By Dr. Mohammed Zahid
The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is facing numerous dilemmas and challenges post-revolution, in particular stemming from the strained relationship between various factions in the movement, which have become more apparent in a more open political environment in Egypt. Also, the movement has been trying to venture out into new territory by trying to improve relations with the Egyptian military to strengthen its role in a future Egypt.
The youth in the movement encouraged by the removal of the Egyptian regime have demanded more reforms in the movement, which has led to confrontation with the MB leadership, which has been reluctant to entertain any changes that would result in a weakening of control over the movement.
The youth element have held a number of demonstrations at University campuses demanding changes, and as a result of growing pressure, the leadership has had to undergo consultation with the youth leadership, promising internal reforms and more voice for the youth in the movement. However, the youth have not been convinced by what has been promised as a result have vowed to continue with their pressure from outside, through protests until they are able to exercise a say in the movement, which so far has remained closed to voices from outside the conservative leadership which has taken control over the movement.
The pragmatists in the movement have been eager for the movement to take advantage of the new political environment in Egypt and to form a new party to push the movement’s agenda. The conservative leadership has been reluctant to engage in such a discussion, given that it fears the conversion of the movement into a political party. Given pressure for this to materialize from the pragmatists and the youth, the conservative leadership have had to entertain this discussion, leading to the formation of the Freedom and Justice Party, a similar model to the political wing of the movement in Jordan.
However, this proposal led to much internal friction, given that the pragmatists wanted a much more progressive political manifesto than the one presented by the leadership and that the main positions in the party were taken up by people on the movements executive leadership, comprised of conservatives or people close to the conservative leadership. This has led to much criticism of the leadership by the pragmatists and youth, who believe that the leadership is not willing to allow a political entity to be formed that is independent from their influence and control. And that the appointment of people in the political party, without a clear selection process and without consultation in the consultative chambers of the movement is further evidence of the growing suffocation of alternative voices in the movement.
The leadership has reacted by arguing that the political party will be independent from the leadership and will act in accordance to the wishes of the movement and its political aspirations. They have argued that those appointed are the most politically experienced members in the movement given their involvement in previous Egyptian parliaments. Also to appease the pragmatists they have said that the political party is open to engage and dialogue with all Egyptian political parties, regardless of ideology or creed. However, this has not done much to quite the tensions inside the movement, with many pragmatists leaving the movement and working to create an alternative political party to rival the movement.
This development has not been of much concern to the movement, as the number of members that have left have been incremental and not much to present a significant challenge to the movement. In 1996, members of the movement left to form the Al Wasat party, which recently achieved legality after the revolution, but has not been able to put up any significant resistance to the movement, given that it lacks the social infrastructure, which the MB has been able to effectively apply throughout Egypt. Therefore, it is likely more members might leave as a result of this confrontation with the leadership; however, the movement as whole is likely to persist and the doomsday scenario of the movement melting in a new Egypt is unlikely given that internal tensions have been persistent in the movement for decades and the movement has learned to manage such situations and continue in its work.
The movement and the Egyptian military have had a history with one another, with Hasan al Banna, the father of the movement, in regular contact with the military prior to the 1952 revolution and links with the military continuing throughout the Sadat period, until the advent of the President Mubarak, who divorced all Islamists links from the Egyptian military. However the MB leadership have been eager to revive links between the two and have been active in meeting with the military leadership to present the movement’s vision for Egypt and on a weekly basis the movement sends its solutions to fundamental socio-economic problems to the military, so that the movement is able to cement a relationship with the military. The military has not made any public statement in favor of the movement, but at the same time has not sidelined the movement in a new Egypt.
This has led to much criticism from secular quarters who demand the military distance itself from the movement, to maintain the secular character of Egypt, but so far the military has been happy to continue with its secretive meetings with the movement, more of a means to understand what the movement intends for Egypt than a conversion to MB doctrine. The MB is aware of the strength the military holds in Egypt and that for it to have a political role in Egypt, it must work to forge a relationship with the military as it did in the past, but is fully aware that the military could dispense of them, as they did in the past post revolution 1952.
These are interesting times for the movement, which is working to contain internal pressures and challenges and at the same time adventure into new territory, of trying to ferment good relations with the military in Egypt, which has not gone down well with everyone in the movement, who see the priority being the political opposition and not the military. However, the leadership has different views, believing that to protect the movement in the future, it needs to make and develop contacts with the military rather than the opposition, which are viewed by the conservative leadership to be more of a liability than an asset to the movement’s political ambitions in Egypt.
Dr. Mohammed Zahid is an academic in Middle East politics, with a special focus on North Africa and Islamic movements. He has published widely in peer reviewed journals and provided consultation to a a number of governmental bodies and private institutions.