Has the Muslim Brotherhood project expired?

Has the Muslim Brotherhood project expired?

 After a difficult phase of disagreements that lasted months, the Muslim Brotherhood has finally come to terms and elected their new Supreme Guide, Dr. Mohammed Badei, 67, after its former guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef, 82, insisted on retiring after the end of his first term, although the rules of the group authorizes him to serve for two terms.

Apart from the details of the crisis that accompanied the selection of the 8th Guide of the Brotherhood, which had reached unprecedented levels in the history of the “old” group, the crisis posed some challenges that has raised serious questions about the future of the group, internally and externally, not to mention the capacity of its new guide to manage in a way that ensures the non-recurrence of such a crisis in the future.

Anyone who believes that the group will isolate itself, be indifferent to public affairs, or not engage in political work, because of the dominance of the so-called conservatives in the senior leadership of the group, is completely wrong. This would be a fragile hypothesis not supported by facts, because one of the basis of the Brotherhood activity is the investment in the public sphere in order to increase the symbolic capital and human capital, as well as being a component of the legitimacy of the group and a source of strength in the face of the Egyptian regime. Isolation would undermine the entirety of the Brotherhood from its roots.

The question with regard to the future can be deduced by two key points: the first is associated with the personality of the new leader in both organizational and political sides. The second is linked to the future of the political and the intellectual project of the group.

In relation to the first, there are clear differences between the new guide and his predecessor, Mahdi Akef. Although both came from the heart of the organizational circle of the group, Akef used this to fill the gap by his bold pro-active political rhetoric, which his predecessors had not known about when he came to power. He announced after taking office an initiative of reform in March 2004, which constituted a quantum leap in political and intellectual discourse for the group, while the new guide has not raised in his inaugural address any new ideas, but stressed what is known in advance that the Muslim Brotherhood is a “group that renounces violence” and that it will continue to take steps toward gradual reform, there is no means for a showdown with the Egyptian regime … and so on. It is true that the man committed to a language whose tone was closer to a truce, but it does not indicate that there is a coherent political vision behind it.

It is difficult to judge the potential of the new guide and his political skills, but there are brief notes we can refer to that could give a preliminary picture about the future of the group under his leadership. First, there is a feeling of a lack of legitimacy, which will be inherent in the new guide throughout the duration of his term, because of the manner in which he took office. This feeling will continue to languish in the background of any decisions to be issued in the future. Second, it will be difficult for the new guide to create a balance within the group between conservatives and reformists, which no longer have any real impact within the structures affecting the group such as the Guidance Bureau. Third, the new guide will not have the ability to get rid of the dominance of conservative elements in the organization, not only because they are the ones who elected him, but also because of his lack of charisma, which would enable him to achieve an organizational balance that could limit their influence. Fourth, the new guide does not have, at least until now, a clear relationship with the political forces and parties that would enable him to forge alliances or political deals with them, a relationship that allowed Mahdi Akef to do so.

Finally, it is not expected that the new guide will engage in any confrontation with the Egyptian regime, not only because of fear of repression by the latter, but because of the weak capacity of the guide to set the rules of the Brotherhood.

As for the future of the political project of the Brotherhood, the successive crises experienced by the movement inside and outside Egypt have revealed that there are structural difficulties experienced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s project as a whole. And the question of the moment is not only about the nature of organizational differences and schisms undergone by the MB in more than one Arab country such as Jordan and Algeria, and finally in Egypt, and the negative repercussions of this on their image in the Arab street, but also about the movement that began to lack the charisma of leadership and political minds that can inspire their members first, and the Arab masses second.

In general, several indicators can be monitored that may reveal the depth of the current plight of the Muslim Brotherhood project. The first indicator is the decline in religious and political rhetoric and the inability of the new leaders in the movement to achieve a qualitative leap in the vocabulary of this discourse, in order to become more suited to current realities.

The Muslim Brotherhood suffers from a crisis of a tremendous lack of knowledge, because of the lack of courage of their current leaders to change the content of educational curricula that feed the mind of the Brotherhood. The group seems in dire need of a new generation of thinkers and theorists, visionaries and big ideas comparable to the first generation such as Rashid Ghannouchi, Hassan al-Turabi, Abdullah al-Nafisi and Farid Abdul Khaliq, which can hardly be expected to occur in the foreseeable future.

The second indicator is the lack of the Brotherhood-based project in its appeal, which seems evident in the departure of large segments of the Arab street towards the projects of rival religious groups.

The third indicator, is the extinguished glow of the reformist school within the group, not only because of the dominance of conservatives and radicals of the group in more than one Arab country, but also because of the negative nature of the movements of many of the reformers within the Brotherhood, which makes them embarrassed to pressure the conservatives on the pretext of protecting the Movement from an internal division.

The fourth indicator is the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood in adapting its relations with Arab regimes, whether because of the latter’s insistence on punishment and exclusion, and dragging them into useless battles, or because of a lack of the Brotherhood’s political leaders that enjoy good negotiating skills.

Finally, there is a widening generational gap within the Muslim Brotherhood movement, a lack of ability to integrate the new generations within the framework of the movement, which has resulted in the depletion of movement in the internal problems and has impacted negatively on its image in the public sphere.

**Khalil al-Anani is an Egyptian Academic at Durham University in Britain and one of the world’s leading experts on the Muslim Brotherhood.

This post was originally published in al-Hayat in Arabic.