Saturday, 5 March 2011

Brotherhood faces internal strife in wake of Egypt uprising

brotherhoodFAR FROM posing a major threat to Egyptian democracy, the Muslim Brotherhood, along with all the country’s veteran political parties, faces internal upheavals in the wake of the uprising that ousted 30-year president Hosni Mubarak. Some 2,000 young members are threatening to begin an inde- finite sit-in on March 17th if the movement does not sack its governing bodies, the Guidance Bureau and Shura Council. The youths object to the culture of “secrecy” that still characterises Brotherhood decision-making and argue that a transitional committee headed by former guide Muhammad Mahdi Akef be appointed to manage the movement’s affairs until a new leadership is chosen.
There is also dissent within the established leadership.

Conservatives and reformers have been arguing over an article in the movement’s manifesto banning Coptic Christians and women from standing for president. This has been partially resolved with a compromise: Coptic men could contest but not women of any faith. The debate has alienated younger female and male members of the Brotherhood.

Egypt’s second oldest political organisation, the Brotherhood was founded in 1928 as a political, anti-colonial and welfare movement. Still excluded from recognition as a political movement by a law banning parties based on religion, the Brotherhood is said to command the support of 20 per cent of Egyptians. But that figure is based on the 88 seats in the 444-member parliament won by Brotherhood-backed independent candidates in the 2005 election.

If the ban on religious parties is lifted and a genuine multi-party system is in place, analysts predict the movement could be cut down to size, particularly since the Brotherhood – which plans to form a party called “Freedom and Justice” – could face competition from other Muslim entities.

The moderate Wasat party has already registered while fresh breakaway Brotherhood factions can be expected to emerge due to greater political freedom.

Since the fall of president Hosni Mubarak on February 11th, the Brotherhood has played its cards close to its chest, seeking to antagonise neither the military, which took power, nor the democracy movement.

Outlawed but tolerated under Mr Mubarak, the Brotherhood has tried to make itself a legitimate partner in the reform process. Its leadership has adopted a modest profile, pledging not to field a candidate in the coming presidential election and not to seek a parliamentary majority or plurality. The generals have encouraged this strategy: a panel of legal experts who drafted amendments to the constitution was chaired by a sym- pathetic jurist and included a member of the movement. Ten fundamentalist television channels, closed down last year, have begun broadcasting again.

Attempting to place the Brotherhood in the centre of the region’s revolutionary ferment, Brotherhood spokesman Essam el-Erian has urged Libyan protesters to continue their struggle to topple their leader Muammar Gadafy and called on the Egyptian government to aid the Libyan people.

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