The Muslim Brotherhood’s succession blues

Hany Ghoraba
Hany Ghoraba
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“Hearing and obeying” is a motto by the Muslim Brotherhood that has been maintained and followed by its members throughout the terrorist group’s existence, ever since it was founded in Egypt in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna. The group took pride in this motto and the hierarchy it entailed by following elder leaders, starting with the General Guide whose words carried weight with every member of the group across the world.

Now that era seems long gone, and a new reality has kicked in that has changed the relationships between group members and their connection to centralized authority.

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It’s a fact that the 94-year-old terrorist group has never suffered through a more turbulent period in its history than it did after the June 2013 popular revolution in Egypt ousting President Mohamed Morsi from power and forcing the Brotherhood’s leaders to flee the country. The group’s hierarchy was dismantled after its General Guide was arrested and received a life sentence.

The group’s feckless response is manifested in its leaders’ incessant calls for a revolt in Egypt against President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi for the past eight years. Despite massive propaganda campaigns, each and every one of these calls has fallen on deaf ears. Even with tougher economic conditions in Egypt in 2022, the group failed to rally any participants to an uprising it called for last November. The group picked the date of November 11th for its supposed resonance with Egypt’s citizenry, yet even after weeks of preparation for an uprising online, no one showed up in the streets.

The death last November of the Muslim Brotherhood's acting General Guide, Ibrahim Munir, has triggered a new internal power struggle that is not restricted to the upper echelon of the group’s leaders, but extends across several countries.

Muslim Brotherhood members gesture behind bars after their verdict at a court on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt June 16, 2015. (Reuters)
Muslim Brotherhood members gesture behind bars after their verdict at a court on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt June 16, 2015. (Reuters)

At the moment, there are three factions struggling to control the Muslim Brotherhood. Notably, all three operate outside of Egypt: one residing in Britain, and two others operating from Istanbul. The London faction, once led by Munir, is now led by Mohei El-din El Zayet. One of the Istanbul factions is led by Mahmoud Hussein, and the other is the “Current of Change” faction. Each of the three factions claims to be the legitimate representative of the Muslim Brotherhood group and its goals.

Shortly before his death, Munir declared that the Muslim Brotherhood no longer would contest for power in Egypt. In contrast, the Istanbul factions reject that stance. One of them, Current of Change, believes in militant operations against the Egyptian government and army.

After Munir's death, the group's London faction immediately declared its leader, El Zayet, as acting Guide. In response, an Istanbul-based faction announced Mahmoud Hussein as the new acting Guide.

"The Muslim Brotherhood group realizes that the youth boys and girls are its present tools, the power of the group, the hope, its glory makers, the safety valve for its continuity and the name of its future," Hussein said in a November 20 recorded speech, a desperate attempt to lure the younger generations to his camp.

The internal feud between the three Muslim Brotherhood camps is highly unlikely to be settled anytime soon and seems to be only escalating. In order to begin to resolve, it requires a general assembly vote, which is incredibly difficult to arrange with members behind bars or in exile.

Egypt considers El Zayet a terrorist, sentenced to six years in prison by a military court in absentia for a number of terrorism-related cases involving a terrorist cell known as the "Helwan Brigades." Helwan Brigades attacks in 2014-15 killed five police officers and destroyed a number of electrical towers. El-Zayet was charged with coordinating various brigade groups.

Furthermore, news is surfacing within the group’s ranks that the London bureau proposed and even selected a more radical alternative to El-Zayet last December named Salah Abdel-Haq. But no confirmation of this nomination has been declared officially.

Similar power struggles within the Brotherhood were ignited earlier in 2013, following the arrest of General Guide Mohamed Badie. He later was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of multiple charges relating to a mass prison breakout and killing of police officers. Brotherhood bylaws say a vacancy should be filled by the oldest-known free member of the group. In 2017, that member was Ibrahim Munir.

Munir was credited with keeping the global Muslim Brotherhood group intact after it was banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Jordan. In 2016, he persuaded the British Parliament in 2016 not to ban the Muslim Brotherhood or label it as a terrorist entity. He told a British Parliament committee that sharia laws tolerate apostates and homosexuals, which contradict the teachings of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.

But both Munir and Hussein were abhorred as leaders by the Current of Change faction based in Turkey, which is comprised mostly of the group's youth who see the old guard as too old and entrenched. Current of Change is also known as "The Third Wave" and "The New Kamalists," referring to Mohamed Kamal, a deceased founder of the group. The Current of Change organized a convention in Istanbul last October coinciding with the anniversary of Kamal's death.

Kamal masterminded a number of terrorist activities in Egypt before being killed by Egyptian security in 2016 after a short battle at his hideout in Cairo. The Change movement believes in restoring the tenets set by the group founder Hassan al-Banna and its ideologue and terrorism mastermind Sayyid Qutb. These tenets include fighting apostate governments and ousting rulers by force as a form of jihad. Qutb believed in forcing sharia laws into societies and replacing civic laws.

The Current of Change faction issued a charter during its first official meeting in Istanbul. It indicates that the group is willing to resume terrorist activities in Egypt, according to Sky News Arabia. It shuns any reconciliation or rapprochement efforts with the Egyptian government.

"All options are open to the use of force and violence, and the need to release prisoners," the charter said.

These positions contradict Munir's statement that the Muslim Brotherhood no longer seeks power in Egypt.
Munir's statement claimed that his faction's focus is on freeing Brotherhood members in Egyptian prisons, "achieving societal reconciliation, and building a broad national partnership that adopts the demands of Egyptians in achieving political and economic reform." At the core of these statements is a sense of capitulation by the group’s former acting General Guide to the reality of the situation in his home country. This attitude stands in opposition to that of his fellow Istanbul-residing members who are still under the illusion at least in their public statements that they will change the situation in Egypt.

Munir’s statements accept that the Egyptian state has defeated the Muslim Brotherhood in its total war on terrorism. From 2013 till now, and even with the existence of remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadists trying to cause some chaos in Sinai, it is hard to deny the fact that the group has been militarily, politically, and economically defeated by President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi. The future of a unified Muslim Brotherhood group within Egypt itself remains murky, as it is splintered into at least three known factions, each with its own set of goals and agendas.

Former Muslim Brotherhood leader Ibrahim Munir. (Stock image)
Former Muslim Brotherhood leader Ibrahim Munir. (Stock image)

If the Muslim Brotherhood’s bylaws were applied to the letter, the next acting General Guide should be 80-year-old Mohamed El-Beheiry, who lives in Turkey. He is the oldest member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was part of the notorious cell known as the "Organization 65," which was headed by Sayyid Qutb and also included Badie.

Organization 65 carried out a number of assassination attempts targeting then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and launched other coordinated attacks in an effort to topple the Egyptian government. Egyptian authorities dismantled the group in 1965, sentencing a number of its members—including Qutb—to death.
El-Beheiry was one of Munir's many enemies and participated in an attempted coup against him in October 2021. In response, Munir suspended El-Beheiry and a number of his accomplices.

El-Beheiry's potential rise as the next acting General Guide would deepen the rift between the Muslim Brotherhood factions. Younger members feel that they are being ignored and treated as cannon fodder in their leaders' battle with the Egyptian state.

2022 was a year that has witnessed many blows that targeted the core of the Muslim Brotherhood internationally. The death of its radical ideologue Yusuf Qaradawi, who represented the spiritual guide of the group for half a century, was a major blow, leaving his successor Ali al-Qaradaghi with big shoes to fill. The Egyptian-born Qatari cleric was instrumental in propagating the group’s ideology worldwide. His loss only contributes to and exacerbates the chaos that the group finds itself in following the death of Ibrahim Munir.

The splitting of the Muslim Brotherhood into several groups carrying the same name or related alternatives in the upcoming years is now becoming inevitable. The growing leadership crisis in the past years has shown more cracks in the group’s hierarchy while also exposing charges of embezzlement and abuse of power within the group.

This is a far cry from the once-unified group that prided itself as being the most organized Islamist force in the region and the mother group of all Islamist movements across the four corners of the world.

Hany Ghoraba is an Egyptian journalist, author, counter-terrorism analyst for Al Ahram Weekly, and senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) Washington, DC-based Center for Security Policy. He has written for over a dozen international news outlets and periodicals including The American Thinker, The American Spectator, and the Atlantic Council.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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