The Muslim Brotherhood’s rapid rise in 2005 has been matched by an unceremonious fall. In the process, a growing divide has been exposed between a younger generation of Brothers who wish to continue the perilous foray into representative politics and a new leadership, which prefers a return to the relative safety of the political sidelines. Faced with increasingly conservative leaders, the younger generation has taken to the blogosphere to make itself heard.
The Brotherhood remains officially banned in Egypt. Hundreds of members are imprisoned and round-ups continue. Indeed, the state certainly cannot be accused of complacency this time: electoral law reforms, the shutting down of Brother-owned businesses, and even a state television series depicting corruption in the Brotherhood aired throughout Ramadan, have clearly signaled its intent to prevent another embarrassment at the polls.
In the face of such a targeted campaign, the Brotherhood ‘old guard’ appeared to opt for survival over reform. The controversial January election of the conservative Mohamed Badei as its Supreme Guide, was a victory for conservatives seeking a less confrontational relationship with the state.
Crucially, Badei’s election also coincided with the acrimonious removal of younger ‘reformist’ elements. Reformers were left marginalised and without an influential voice through which to channel their desire for increased involvement in representative politics. Yet, while the leadership may have been effectively pacified by the state, neither have been able to stem the outpourings of an influential and rapidly expanding cadre of young bloggers. The blogs of young Brothers such as Abd El Moneim Mahmoud and Mustafa Naggar have mobilised what Khalil Al Anani has called a new generation that is openly challenging the organisation’s traditionally rigid structure and platform to advocate more openness and political engagement. In a society where ten to 24 year olds make-up nearly a third of the population, this generational divide may prove crucial in the future development of a Brotherhood unwilling to accept a position on the sidelines.
After initially being written off by the leadership, the blogs have begun to have an impact. The long-awaited Draft Political Platform of 2007, through which the Brotherhood attempted to clarify its political vision, was debated online by the bloggers in unprecedented fashion. So much so, that the leadership was forced to despatch the head of its political division, Mohammed Mursi, to discuss the bloggers’ concerns. Few doubt that the NDP will romp to a convincing election victory, yet greater challenges surely await the regime. Widespread rumours that the 82 year-old Mubarak’s health is deteriorating, and long-held suspicions that he is grooming his son Gamal to succeed him, all but guarantee a messy leadership battle.
The addition to the fray of the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief and Nobel-laureate Mohamed El-Baradei, has also served to fan the flames as the regime prepares for confrontation. And, while media attention will no doubt centre on the battle between El-Baradei and Mubarak over the next year, that period will be a crucial test of the Brotherhood’s internal unity and could play a significant role in determining the organisation’s future path.
For their part, the bloggers – and the younger generation of Brothers they represent – say a return to the sidelines and self-preservation are not enough. Both the regime and the Badei leadership would be well-advised to pay close attention.
For Badei this is a constituency the brotherhood caGnL ill afford to lose, while the regime will view it as an emergent threat. Although, the heady days of 2005 may seem distant, the Brotherhood has proved nothing if not resilient. And, as a senior Brother, Abdel-Moneim Aboul-Fotouh, aptly pointed out when pressed on its ailing fortunes, ‘If they [the government] say we are weakened, why are they still afraid of us?’