they are individuals, who do not have an organisational impact on the group,” said Mr Mahmoud. “They have allowed their concern with politics to distract them from the need to reach out to ordinary members.”