Analysts Debate Successor To Egyptian Supreme Guide


Speculation has begun about possible replacements for Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the current Supreme Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, who has announced that he will not seek a second term and will step down within a few months. A UAE newspaper favors Mohammed Habib, the deputy general guide:

In general, the divisions within the Brotherhood movement are generational. Mr Akef’s tenure as general guide and his talent as a leader, according to analysts of the Brotherhood, have been a bridge between the movement’s elderly leadership and the bright lights among its “younger” politicians who are in their 50s and 60s. The man most likely to take over from Mr Akef is Mohammed Habib, the deputy general guide and a similar character to Mr Akef: politically savvy, ideologically conservative and willing to listen to the more moderate ideas and perspectives of younger members. In an interview, Mr Habib said he hopes to energise the Brotherhood’s internal democratic institutions, such as its Shura council. He also said the Brotherhood should seek dialogue with Egypt’s other opposition parties. He did not express an opinion on the controversial issues that have divided Brotherhood members and sparked concern among much of the Egyptian public.

Analysts writing for the MIddle East Times favor “reformist members” Essam al-Arian and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh as well as Mohammed Habib:

With the search on for a new leader, analysts who follow the group have suggested a number of names. And they say the Brotherhood can choose one of three different routes: conservative, reformist, or maintain the status quo with a centrist leader akin to Akef’s style. “If Akef is serious about resigning from his post, I don’t think it will go far from the conservatives,” said Khalil al-Anani, a political Islam expert at Cairo’s al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies. The election of a new leader will follow the Brotherhood’s internal democratic process. The party’s guidance committee of 100 members will vote on a successor, his office confirmed. Anani said that within this committee, the majority of the members are from the conservative ranks, making the possibility of a reformer to take charge unlikely. Marc Lynch, a professor at George Washington University and author of Abu Aardvark blog, is a leading scholar who closely follows the Brotherhood in Egypt. He believes the changing of the mantle will have “wide-ranging implications for moderate Islamist movements throughout the Middle East.” Writing on his blog, which is published on Foreign Policy Magazine’s Web site, Lynch asks whether Akef will be “replaced by a politically-oriented reformist or by a religiously-oriented conservative.” Topping the list are reformist members Essam al-Arian and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh as well as Mohammed Habib, a moderate, and current deputy supreme guide. Lynch argues that the selection of Habib would “signify continuity with Akef’s tenure,” by balancing the conservative and reformist elements within the group. Anani concurs, saying that Habib has the ability to maintain both the conservatives and reformist within the group. “The first candidate for this post would be Mohammed Habib,” Anani said. “First of all, Habib is conservative, but he can be a balance between the conservatives and the reformists. He is very sharp.” The main difference between Akef and Habib, however, is their age, Anani said. This would give Habib, the younger of the two, the ability to mold the group for a number of years, without worry that his age would become a factor. The group’s choice of their next supreme guide could hold the key to their global legitimacy as the region’s leading Islamic group, as he leads the Brotherhood into the heart of the term of new U.S. President Barack Obama who intends to forge cooperative relationships with the Arab world.

The weekly Al-Ahram mentions MB Secretary-General Mahmoud Ezzat, described as an “ultra- conservative”, but also considers Mr. Habib:

So who are the main candidates for the job? The ho prefers to focus on doctrinal rather than political matters, is a contender. Another is Mohamed Habib, currently first deputy to the supreme guide, who prefers political to doctrinal work. If the two men run neck to neck Ezzat is likely to concede to Habib whose political savvy makes him more popular both inside and outside the group. The current supreme guide, Mahdi Akef, is likely to keep a keen eye on the selection process, intervening when necessary to prevent frictions from turning into bad blood. MB reformers have no hope of winning. Their supporters are either too young or too disorganised to make their voice heard. Even the reformers are eager to maintain the image of unity the group seems to treasure. The young, in particular, are going to be excluded from the vote since they are not represented on the MB Shura Council……

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