Defying leadership, Brotherhood youth form new party

A group of young Muslim Brotherhood members announced the formation of their own political party on Tuesday, separate from the Brotherhood’s recently created Freedom and Justice Party, in a defiant act that is expected to deepen the generational rift within the 83-year-old organization.

The party “stresses the main Egyptian current that the great majority of Egyptians belong to. The party is distinguished by its civil and democratic nature. It takes pride in its idenity. It is open to the other. Morals, values and religious principles play a role in regulating its perfomance,” read a statement posted by one of the founders on Facebook.

Unlike most other Islamist parties, the manifesto of Hizb Al-Tayyar Al-Masry (meaning Egyptian Current Party) does not mention Islamic sharia as its frame of reference; it only refers to the Arab Islamic civilization. “We cannot refer to the Islamic sharia because this is not an Islamist party, and it is not a party for the Muslim Brotherhood youth,” said Mohamed Shams, a 24-year-old co-founder of the party. “Not all founders belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The statement also envisions a larger role for young people. “We want the party to express the spirit of the revolution, which means we want most of its leaders to be young,” said Mohamed Affan, a 30-year-old brother and a co-founder of the party.

Affan is one of many young Muslim Brothers who have become outspoken recently in their criticism of the group’s leadership. They have, on several occasions, expressed disenchantment with their generation’s marginalization inside the Brotherhood’s highest power structures.

They have also expressed vehement opposition to the group’s official party, arguing that it failed to ensure a full separation between the Muslim Brotherhood’s proselytizing and political activities.

Speaking last month to Al-Masry Al-Youm, Affan said: “The feuds between the youth and the group’s leadership have almost reached a deadlock. Now we are thinking of creating some independent entity of our own.”

At least 150 founders, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood youth, stand behind this would-be party, said Affan. As to the rest, they have different backgrounds.

According to Mahmound Hussein, the secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood, the group’s leadership was aware of this move two weeks ago. He said that the young members involved will be questioned by their immediate leaders for violating the group’s policies.

“The group had decided that no member can join any party [other than the group’s official one],” he said, downplaying the notion that those involved might have influence on other young Brothers, arguing that they represent a small minority of the group's young membership.

The questioning of those involved might be a prelude to their dismissal from the group.

“Nobody can strip me of my membership of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Sameh al-Barqy, a 37-year-old Brother. ”I have been part of the group for 19 years and I hope I'm still a Brother when I die."

To its members, the Muslim Brotherhood is not just a political entity. The group serves almost as a parallel society through which members identify themselves. They grow up, make friends, get married and find jobs in a Muslim Brotherhood environment, according to experts. Hence, severing ties with the group is a tough challenge.

Barky added that there is no way he could join the group’s Freedom and Justice Party, which was officially recognized in early June.

“With due respect to the Freedom and Justice Party, it does not satisfy me and does not meet my ambitions,” said Barqy, citing the party’s lack of independence.

The Muslim Brotherhood has said repeatedly that the Freedom and Justice Party would be fully independent from the group’s other bodies. However, many critics have rejected this claim, especially since the group’s Shura Council selected the party’s president, vice-president and secretary general and decided on the maximum number of seats the party would run for in the upcoming parliamentary poll.

“How could it be an independent party if it cannot nominate its parliamentary candidates or specify the number of seats it will run for?” Barqy said.

In the meantime, Barqy denies that the launch of the new party is a reaction to the group’s practices. “We have been working on it for the last two months. We felt there was a need in society for such a party,” he said, adding that not all founders belong to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In the meantime, these young islamists remain cautious not to sever their ties with their leaders.

“We respect the group and its leaders. Our disagreement does not undermine this respect. We hope [the group] will show understanding of this initiative,” said Affan.

The announcement of the creation of the Egyptian Current Party came two days after the group’s Shura Council expelled prominent reformist leader Moneim Abouel Fotouh for declaring that he would run for president. Although he said that he would run as an independent, the group viewed his announcement as a defiance of its decision not to field any presidential candidates.

His expulsion was resented by many young Brothers, including many of those involved in founding the Egyptian Current Party.

According to Diaa Rashwan, an expert with Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, such a split comes as no surprise.

“I personally expected this split from day one of the revolution,” said Rashwan. “A lot of parties are expected to come out of the Islamic movement in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular.”

“Before a revolution, political movements are usually contained because of pressures from the regime, but when the transition to democracy starts, these pressures fade away,” he said.

Eventually, members who hold divergent views begin to form their own entities, he added.

Experts hold that the Muslim Brotherhood has been an umbrella for divergent schools of thought, ranging from Salafi fundamentalism to liberal Islamism. But as threats of a systematic crackdown – which had long forced the group to sideline conflicting ideological differences in the name of cohesion – continue to diminish, internal disputes have come to the fore.

The Egyptian Current Party is the second rebellious party to emanate from the Muslim Brotherhood. In March, Ibrahim al-Zaafarani, a former member of the Shura Council, resigned from the group and announced the formation of the Renaissance Party.

For Rashwan, more parties are yet to arise from this colossal organization.

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