Former Muslim Brotherhood head Mahdi Akef dies in hospital

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Former Muslim Brotherhood head Mohammed Mahdi Akef has died in hospital aged 89. His last spell in jail began in July 2013, after the military overthrew Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and jailed his supporters and fellow Brotherhood members.

Akef served the party for more than 70 years. Born in 1928 -- the year Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood -- Akef became deeply involved in it at a young age.

After leading its student section, the former physical education instructor joined the group's Guidance Bureau in the 1980s before being elected supreme guide in 2004, at the age of 76.

Unlike his predecessors, who remained at the Brotherhood helm until their death, Akef retired after a single six-year term.

A representative of the conservative old guard known for his blunt speech, Akef often provoked controversy. For him, Israel was "a cancer to root out" and the Holocaust a "myth".

Before the Muslim Brotherhood came to power, Akef said: Brotherhood supporters would strike at those who attacked them if they came to power. On the cover of the Egyptian weekly magazine Al-Musawwar, the former leader was featured holding a shoe and a headline said: “This is the Brotherhood's program to rule Egypt.”

Akef spent more than 26 years in regime prisons. After a failed assassination attempt against pan-Arabist leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954, he was arrested and sentenced to life in jail.

He was released 20 years later, when the new president, Anwar Sadat, was seeking Islamists' support to gain legitimacy and weaken the left-wing.

Akef was appointed to a post in the reconstruction ministry.

He joined the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau in 1987 and was elected to parliament.
But he was again sentenced to three years by a military court in 1996, this time under Mubarak.

Detained again after Morsi's ouster, he was sentenced to life for his alleged role in the death of 12 anti-Brotherhood protesters who tried to attack the movement's Cairo headquarters in June 2013.

The Court of Cassation overturned that verdict and ordered a new trial that left him behind bars. Ten months before his death, Akef had been transferred from jail to hospital in Cairo for cancer treatment.

(With AFP)