Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1300, (16 - 22 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Mixed messages

A letter believed to have been posted by Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahmoud Ezzat shows a group in the midst of a meltdown, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

A letter posted on the Internet and attributed to Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahmoud Ezzat has triggered controversy within the group’s ranks. The Brotherhood are now believed to be in disarray after security clampdowns destroyed most of group’s structures and hierarchy.

Eighty-three per cent of the group’s leaders and senior administrative officers are in prison, six per cent have died and the vast majority of the remaining 11 per cent are abroad, according to a study conducted this month by the Security Studies Unit of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

The controversy is a reflection of the confused and contradictory nature of the messages and recommendations the letter contains. It exhorted members to “unify ranks,” an allusion to divisions between the Brotherhood’s Higher Administrative Committee (HAC) and the faction led by Ezzat. The HAC includes many leading members of the middle and younger generations who feel they were betrayed by Ezzat’s generation, which oversaw the year of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt.

According to a source who took part in the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in three years ago, the internal crisis erupted into the open when young Brothers demanded that members of the Guidance Bureau be prosecuted.

In response Ibrahim Mounir, deputy supreme guide, head of the Brotherhood’s London bureau and a member of the Ezzat camp, issued a decree freezing the membership of a number of Brotherhood leaders abroad. They included former ministers Amr Darrag and Yahya Hamed; Brotherhood Shura Council member and head of the group’s administrative office abroad Ahmed Abdel Rahman; former MP Abdel Gaffer Salehin and Ezz Al-Din Duweidar.

Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein refused to explain the reasoning behind the expulsions, while former MP Rida Fahmy accused the Ezzat front of driving the group to the abyss. HAC countered with a campaign of character assassination, accusing Ezzat, Hussein and other senior leaders of financial and administrative malpractice and authoritarianism.

As the dispute seethed initiatives were launched to reunite the group at home and abroad, including one by Sheikh Al-Qaradawi, the Brotherhood’s spiritual guide. They all failed in the face of Hussein’s insistence that the organisation’s bylaws demanded the expulsions.

Meanwhile, HAC head Mohamed Kamal resigned, saying it was time to clear the way for a younger generation of leaders. Ezzat and Hussein, together with other members of the old guard who between them hold the keys to all the group’s operations, refused to provide the upcoming generation with the details necessary for them to assume effective control, according to observers and sources within the Brotherhood. A new temporary alternative committee was created to manage Brotherhood affairs inside Egypt. It is run by Mohamed Abdel Rahman, under Ezzat’s supervision.

When the Foreign Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons convened a hearing on 7 June to discuss the operation of various political Islamist groups the Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide, Ibrahim Mounir, was among the figures called.

He told the committee that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has about a million members, 40 per cent of whom are women. A source in Cairo says Mounir’s figures were a wild exaggeration and the group’s active, due-paying members do not exceed 150,000.

Ezzat’s letter conveyed other messages, in addition to his appeal to unify ranks.

“The current battle between the group and the regime in Egypt is an episode in the conflict between right and wrong,” he wrote. He urged his supporters in the organisation “not to reduce the battle to resistance against the regime” and cautioned against “reducing the concept of victory to breaking [the regime]”.

Could this signal a new direction for the Muslim Brotherhood?

In an interview on a Brotherhood website, Ezzat said he does not believe that the group can defeat the regime in Egypt, though group leaders abroad will “sustain their actions at the level of international forums”. Most analysts interpret such “actions” as an attempt on the part of the group to reposition itself abroad at a time when it has fallen under suspicion in many countries.

This may, in part, explain another of Ezzat’s messages in which he itemises sources of strength: “The first strength is not muscle and weapons ... it is the force of creed and faith. Then comes unity and brotherhood ... muscle and weapons [come into play] when nothing else works.” This constitutes an admission that the use of arms remains an option.

Recent investigations revealed that two branches have been added to the group’s organisation. One is responsible for militant operations, which include burning police vehicles, blowing up electricity pylons, undermining transport infrastructure and killing policemen on the grounds that they are responsible for torturing and killing Brotherhood members.

During questioning, Brotherhood leader Mohamed Fahmy Moussa told investigators that this branch is probably controlled from an office in eastern Cairo and headed by Mohamed Kamal’s son. The second branch is responsible for mobilising and organising student demonstrations. Ezzat referred to this branch in his letter when he called on supporters to “participate in the peaceful revolutionary movement”.

Another message hints at Ezzat’s concern for discipline and hierarchy. “Rely only on the official statements issued by the leadership of the group and its official institutions,” he said.

In a related development, a number of video clips have been gaining circulation over the Internet. Some of them, such as those featuring Tareq Ramadan, grandson of the Brotherhood’s founder Hassan El-Banna, date from 2013 but have been enjoying renewed popularity.

They promote a discourse antithetical to that of Ezzat and the old guard. Ramadan, in his clips, criticises the group’s leaders, accusing them of being obsessed with securing power despite the fact they are ill equipped to rule. The MB in Egypt “failed to fathom the challenges and were unable to grasp the difference between [their situation and that of] their counterparts elsewhere,” Ramadan says in the video.

 Ramadan and others also picked up on the internal inconsistencies and ambiguities in Ezzat’s letter. Particularly difficult are such expressions as a “civil state with a religious frame of reference”, a subject that, incidentally, came up during last week’s session with the British Foreign Affairs Committee.

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