By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Former young leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) criticized the group’s decision to nominate former deputy supreme guide Khairat Al-Shater for president, announcing their support to one of his prominent rivals, Abdel Moneim Abol Fotoh, also a former Brotherhood leader.
Mohamed El-Qassas, sacked leader of the MB youth and leading member of El-Tayar El-Masry Party, highlighted “the hypocrisy” of the MB, which sacked Abol Fotoh for his decision to compete in the presidential race, while nominating Al-Shater less than a year later.
“The Brotherhood made a huge mistake nominating a candidate after sacking Abol Fotoh and taking extreme measures against him for doing the same thing as Al-Shater; run for president,” El-Qassas told Daily News Egypt.
He added that around 90 percent of his party, founded by several former members of the Brotherhood youth, support Abol Fotoh.
The presidential election nomination is only the latest in year-long developments that have been augmenting rifts within the group. The generational and political conflict is a reflection of old feuds that go back to times when the Brotherhood was till a banned group under the former regime.
El-Qassas and Mohamed Abbas were sacked along with other Brotherhood members for establishing Al-Tayar Al-Masry, and rejecting the notion that MB members are banned from joining a political party other than the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
Last July, the group expelled Abol Fotoh for violating its decision not to contest the next presidential polls. The group also took a series of extreme measures against members who supported Abol Fotoh.
Last September, MB member Mohamed Abdel-Karim was sacked from the group for attending a Ramadan Iftar held by Abol Fotoh. The membership of four others was frozen, including a member of the FJP’s executive bureau, implying that the group was adamant on proving its credibility and sticking to its vow not to field or support a presidential candidate from within the group.
A conservative revolution
However, the Brotherhood justified its change of heart earlier this week saying that the political scene had changed. It claimed that it was its responsibility to “safeguard the revolution’s objectives” by fielding a candidate.
This declaration didn’t sit well with critics and former members, who see the conservative nature of the group’s political discourse as a hurdle in fulfilling the demands of the Jan. 25 uprising. Chants in protests and marches over the past few months were directed against the Brotherhood as well as the ruling military council.
Abdel Rahman Ayash, former Brotherhood youth member who resigned following the January 25 uprising, said that the group had failed the revolutionaries long before they decided to nominate Al-Shater.
During the first day of the 2011 uprising, the MB, a banned group since 1954, participated in the mass protests “symbolically,” rather than rally its full force behind the demonstrations that called for “bread, freedom and social justice.”
When the mass protests gained irreversible momentum and thousands of peaceful protesters took over Tahrir Square, the Brotherhood decided to join what seemed like the beginnings of a successful revolt.
Even though the group’s organizational skills were credited for securing the iconic epicenter of the uprising, Tahrir Square, their stances prior to and after the uprising contributed to a widening rift between other leaders and participants of street action.
The rift was echoed within the group, with Abol Fotoh’s campaign creating an alternative for the members that felt the post-Jan. 25 policies of the group don’t correspond to its age-old values. The group’s animosity towards Abol Fotoh grew stronger by time.
Al-Shater vs. Abol Fotoh
The secretary-general of the FJP youth in Cairo, Salem Ramadan, said although Abol Fotoh is a “respectable figure,” the MB didn’t support him because he defied an important decision taken by the group’s Shoura Council.
“Abol Fotoh defied the group’s decision which is against the principles of any party or group, that’s why the MB didn’t support him and nominated Al-Shater instead,” Ramadan told DNE.
Yet, members that resigned say the animosity between the two runs deeper and extends beyond the developments of last year. The said that it all boiled down to an old feud between Abol Fotoh, the reformist, and the conservative leadership of the Brotherhood, represented in Al-Shater, who was released from jail after the uprising in 2011.
“Abol Fotoh was more progressive and open to dealing and cooperating with different parties, factions and ideologies, while Al-Shater represents the more conservative organizational side of the party, and this caused the feud that goes way back,” El-Qassas said.
“Sidelining Abol Fotoh was part of a bigger plan to sideline all those who oppose the leadership and its ideology,” he added.
The 2009 internal elections of the MB Guidance Office had highlighted wide ideological divisions between the group’s new and old guard. The conservative echelon dominated the polls back then.
In 2012, the council met repeatedly before announcing Al-Shater’s nomination.
In a meeting on March 31, Fifty-six members of the group’s Shoura Council voted in favor of Al-Shater’s nomination while 52 rejected it.
“Al-Shater has great influence on the group’s internal Shoura Council and Guidance Bureau allowing him to run for president, but on the public sphere, he won’ have the same influence,” Ayash said.
He said that Abol Fotoh attracted the support of many liberals, leftists and Islamists, while Al-Shater only had influence on the MB’s members, which he was now losing.
Ayash comes from a family of Brotherhood members, who were outraged by the group going back on its promise not to field a presidential candidate.
“Before nominating Al-Shater, my family was on the fence on supporting Abol Fotoh, after the announcement they are now hardline supporters of him,” he said.
He believed that the group’s announcement will push many other Brotherhood members towards supporting Abol Fotoh, in defiance of the group’s contradictory stance.
MB leader Kamal El-Helbawy resigned earlier his week on air on Al-Ashera Masa’an program on DreamTV, following the Brotherhood’s announcement to field Al-Shater.
He publicly criticized the group’s leadership and referred to the Brotherhood youth, saying that they were put in a difficult position, either to support Al-Shater against their better sense of judgment or resign.
On his part, Abbas said that nominating a wealthy businessman like Al-Shater would destroy the state which had suffered for decades from the dominance of corrupt businessmen affiliated with the former regime.
Abbas referred to the likes of former leading member of the fallen National Democratic Party and steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz, who is now on trial for money laundering and other corruption charges.
“Nominating Al-Shater for president is the perfect example of marriage between power and money and the dominance of businessmen which would destroy any state even if the businessman is honest,” he said.
On the other hand, Ramadan stressed that the group and the FJP’s youth were supportive of Al-Shater and asserted that his nomination was in the country’s best interest.
FJP head Mohamed Morsi had cited several reasons why the group changed its decision to field a presidential candidate, including the government’s refusal to heed to the parliament’s will and resign, threats to dismantle the parliament dominated by Islamists, the attack on the Constituent Assembly, and the nomination of former members of the corrupt regime.
However, this is doing very little to convince the sacked and resigned Brotherhood youth. They slammed the group’s “hunger for power” after dominating the parliament, the Constituent Assembly responsible for drafting the constitution, and now seeking to dominate the country’s rule.
“Having one group monopolize all authorities isn’t in the country’s best interest,” El-Qassas said.
Ayash voiced El-Qassas, saying that Egypt was greater than to be polarized by one group or party.