Reports of dissension in Egypt's opposition Muslim Brotherhood as well
as the resignation of its leader were swiftly denied by the group's top
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood quickly rejected reports that its leader resigned after a row with conservatives. But analysts say the controversy exposes a profound rift among the Islamists.
The Muslim Brotherhood was reacting to news reports in the Egyptian press earlier this week that Supreme Guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef stormed out of a meeting over the weekend, saying he quit.
The 81-year-old Akef has since told the press that he continues to lead the group. But public debate continues, bringing to light reported clashes between moderate and conservative leaders over the appointment of senior member Essam al-Erian to the group's politburo. The dispute has been brewing since the death in June of Mohammed Hilal, which opened the seat. The conservatives reportedly blocked al-Erian when he was nominated.
Hisham Kassem, editor of the popular Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, says that the internal debate over al-Erian's appointment means the pendulum of power has swung in favor of the conservatives.
"There is a rift, coming out to the surface," he said. "It's always existed between the hardliners and the moderates, and clearly the hardliners are getting their way. From what I gather, Mehdi Akef has actually, I don't know what you call it - sabbatical or whatever - he hasn't resigned his post. But he's allowing the deputy Supreme Guide to run things, and it doesn't look like Essam Al-Erian is going to make it on the guidance bureau."
Kassem says he does not think that the development bodes well for Egyptian society in the short-term, but he sees a possible benefit in the end.
"[In] the short term, it's not a positive development because the Guidance Bureau can certainly use more people like Essam al-Erian," he said. "But again, [in] the long run, I'm not sure how this is going to affect [things]. I mean, maybe if the dinosaurs take over [the group], they will bring about the demise of the Brotherhood, which might not be a bad thing for civil, political life in the country."
The Muslim Brotherhood, which remains officially banned by the Egyptian government, has been allowed to continue to field candidates for parliament. The Ikhwan, as they are known in Arabic, hold one-fifth of the seats in Egypt's Maglis Al-Sha'ab, or parliament.
The row inside the Brotherhood has been headline news in the Egyptian press, and the debate over its implications has spilled over to popular Arab satellite TV stations.
The Brotherhood, which runs a popular Web site called Ikhwanonline, was founded in 1928 by Egyptian school-teacher Hassan al-Banna, after a visit to the United States. The group is dedicated to spreading the rule of Islamic law, or sharia, across the Arab and Islamic societies.