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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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