Muslim Brotherhood elects a low profile leader

Following months of internal squabbles, Egypt’s main opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, announced that Mohamed Badie, a conservative figure, was elected as its new leader, his predecessor told a news conference on Saturday.

Badie, a veterinary professor at the University of Beni Suef in southern Egypt, was "chosen by consensus by members of the Shura (consultative) council," the outgoing General Guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef told reporters.

Badie, 67, received the majority of votes during last month’s Guidance Bureau’s elections, however his official announcement as the group’s eighth general guide was pending consultations with MB leaders in other Muslim countries, a condition stipulated by the organization’s internal procedures.

During the press conference, Badei, who is largely unknown among Egypt’s political and media circles, renewed the Brotherhood’s commitment for “gradualism in political reform.”

“The Brothers will remain devoted to their principles of gradually reforming political structures in a peaceful and constitutional manner which is based on persuasion and dialogue,” Badei said. “All forms of violence, which is practiced by governments, organizations, institutions and individuals, are utterly rejected and condemned by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

Badie’s election to the highest executive post of the MB is viewed by many analysts as another proof that the conservative camp has managed to tighten its grip over the group’s organizational structures and decision-making bodies.

“Badie is a part and parcel of the 1965 Group which has been spreading its control over the group,” said Ashraf el-Sherif, an expert on political Islam and lecturer at the American University in Cairo.

Unlike his predecessor, el-Sherif explained, the newly elected guide is “enrooted in the tradition of political isolationism, and he is more inclined to preserve the group’s compact organization and its ideological purity.”

He added that Badei is “likely to be run by the conservative wing.” “Although the MB’s constitution bestows overreaching powers in the hands of the general guide, but Badei’s decency, non-confrontational personality, and political inexperience will render him less influential than his predecessors,” el-Sherif added.

In the Brotherhood’s literature, the 1965 Group refer to those MB members who were jailed with the group’s historical figure, Sayyid Qutb, in August 1965, on charges of attempting to forcibly overthrow the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s regime.

Qutb is usually hailed as the father of Islamic extremism with his doctrine of denying religiosity of modern Muslim societies, thus calling for their transformations by an Islamic vanguard through violent revolution.

However, current members of the 1965 group have long denounced violence, clinging instead to Qutb’s organizational teachings of a highly disciplined and hierarchical structure where rank and file members are infused with the principles of secrecy, loyalty and unequivocal obedience.

Badei’s resume clearly testifies to his inexperience in politics and media.

According to the official Brotherhood website, Badie, who received his Ph.D in Veterinary Medicine in 1979, was first elected to the Guidance Bureau in 1996, two years after he was appointed head of the Education Division of the group, an important position supervising the mechanisms and criteria through which new members are recruited and scrutinized.

Aside from participating in the Veterinary Syndicate’s elections for two terms, he never run for municipal and parliamentary elections. Egyptian media reported last week that some senior leaders within the international branch of the Brotherhood opposed Badei’s selection “for being an unfamiliar figure to the majority of them.”

Badei’s media appearance is rare as well.

Last April, he was interviewed by the group’s website where he described pigs “as God’s most villainous creatures”, condoning the government’s decision to slaughter hundreds of thousands of pigs, kept by Christian farmers, amid a wave of national hysteria about Swine Flu.

Badei’s immediate challenge will be overcoming the internal differences which have recently hit Egypt’s 81-year-old most organized opposition movement.

“The new guide will bear the responsibility of improving and upgrading the Brotherhood’s internal procedures,” Essam El-Erian, the only reformist figure within the Guidance Bureau, told Al Masry Al Youm.

A similar concern was also expressed by Akef, the group’s first ever leader to step down, in today’s conference.

The heightened debate over the group’s internal procedures largely transpired following the emergence of new leaders who lack the historical charisma and clout of past leaders.

Political Analyst Ibrahim Al-Houdaiby recently wrote that the MB’s new guide “will not enjoy the same historical legitimacy as Akef, who joined the Brotherhood at an early stage and worked with its founder, Hassan al-Banna.” New generation of leaders “lacks the gravitas of Akef and his predecessors, which helped them resolve or at least postpone some organizational disputes,” wrote Al-Houdaiby, who is also the grandson of Ma’amoun Al-Houdaiby, the MB’s sixth guide (2002-2004).

Last month, the MB revealed for the first time its internal procedures which have long been kept secret but for senior members, a condition which sometimes contributed to inefficient crisis management mechanism.

“The internal procedures are highly vague and open to all sorts of interpretations,” El-Sherif noted.

A dramatic shift in the group’s strategies and tactics is highly unexpected in the near future.

The newly elected guide abstained from clarifying the MB’s political strategy towards the ruling regime in a crucial moment of Egypt’s history where a transfer of presidential power in two years, is a widely anticipated scenario.

“The Brothers have never been antagonistic to the ruling regime, even when their members are routinely arrested and their properties confiscated,” Badei said in the press conference. “We will remain devoted to expose the corrupt and present our advice.”

El-Erian also confirmed that there “will not be any change of strategy.”

“Badei’s elections will only affect the group’s internal dynamics,” said el-Sherif. He added that the MB will pursue an active political engagement approach by participating in all local and national elections. “All currents within the organization have a consensus that political participation is essential in protecting the MB’s proselytizing mission especially that they have been hugly investing in politics in the last three decades.”

“The logistics of political participation, how many candidates will they present in the 2010 parliamentary elections, and whether they are going to back a specific presidential nominee will highly depend on the state’s approach to them,” el-Sherif explained.

For the past several years, the government has undertaken a wide-ranging crackdown against the group, which holds a fifth of parliament’s seats, jailing members across the country and banning others from running in local or national elections.

The group is widely expected to lose many of its parliamentary seats in next year’s legislative elections.

The Brotherhood has gained popularity through a network of schools, clinics and other social services known for being far more efficient than their state-run equivalents.

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