- Other Views
- February 17, 2010
- 5 minutes read
Muslim Brotherhood is young at heart.
The recent ascension of Mohamed Badie as the eighth supreme leader of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group has been met with widespread frustration among the movement’s reform-minded younger generation.
In many ways, these young people have created a new identity and image of the Brotherhood, both in Egypt and abroad. No longer do knowledgeable people view its members as the stereotypical bearded Islamists. Instead, they see members who talk of their desire for democracy and greater freedoms, not to mention their love for American films. The first time I met a group of the MB’s young bloggers a few years ago, they talked for 10 minutes on the upcoming Charlize Theron and Tom Cruise films.
Although some commentators, such as Fawaz Gerges, saw Badie’s election as "more of the same", the Brotherhood can never really go back to the era when a number of its members supported violence. It has simply come too far and become too integrated into the Egyptian mainstream to do that.
Gerges said the election "utterly discredited" claims that the Brotherhood has moved away from being an al-Qaida style political and religious organisation. He is wrong. The election proves that it is not an organisation of the "al-Qaida variety". How many organisations in the Middle East hold internal elections? Al-Qaida doesn’t.
Certainly, commentators are worried that with Badie in charge the youth success and reform push of recent times will be put on hold.
Abdelrahman Ayyash, one of the leading MB bloggers, told me he fears a return to the politics of Sayyid Qutb. Badie has been linked to this radical ideology.
But grassroots reformist can still make an impact if they try hard enough. In October, a group of Brotherhood bloggers issued a statement that argued point by point the pitfalls they saw within the movement. Unsurprisingly, conservatives were upset.
Meanwhile, Badie faces a number of challenges. He is positioned between the reformists – who call for an opening of the structure of the Brotherhood to allow more debate and participation within the group – and the conservatives – who want to maintain their stranglehold on the politics of yesterday.
Khalil al-Anani, a political Islam expert who understands the Muslim Brotherhood better than most, said he believes the main challenges for Badie "will be how to balance between reformists and conservatives and how to engage [the] young Brotherhood".
This is the crux of the matter. The youth movement within the Brotherhood is growing and becoming the main face of the group abroad, but it doesn’t have any real power in decision-making.
This is the last stand for the conservatives – members who espouse an ideology that lies in the politics of the 1960s and 1970s – and it is only a matter of time before the younger generation has a greater say.
Reformists, such as the popular Guidance Bureau member, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh – who talks of tolerance, understanding and democracy and is widely looked up to by the youth, should not sulk after the conservatives’ victory but try to demonstrate the past few years were not an abnormality.
Badie should take a page from his predecessor, Mahdy Akef, and create a space for the youth to be heard. If he fails to do this, the Brotherhood could quickly find itself in confrontation with its most promising and well-liked group.