Dissenting Brothers

Founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has never experienced a leadership crisis as serious as that which erupted two weeks ago. As is now well-known, the problem originated with the refusal on the part of the MB’s Guidance Bureau (the organisation’s highest executive body) to accept Essam El-Erian as a member to replace Mohamed Hilal following the latter’s death four weeks ago. It was a clear act of defiance against Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef who wanted to promote El-Erian and who maintained that the MB’s internal regulations gave him that right. In response to the refusal Akef has threatened to resign and designated most of his powers to his first deputy, Mohamed Habib.
Of course, the crisis goes much deeper than the question of El-Erian’s promotion. This is not the first time the supreme guide has encountered resistance. The problem is rooted in the way the MB handles its internal disputes and in its reading of the Egyptian political scene as it touches upon the organisation’s image and activities. Although in the course of the past two decades the MB has managed to deal clearly and firmly with internal opposition, disciplining and marginalising dissenters, it has signally failed to benefit from any intellectual and ideological diversity among its ranks. As a consequence, it has forfeited an important political asset which it desperately needs in its confrontations with adversaries.
The tensions in the upper echelons of the MB hierarchy are too sharp to be swept under the carpet in the usual way. The supreme guide has set himself against the will of the conservative wing of the leadership over the promotion of El-Erian, whom he believes deserves a chance to serve on the Guidance Bureau. But regardless of what actions he takes, including the threat to resign, there are unmistakable signs that he will be unable to reign in the conservatives. Since becoming head of the movement in January 2004 Akef has worked hard to maintain smooth relations between the different ideological trends within the MB. Almost always, međutim, his efforts have come at the expense of the reformists or pragmatists, whether because of the relative weakness of their influence within the organisation compared to the conservatives or because he feared a rift that would render the organisation vulnerable to the regime’s political and security tactics.
That tensions have reached their current pitch is due to the brewing conflict over the succession to the office Akef now holds. In March Akef announced that he did not intend to nominate himself for a new term, which would begin on 13 January. His decision marked the first time in the group’s history that a supreme guide has voluntarily stepped down at the height of his career. All six of his predecessors died while still in office. Akef’s unprecedented and, apparently, unexpected decision, triggered an initially silent power struggle over who would fill his post. Interestingly, the struggle has not been between conservatives and reformists, but rather between hardliners and pragmatists inside the conservative camp.
The current situation is significant for several reasons. Rarely have internal differences bubbled over into public view. This time, međutim, the main players have been vying ferociously for media attention.
Then there is Akef’s threat, subsequently denied, that he would resign. That Akef should have been driven to such a step reflects the magnitude of the pressures and anger he has faced during his nearly six-year long tenure. Having served as the keel between diverse trends, Akef’s threat must reflect his sense of failure at checking the conservativeshegemony over all the organisation’s bodies and decision-making mechanisms.
That Akef has delegated many of his powers to his first deputy is also unprecedented, as well as being in violation of the group’s internal regulations. Article 6 of the MB’s charter states that the supreme guide can leave his post under three conditionspoor performance of his duties, resignation or death. Since none of these conditions obtains Akef had no right to delegate his responsibilities to his first deputy.
The crisis has thrown into relief a major problem in the MB’s constitutional structure, the lack of an institutionalised arbitrating authority capable of settling disputes between the supreme guide and the Guidance Bureau. It has also demonstrated that many of the group’s internal taboos regarding reverence for, and uncritical obedience to, its leaders have cracked.
The MB leadership will undoubtedly attempt to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible, so that it does not spread through the movement’s rank and file. For this reason, the MB’s General Shura Council will hold elections for the next supreme guide within the next couple of weeks. Even so, it is doubtful that the new leader will enjoy the same level of prestige as his predecessors and will, as a consequence, be hampered in any attempts to maintain equilibrium inside the group. Neither the MB’s Secretary- General Mahmoud Ezzat, or First Deputy to the Supreme Guide Mohamed Habib, the two leading contenders for the post, have the historical legitimacy of Akef, the last of the MB’s founding generation.
But the election of the next supreme guide is not the only problem with which the MB must contend. No less important, or problematic, is the need to elect a new Guidance Bureau. The current bureau was elected in 1995, since which time some members have been added through promotion, as was the case with Mohamed Mursi who became chairman of the political committee in 2004, and others by means of the partial elections in 2008. Comprehensive elections to the bureau should have been held a year ago, following the election of the new MB Shura Council which is responsible for selecting the members of the Guidance Bureau and the supreme guide.
The MB is entering a very delicate phase in its history. Even if MB leaders manage to smooth over the current crisis, its effects will continue to reverberate beneath the surface and, undoubtedly, erupt once again.

Khalil Al-anani

Esam

Founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has never experienced a leadership crisis as serious as that which erupted two weeks ago. As is now well-known, the problem originated with the refusal on the part of the MB’s Guidance Bureau (the organisation’s highest executive body) to accept Essam El-Erian as a member to replace Mohamed Hilal following the latter’s death four weeks ago. It was a clear act of defiance against Supreme Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef who wanted to promote El-Erian and who maintained that the MB’s internal regulations gave him that right. In response to the refusal Akef has threatened to resign and designated most of his powers to his first deputy, Mohamed Habib.

Of course, the crisis goes much deeper than the question of El-Erian’s promotion. This is not the first time the supreme guide has encountered resistance. The problem is rooted in the way the MB handles its internal disputes and in its reading of the Egyptian political scene as it touches upon the organisation’s image and activities. Although in the course of the past two decades the MB has managed to deal clearly and firmly with internal opposition, disciplining and marginalising dissenters, it has signally failed to benefit from any intellectual and ideological diversity among its ranks. As a consequence, it has forfeited an important political asset which it desperately needs in its confrontations with adversaries.

The tensions in the upper echelons of the MB hierarchy are too sharp to be swept under the carpet in the usual way. The supreme guide has set himself against the will of the conservative wing of the leadership over the promotion of El-Erian, whom he believes deserves a chance to serve on the Guidance Bureau. But regardless of what actions he takes, including the threat to resign, there are unmistakable signs that he will be unable to reign in the conservatives. Since becoming head of the movement in January 2004 Akef has worked hard to maintain smooth relations between the different ideological trends within the MB. Almost always, međutim, his efforts have come at the expense of the reformists or pragmatists, whether because of the relative weakness of their influence within the organisation compared to the conservatives or because he feared a rift that would render the organisation vulnerable to the regime’s political and security tactics.

That tensions have reached their current pitch is due to the brewing conflict over the succession to the office Akef now holds. In March Akef announced that he did not intend to nominate himself for a new term, which would begin on 13 January. His decision marked the first time in the group’s history that a supreme guide has voluntarily stepped down at the height of his career. All six of his predecessors died while still in office. Akef’s unprecedented and, apparently, unexpected decision, triggered an initially silent power struggle over who would fill his post. Interestingly, the struggle has not been between conservatives and reformists, but rather between hardliners and pragmatists inside the conservative camp.

The current situation is significant for several reasons. Rarely have internal differences bubbled over into public view. This time, međutim, the main players have been vying ferociously for media attention.

Then there is Akef’s threat, subsequently denied, that he would resign. That Akef should have been driven to such a step reflects the magnitude of the pressures and anger he has faced during his nearly six-year long tenure. Having served as the keel between diverse trends, Akef’s threat must reflect his sense of failure at checking the conservativeshegemony over all the organisation’s bodies and decision-making mechanisms.

That Akef has delegated many of his powers to his first deputy is also unprecedented, as well as being in violation of the group’s internal regulations. Article 6 of the MB’s charter states that the supreme guide can leave his post under three conditionspoor performance of his duties, resignation or death. Since none of these conditions obtains Akef had no right to delegate his responsibilities to his first deputy.

The crisis has thrown into relief a major problem in the MB’s constitutional structure, the lack of an institutionalised arbitrating authority capable of settling disputes between the supreme guide and the Guidance Bureau. It has also demonstrated that many of the group’s internal taboos regarding reverence for, and uncritical obedience to, its leaders have cracked.

The MB leadership will undoubtedly attempt to resolve the crisis as quickly as possible, so that it does not spread through the movement’s rank and file. For this reason, the MB’s General Shura Council will hold elections for the next supreme guide within the next couple of weeks. Even so, it is doubtful that the new leader will enjoy the same level of prestige as his predecessors and will, as a consequence, be hampered in any attempts to maintain equilibrium inside the group. Neither the MB’s Secretary- General Mahmoud Ezzat, or First Deputy to the Supreme Guide Mohamed Habib, the two leading contenders for the post, have the historical legitimacy of Akef, the last of the MB’s founding generation.

But the election of the next supreme guide is not the only problem with which the MB must contend. No less important, or problematic, is the need to elect a new Guidance Bureau. The current bureau was elected in 1995, since which time some members have been added through promotion, as was the case with Mohamed Mursi who became chairman of the political committee in 2004, and others by means of the partial elections in 2008. Comprehensive elections to the bureau should have been held a year ago, following the election of the new MB Shura Council which is responsible for selecting the members of the Guidance Bureau and the supreme guide.

The MB is entering a very delicate phase in its history. Even if MB leaders manage to smooth over the current crisis, its effects will continue to reverberate beneath the surface and, undoubtedly, erupt once again.

Published On Al-ahram Weekly

Filed Under: ČlanciEgipatIstaknutomuslimansko bratstvo

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About the Author: Ikhwanscope is an independent Muslim Progressive and moderate non-profit site, concentrating mainly on the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. Ikhwanscope is concerned with all articles published relating to any movements which follow the school of thought of the Muslim Brotherhood worldwide.

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