Friday, January 22, 2010

EGYPT: Muslim Brotherhood future

OxfAn, Excerpts:
"... Following an intense government crackdown, and amid growing tension between the conservatives and reformists, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) held its executive bureau elections in December:
  • The results heralded a conservative takeover of the executive bureau, with new conservatives elected, and prominent conservatives retaining their seats -- including Mahmoud Izzat, Mahmoud Ghozlan and Mohammed Badie.
  • They also brought some surprises, with prominent reformists losing their seats, such as Abdel Monein Abu Fotouh, and Deputy Supreme Guide Mohammed Habib, who had occupied his seat for 25 years.
  • However, Essam al-Erian also gained a seat. The conservatives had blocked him from getting a seat on more than one previous occasion -- causing Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef to storm out of a meeting in October. His appointment is probably an attempt to appease a leading reformist and his faction in the wake of the removal of Habib and Abu Fotouh.
Aftermath. Following these elections, the MB's unity has been in question:
  • There has been speculation that Habib and Abu Fotouh will leave the movement in protest. Their exit would likely be followed by others, following the 1996 precedent when Abu Ella Madi (now head of the al-Wasat party) left due to what he saw as a conservative stranglehold over the movement and the static nature of its internal structure.
  • Habib has quietened such rumours by stating that his removal from the bureau was part and parcel of a democratic process. However, Abu Fotouh has been more critical, talking of a possible imminent split if the conservatives continue to suffocate the voice of the reformists.
Leadership elections.
This created a tense setting for the elections of the supreme guide. A number of prominent conservative candidates were rumoured to be vying for the top seat, including Izzat, Badie, and new executive bureau members Abdulrahman al-Barr and Sheikh Jumma. It was also rumoured that Habib might have a chance of succeeding Akef, since, although viewed as a reformist, he is known to be an effective balancer and manager, which the movement needs at such a critical time.
Seeking to avert expected reformist cries of conservative manipulation of the elections, Akef advocated for an independent committee to supervise the elections. The committee was expected to work closely with the Shura Council in selecting the most suitable candidate.
Wrangling. The election process dragged out as a result of internal disagreements. It was believed that Badie had the most support in the Shura Council, but the executive bureau preferred Rashid al-Bayoumi, a 74-year-old conservative. As a result of this conflict, the International Shura Council was asked to resolve the crisis, as it has done in the past in Syria and Jordan. In the midst of this wrangling, the crisis was heightened when Habib ruled himself out of the race and resigned from all his posts, including a seat in the Shura Council and the International Shura Council:
  • Habib had been highly critical of the election procedures and believed it had been hurried without the appropriate internal regulations being applied.
  • Habib's subsequent comments to the media have embarrassed the conservatives. A conservative delegation visited him at his Asyut residence in an attempt to iron out the disagreements and to advise him -- without success -- not to raise further uncomfortable issues with the media.
    Badie agenda. With the help of the International Shura Council, Badie was eventually chosen as the next leader, with Bayoumi as his deputy. Badie has occupied a seat on the executive bureau in the past and is well known as a conservative from the early generation of MB activists.
    He is expected to focus on the movement's traditional spiritual-educational work -- at the expense of the MB's performance in the upcoming parliamentary elections and its efforts to avert the expected presidential succession process
    . The conservatives have argued for this educational and welfare emphasis for a long time, but it will grieve the reformists, who prioritise political engagement. Challenges. A number of challenges await Badie, particularly unifying a movement in crisis. He is not known to be an effective balancer and manager, and the reaction of leading reformists has cast a shadow of illegitimacy over his appointment. Alongside pacifying the reformists, the frustrations of the youth will also need to be addressed:
    Reformists. Habib and Abu Fotouh were both absent from the press conference which announced Badie's appointment, and have refused to pledge their allegiance to him. The position of these two key reformists will remain a central concern for Badie -- and their reappointment to the executive bureau would now be unlikely to be enough to silence their criticism. It is possible that the conservatives will adopt a limited political strategy for the upcoming elections and gradual political engagement, as alluded to by Badie in recent interviews. However, there is no guarantee that Badie would be able to bring the conservative executive bureau on board with such a policy, and given the key differences in overall emphasis, this may only pacify the reformists for a limited period.
    Youth. Badie will also have to address the youth within the movement, who favour grassroots activism and confrontation with the state. The youth are growing increasingly frustrated with the conservative leadership and their own lack of influence over strategy, despite them constituting the largest section of the movement and a vital component in its activities on university campuses......
    Reformist strategy. The reformists will need to re-group to have a say in the movement, since they no longer hold strategic positions. The strongest option available to them is the use of the media -- which Habib and Abu Fotouh have already exploited -- to put pressure on the conservatives through public criticism. However, the conservatives are aware of the growing threat of such public discrediting, and have appointed Erian as the movement's media spokesman....

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