Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1306, (4 - 10 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

‘A cantankerous dotage’

 Ahmed Eleiba sifts through evidence of the Muslim Brotherhood’s decline into decrepitude

Al-Ahram Weekly

The structural fissures rocking the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere have brought the future of the movement into question. Internal disputes and rifts, from Egypt to Sudan to Jordan, are not just a manifestation of developments in the relationship between the movement and the governments in the countries where it operates but also of the changing dynamics within the Brotherhood’s rank and file. Less clear is the impact of the erosion, since July 2013, of the Brotherhood’s grassroots base.

The quarrelling is at its fiercest in Egypt where it has reached the stage of moral and ethical imputations against the leadership. It is epitomised by the propaganda war being waged by leading Brotherhood figure Haitham Abu Khalil and by the bandying of charges of spying for Western intelligence agencies. Anas Hassan, the Brotherhood figure who founded the Rasd (Monitor) network, wrote late last year: “[As for] the London Muslim Brotherhood, all branches and even adversaries of which British intelligence has encompassed in its attempts to study and recruit them, the man sitting on the throne is Ibrahim Mounir. You will probably find a British intelligence microphone inside his jacket. This does not necessarily mean he is an informer. It is enough for them to be able to manage emotions and shape responses.”

Hassan continues: “Movement in the London [Brotherhood] leadership started only after British intelligence began to investigate whether the Muslin Brotherhood should be labelled a terrorist group. At that point the London office acted to control the volatile situation in Egypt… It is a repositioning process, not just to restore respect for the old generation but to enforce the framework and boundaries of the international organisation which cannot brook transgression. Being ranked as a terrorist group will spell prison for the lucky ones in London whose elegant British armchairs have made them forget the roughness of the prisons of the 1950s and 1960s.”

Hassan is a member of the camp opposed to the Brotherhood’s old guard, a position he has begun to make public.

The crisis gripping the group in Egypt, embodied by the face-off between the Mohamed Kamal/Mohamed Muntasser and the Mahmoud Ezzat/Mahmoud Hussein fronts, is multifaceted. It is an internal power and a generational conflict that exploded into the open when the flaws of the leadership were exposed to the Brotherhood’s rank and file.

According to a leading member of the group’s younger cadres “it started with Rabaa Al-Adaweya”.

“This marked the beginning of the splitting of ranks. We asked [the Brotherhood’s  mufti] Abdel-Rahman Al-Barr, during a meeting in the Rabaa Al-Adaweya Mosque, to hold the leaders of the group’s Guidance Bureau and Shura Council responsible for the collapse of the organisation. We insisted that they should not only be expelled but held accountable for their mistakes. Al-Barr rejected our demands on the grounds they would only sow strife at a time of crisis.”

Tensions are mounting within the Brotherhood organisation, in Egypt and elsewhere, just as the group’s internal elections are approaching. Many former Brotherhood leaders and experts on the group now believe the divisions are too deep to contain. Ibrahim Al-Zafrani, a member of the Brotherhood’s Shura Council who resigned three months after the outbreak of the 25 January revolution, is among those anticipating a schism.

The group’s internal crisis has spilled over into Sudan. Mahmoud Ezzat, the Muslim Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide who still controls a great deal of money has been using it to pressure many Egyptian Brothers, most of them from the younger generation that fled to Sudan, to support his own camp.

An estimated 300 young Brothers and a number of the organisation’s old guard are reported to be active in Sudan. According to news relayed via the social networking pages of younger members of the organisation the majority of the old guard in Sudan support Ezzat while younger rank and file members oppose his perpetuation in power and insist on elections.

Ezzeddin Dweidar, a Brotherhood member in Sudan, wrote on his Facebook page: “The crisis has now reached Sudan. There are many members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are unaware of the major leadership crisis in the group. There is an ongoing conflict between leaders currently in Sudan and former leadership figures. The two sides have the same psychological makeup, even if their rhetoric differs and some of them parade beneath the banner of change and youth. Both sides are good at playing their cards and using every situation to promote themselves.”

Sources in Sudan allied with the Ezzat front claim that it is the dissidents who have fabricated a crisis only to escalate it.

 The Sudanese chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood is showing the same factional leadership struggles as its Egyptian counterpart. Nabil Abdel-Fattah, editor-in-chief of Al-Hala Al-Diniya (the State of Religion), published by Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, says the symptoms in Sudan are the same as in Egypt though the crisis has been deferred owing to the death of the Sudanese movement’s pioneer, Hassan Al-Turabi, a few months ago. The crisis is complicated by the movement’s relationship to the governing authorities and the ruling National Congress Party. Abdel-Fattah says there is controversy over Al-Turabi’s ideological legacy and how to manage the post-Turabi phase, with Al-Turabi supporters at loggerheads with those who had kept their opposition to him muted out of respect while he was still alive but who are now free of such constraints. 

The Sudanese chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood may have emerged in tandem with the group in Egypt but it was never merely a branch of the Egyptian organisation. Al-Turabi confirmed this in an interview I conducted with him in 2013. The organisation has sustained waves of schisms since it appeared as an actor on the Khartoum political stage in the 1950s. It experienced divisions in the 1960s and in the 1980s a splinter faction created a rival Brotherhood group.

While there were no formal organisational links between the Sudanese and Egyptian chapters the two have certainly influenced each other. The Sudanese Brotherhood, after all, was the first Islamist movement to come to power in the Arab region, a fact that weighed heavy on its Egyptian counterpart.

In Jordan relations between the Brotherhood and the government in Amman may be strained but this cannot cover the fact that the group is facing internal difficulties.  When a group of Jordanian Brotherhood leaders received government notification instructing them that henceforth their organisation would be subordinate to the Ministry of Political Development a heated controversy began which included bouts of mutual recrimination between the Executive Bureau, accused of “intransigence”, and the group that proceeded to secure a new license for the organisation, who were accused of “conducting a coup” against the Brotherhood’s leadership.

The Jordanian Executive Bureau, headed by Himam Said, was accused of attempting to eliminate opposing factions, of establishing a “secret” wing, falsifying elections and purchasing votes. The charges are reminiscent of those directed against the group in Turkey where Mahmoud Hussein has been accused of using group funds to bolster support for the Ezzat camp.

A mid-ranking Brotherhood official in Egypt asserts that a secret wing also operates in Egypt. Many believe it is led by Ezzat, and its sole purpose is to perpetuate Ezzat’s control. Whether it can succeed is a moot point given that most of the mid-tier leaders have not only relinquished their support for Ezzat but regard him as a major cause of the Brotherhood’s current crisis.

Nine decades after its birth of the group’s hierarchical and organisational structures in several Arab countries are on the verge of collapse.  It appears that the Brotherhood, for long too rigid to inject new blood into its leadership, has entered a cantankerous dotage.

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