In a few hours of now, the Muslim Brotherhood will announce the name of its new guide, who will follow its current leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, to lead the organization for the next six years. It will thus let the Muslim Brotherhood end a period of noisy debate about the changes that have taken place in the group’s leadership body (Guidance Bureau), which led to the exclusion of some members and the election of others in their place.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood conducts its organizational activities according to the group’s by-laws and founding system, the personality of its Supreme Guide is usually of concern to the media and political elites. This is because he is the face of the Muslim Brotherhood and represents it at events and activities, in which it takes part. After his election, the Supreme Guide also enjoys elevated status among his colleagues, while his opinion is decisive in matters of tie votes before the Guidance Bureau.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been much criticized and attacked because of what has taken place in recent weeks. First, Akef announced that he would not run for another term heading the group’s Guidance Bureau. Then, there were elections for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council, after which members for the Guidance Bureau were selected. It was said the elections were not fair, and that a faction took voters in the direction of excluding reforms from that leadership body, which is controlled by hard-liners. However, in the end, all of the signs confirm that the Muslim Brotherhood is getting ready to take part in force in the coming parliamentary elections, scheduled for this fall. These polls are of considerable import, since the Parliament that is formed afterward will be a party to the presidential elections, scheduled for 2011. Those who want to run for the presidency must receive a “quota” of MPs’ votes to be sound candidates. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood was one of the most important factors in the controversies, commotions and battles that have erupted in sessions of the Egyptian Parliament in the last five years. Certainly, the ruling National Democratic Party does not want to repeat this experience, and will try to reduce the number of Muslim Brotherhood MPs in the next legislature.
Some opponents of the Brotherhood have said repeatedly that the hardliners who control the group’s leadership, and the new Supreme Guide is among them, will focus on organizational work, and that they are unenthusiastic about involvement in public political action. However, predicting this ignores a number of aspects of the Egyptian political scene and the nature of conditions inside the Muslim Brotherhood. Those who review the group’s history become convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood usually does not squander or over-react with regard to the “space” it has staked out for itself, unless it is forced to. When the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition parties boycotted the 1990 election round, in protest at the electoral system and measures, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership greatly regretted its decision later on, decided that it had erred and acknowledged that participation in any political activity became a necessity for the Muslim Brotherhood, even if it did not experience victory.
The Muslim Brotherhood has been skilled in using each electoral round, in which it has taken part, to achieve a media and political presence, whatever the number of candidates it fielded in any elections, and whatever the eventual result. We should note that in recent weeks, the Muslim Brotherhood has experienced things, from which the majority of Egyptian political parties have suffered in the past, since there have been struggles over leadership posts by these parties’ leading members, and some of these struggles have seen people do battle with their fists, or with Molotov cocktails. Whatever part of the political spectrum they represent, Egyptian opposition parties have suffered from the lack of democracy internally, meaning a contradiction between their political rhetoric, when they call for democracy to implemented throughout the country, or when they accuse the ruling NDP of failing to do so.
In general, there have been no indications about the divisions over a new Supreme Guide, even after the resignation of the former Deputy Supreme Guide, Dr. Mohammed Habib. The coming elections will be an important juncture for the Muslim Brotherhood, and an opportunity for it to demonstrate whether recent developments inside the group have been meant to re-elect the same Supreme Guide, or activate the organization as it re-groups, around a new leader.