Hawkish coup

Hawkish coup

 Conservative members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood swept the board in the outlawed group’s internal elections on Monday in what many viewed as an internal Brotherhood coup. The election, the first in 14 years, saw the new generation of young reformist leaders who have been pressing for greater integration into mainstream politics effectively marginalised.

Within weeks the group will face another challenge, electing a new supreme guide to succeed the incumbent, 81-year-old Mahdi Akef, who has said he will step down next January after the end of his five-year term.

In a statement to reporters on Monday Akef said that 16 members had been elected to the movement’s new guidance bureau. Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, a prominent member of the Arab Medical Union, and Mohamed El-Sayed Habib, the first supreme guide deputy, both leading reformists, failed to win seats. Essam El-Erian, 55, who is widely identified as a reformer, did secure a place. He will join old guard conservatives such as Mahmoud Ezzat, Mohamed Badei, Mahmoud Ghozlan, Gomaa Amin and Abdel-Rahman El-Bir, who now dominate the movement’s decision-making bureau. It also includes two parliamentary MPs, Saad El-Qatatni and Saad El-Husseini, former MP Mohamed Mursi, and university professors Osama Nasreddin, Rashad El-Bayoumi, Mahmoud Hussein, Mohi Hamed, Mustafa El-Ghoneimi and Mahmoud Abu Zeid. Two imprisoned Brotherhood members, Khairat El-Shater and Mohamed Ali Bishr, were automatically re- elected under the Brotherhood’s internal rules. Sources suggest two additional members will be appointed to the bureau, bringing its membership to 18.

The election was marred by disputes, with Habib arguing that the poll contravened Brotherhood rules. The election provoked a backlash from bloggers who sympathise with the group’s reformist wing, with some threatening to attack the Brotherhood’s Cairo headquarters.

The election of the new guidance bureau follows a turbulent few months for the group. In October Akef threatened to resign after old-guard leaders refused to appoint El-Erian to the bureau after the death of longstanding member Mahmoud Hilal. Though he backtracked on his initial decision, Akef made it clear he would be stepping down in January.

News of his retirement sparked a fierce power struggle within the 81-year-old organisation, deepening the rift between the movement’s old guard, survivors of the crackdown instigated by the Nasserist regime in the 1950s, and the relatively moderate, younger generation led by El-Erian and Abul-Fotouh.

The conflict, though it has come to a head, has been simmering for years. The old guard Qotbists, devoted to the teachings of the group’s theoretician Sayed Qotb, who was executed in 1965, seek to revive the Islamic caliphate and make their version of Islam the sole reference for all Muslims.

The first sign of serious divisions within the Brotherhood came in the mid-1990s when the old guard expelled younger members who were pressing for a political party to be established. Then, in 2007, the Qotbists drafted their own party manifesto. It came out strongly against women and Copts occupying any senior posts and proposed a council of clerics to oversee the drafting of laws, in a manner similar to the Iranian system. Akef, in a press interview some years ago, said he would rather see a Malaysian Muslim rule Egypt than an Egyptian Copt.

Ammar Ali Hassan, a political researcher with the Middle East News Agency (MENA), believes that "it is a positive sign that the Brothers hold democratic elections and that the supreme guide retires at the end of his term." Less positive, he says, is that "such democratic moves have favoured the Salafist ideology championed by Sayed Qotb at the expense of the Brotherhood becoming a force for political reform in Egypt."

Conservative leaders, says Hassan, believe that the Brotherhood’s increased participation in mainstream politics not only diluted its Islamist ideology but brought about the series of official crackdowns that left an estimated 5,000 Brothers behind bars. Reformist Brotherhood figures such as El-Erian, Abul-Fotouh and Habib, on the other hand, believe that the movement’s success in the 2005 parliamentary elections, when it won 88 seats, was a result of its increased willingness to cooperate with civil society and the nascent protest movement.

Khalil El-Anani, a political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, toldAl-Ahram Weekly that the conservatives’ victory is likely to be welcomed by the regime which was growing increasingly intolerant of the group’s inroads into mainstream politics.

Saad El-Husseini, one of the Brotherhood MPs newly elected to the executive guidance bureau, questions the assumption that conservatives are now in the ascendant.

"The bureau is a balanced mix of old and young leaders," he argues. "Figures such as El-Qatatni, Nasreddin and Mursi are wrongly classified as conservatives."

The group, he adds, will not be retreating from the political stage. "We will be preparing for the 2010 elections in the same, serious way we did for the 2005 vote."

Analysts agree that Akef is likely to be succeeded by a hardline conservative. Among the candidates are octogenarians like Mahmoud Ezzat, the Brotherhood’s secretary-general, Mohamed Badei, a former university professor of veterinary medicine, Abdel-Rahman El-Bir, an Al-Azhar professor who was arrested early this year on charges of supplying Hamas with weapons, and Gomaa Amin, in charge of supervising female Brotherhood members.