Muslim Brotherhood Elections: A Post-Game Report

Muslim Brotherhood Elections: A Post-Game Report

There has been some discussion about the implications of the recent elections to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) top leadership committee, the Guidance Bureau. The vote, conducted by the 100-member Shura Council, which oversees the selection of the MB’s highest officials, led to a defeat for more moderate members – Mohammed Habib and Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, in particular – and the win of the Brotherhood’s more conservative wing. Virtually all of the 16-member Bureau are now considered to be conservatives.

A couple of thoughts and observations from our end of the blogosphere. First, the loss of reformists could mean the entrenchment of conservative attitudes by the MB on a variety of social issues as well as a more regressive stance on the question of Egyptian democracy. Reformists have long emphasized the importance of democratic reform, media freedom, pluralism, and engagement with the West as well as with the Egyptian government. Conservatives, in contrast, have traditionally held much more illiberal views about the role of women, the rights of minorities, engagement with the West, and democracy. (These more regressive attitudes were well represented in the MB’s 2007 draft platform, which, in excluding women and Copts from the position of the presidency, provides a decent picture of the conservative wing’s vision on what they view a nominally democratic state to look like. In contrast, many reformists condemned the draft platform as undemocratic and discriminatory.)

Second, there has been some speculation as to whether the elections were so divisive as to ultimately lead to a split in the movement. Amongst other dissenters, Mohammed Habib, one of the two reform-minded members that lost a seat on the Guidance Bureau, has strongly disputed the legitimacy of the election. Protesting the circumstances under which the vote took place, Habib refused to participate. Arabist Marc Lynch notes: “The real question is whether the frustrated reformists will split from the MB and form a new political movement (as in the stillborn Wasat Party schism of the 1990s) — something the MB has largely avoided in the past, but which now looms large on the horizon.”

Yet recent reports in the Arab press indicate that such a development is unlikely. Al Sharq Al Awsat, the Saudi media outlet, reports that Mohammed Habib, despite his criticisms, has vehemently denied any intentions to move away from the Brotherhood. He is quoted as saying (my translation): “The organization lives in my being and in my mind and I think of it even when I’m sleeping. How can I leave it?…Before I joined this organization in my youth, I was nothing. I had no message, no role, nothing in this life. But after joining the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, I became something else. I started to have a role with regards to Islam and to society. My relationship with the organization [the Brotherhood] is unbreakable.”

Third, there’s a good argument to be made that the big winner in these elections is the Egyptian state. With MB candidates winning 20 percent of the seats in parliament in the 2005 election, an unexpectedly high showing, the Mubarak regime remains concerned about an invigorated Brotherhood — particularly now with the grooming of the expected heir-to-the-throne, Gamal Mubarak. To the regime’s undoubted satisfaction, the win of the conservative faction in the Guidance Bureau elections may give Egyptian authorities just what they want: less MB engagement in politics and thus less of a public platform. Unlike reformists, conservatives in the MB are generally skeptical of participation in Egyptian elections, seeing few benefits to direct engagement in Egyptian politics (prefering instead religious and social welfare-based outreach.) Their win may well result in diminished Brotherhood engagement in the upcoming 2010 elections, an outcome that the Mubarak government can only be pleased about.