Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1276, (31 December 2015 - 6 January 2016))

Ahram Weekly

Splits within the Brotherhood

The current splits within the Muslim Brotherhood group have been turning increasingly ugly, writes Khaled Dawoud

Al-Ahram Weekly

An interview on 14 December by a leading Muslim Brotherhood figure, Mahmoud Hussein, in which he confirmed that he would continue to serve as the group’s secretary-general, has triggered an unprecedented wave of mutual accusations among its ranks and leaders, resignations, the declaration of two spokesmen, and the launch of two different websites each claiming to represent “the Brotherhood’s legitimate decision-making leadership”.

Reports on splits within Egypt’s, and the region’s, largest political Islam group have been rife since the removal of former president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi from power on 3 July 2013, mainly over the group’s strategy in fighting what it describes as a “military coup”, the level of violence that should be involved, the process of decision-making, and the presence in the group of a clear generational gap.

Yet, divisions in the group before have never been so public, and ugly, as the case has been in recent weeks, leading to initiatives by members of the group to “halt the war of statements” and to restore its unity ahead of the fifth anniversary of the 25 January Revolution in which the group has threatened to escalate its confrontation with the regime. Nevertheless, a few experts still expect a major split that will diminish its long-term existence, as some of its sharpest critics have hoped for.

With the arrest of thousands of Brotherhood members, including the group’s top leaders guide Mohamed Badie, his deputy Khairat Al-Shatter, Essam Erian, Mohamed Al-Beltagui and many others, and hundreds fleeing the country to either Qatar or Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood announced in February 2014 that it was holding internal elections to choose an interim leadership to run its affairs inside Egypt.

The so-called “Supreme Administrative Committee” is reportedly led by Mohamed Kamal, a member of the Brotherhood’s Guidance Office, the group’s highest decision-making body. The 14 members of the Guidance Office are elected by its Shura Council, the second most important institution within the group, and made up of 150 elected delegates.

According to Brotherhood rules, Badie’s deputy Mahmoud Ezzat, now at large in an unknown country, is the de facto leader of the group, together with two deputies who are in the UK and Turkey and Hussein, the secretary-general, who is also in Turkey.

However, the Administrative Committee has repeatedly struggled since its formation to be recognised as the real decision-making body, saying that its members are the ones who have paid the highest price on the ground and have been either killed in clashes with the police or arrested for long periods under tough conditions.

Thus, Ezzat, his deputies and Hussein have been sidelined and are now considered among the group’s “old guard” who have been accused by the younger generations of responsibility for the group’s failures, including losing the presidency and the unprecedented influence they enjoyed for the one year when Morsi was in office.

Shortly after its formation, the Egypt-based Administrative Committee announced the appointment of a new spokesman, Mohamed Montasser, who declared that this was not his real name and that he was hiding his true identity to avoid arrest. Montasser had repeatedly stated that Hussein was no longer serving as the Brotherhood’s secretary-general and that the internal leadership had elected an alternative one.

However, on the same day Hussein gave his interview to the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV channel in which he insisted that he remained the elected secretary-general of the group, an official Brotherhood statement announced the appointment of a new spokesman, Talaat Fahmy, and the dismissal of Montasser.

The statement claimed that Montasser had violated internal regulations and delivered statements to the media without authorisation from the leadership. The London-based office also declared that a new website would be launched, the Ikhwan Site, in which the group’s official statements would be released.

The more popular website, Ikhwan Online, had declared its loyalty to the Administrative Committee and had refused to publish the statement announcing Montasser’s removal.

The Administrative Committee also released its own statement on 15 December, insisting that Montasser remained the group’s spokesman and Ezzat the acting guide and that Hussein had no authority to take decisions without referring to the leadership inside Egypt.

In an interview with Al-Jazeera, Montasser said that elections to a new Guidance Office and Shura Council should have taken place at least a year ago, as the current leadership had been elected for four years in 2010. However, Hussein had insisted that the security crackdown in Egypt had made it impossible to hold new elections and that the current leadership was entitled to remain in place.

Over its long history dating back to 1928, the Brotherhood has gone through many ups and downs and several bloody confrontations with consecutive governments. The group’s founder, Hassan Al-Banna, was assassinated in 1949 after members of the group murdered a former prime minister, leading to a split within the group over the legitimacy of the use of violence.

In the 1950s and 1960s, late president Gamal Abdel-Nasser cracked down harshly on the group, executing several top leaders including ideologue Sayed Qotb and arresting thousands. Following his death, his successor, Anwar Al-Sadat, wanted to diminish the influence of leftist groups in Egypt and released Brotherhood leaders and allowed them to play a public role though without recognising them as members of a legitimate group.

Former president Hosni Mubarak, ousted in February 2011 after 30 years in office, maintained Al-Sadat’s policy and allowed the Brotherhood to run for syndicate elections and parliament and to run its own often lucrative businesses, but without official recognition and while conducting regular arrests of its top leaders whenever they crossed certain red lines.

Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University, warned of the consequences of allowing the Brotherhood to disintegrate. He said that it was obvious that the bloody confrontation between the security agencies and Brotherhood members since Morsi’s removal two-and-a-half years ago had led more young members to become more radical and to justify violence against the regime.

“The alternative for Brotherhood members who are angry at the old, conservative leadership of the group is the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq,” known as Daesh in Arabic, he said. The Al-Shorouk daily also published a report in late December stating that more young Brotherhood members were travelling to Syria to join the war against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad under the IS banner.

“There are no wise people in either camp, the Brotherhood leadership, or the security agencies,” Nafaa said. “Each side is pushing the confrontation to extremes, and this is only making the situation worse,” he added.

Following the statement released by the Brotherhood in London announcing the dismissal of Montasser and saying that Hussein remained the group’s secretary-general, separate statements came out from at least 11 branches in different governorates in Egypt, including Cairo, Alexandria and Ben Sweif, declaring that they rejected the decisions and that they remained loyal to the Administrative Committee inside Egypt.

However, the remaining 17 branches in Egypt’s 27 governorates either issued counter-statements confirming loyalty to the acting guide or remaining silent.

“The Muslim Brotherhood in Beni Sweif renews its allegiance to God and to the Brotherhood’s Supreme Administrative Committee inside Egypt and remains committed to jihad and resistance until the 25 January Revolution fulfils all its goals,” said the statement issued by the group’s branch in the southern governorate, echoing similar views expressed by group members, especially on social media.

Amr Farag, known as the young Muslim Brotherhood leader who launched one of its key media websites, Rasd, wrote a bitter tweet in which accused the old leadership of betraying the many sacrifices made by the group’s young leaders inside Egypt since Morsi’s removal.

“Mahmoud Ezzat’s group fired today some of the Brotherhood’s best young people who offered their lives for the cause only because they differed with Ezzat and Mahmoud Hussein,” Farag said. Referring to Montasser, he said the young people had been fired by the official leadership “because they insisted that the group should be run in an institutional manner based on elections, because they refused to allow those responsible for the downfall of Morsi and the massacres of Rabaa and the Presidential Guard to control their destiny, and because they recognised that whatever has been taken by force cannot be restored except by force,” he added.

Ahmed Ban, a former Brotherhood member and expert on the Political Islam groups, believes the current exchange of accusations between different wings within the Brotherhood is linked to the upcoming anniversary of the 25 January Revolution.

“Many young people in the group believe they need to escalate the confrontation with the regime and find it legitimate to use violence,” Ban said. “The old guard are, of course, more cautious and are worried about the consequences of increasing the use of violence against the state,” he added.

However, Azzam Al-Tamimi, a London-based Islamist known for his close contacts with the Brotherhood, downplayed the obvious splits and exchange of accusations among the leaders of the group. He noted that the Brotherhood was a huge organisation with branches all over the world and that even if a few hundred of its members split and decided to form their own group that would not weaken the larger group.

“The Brotherhood is here to stay, and it has gone through much worse times in its history,” he wrote in an article published on the Brotherhood’s website.

Meanwhile, 44 former members of parliament who belonged to the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party released a statement last week announcing a mediation initiative aimed at restoring the group’s unity.

Led by former MP Gamal Heshmat, the MPs said new elections should be held soon to pick a new Guidance Office and Shura Council and that all sides should cease discussing the group’s affairs in public.

However, it is unlikely that such an initiative will halt the existing differences within the group while all sides await the upcoming anniversary of the 25 January Revolution to assess the credibility of threats by young Brotherhood members to escalate their confrontation against the regime.

If such threats prove hollow, as they have on many previous occasions, the conservative camp within the Brotherhood is likely to strengthen its grip on the group and exclude the younger leaders, experts said.

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