Egyptian current affairs magazine Egypt today has a length article about the pending retirement of Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the Supreme Guide of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. From the introduction to the article:
Think what you like of Mohamed Mahdi Akef, but he does know how to make an exit. The Supreme Guide of the banned Al-Ikhwan Al-Muslimun (Muslim Brotherhood) turned his group’s tradition on its ear by announcing that he wishes to retire, nine months before the end of his first six-year term. Since the Muslim Brotherhood’s inception in 1928, a Supreme Guide has never stepped down voluntarily, much less requested to leave before his term of office ends. The group’s bylaws require the council to hold elections every six years, but the process has, to this point, been a formality: All six previous supreme guides were repeatedly re-elected, leaving office only upon their deaths. As head of one of the largest and most active opposition groups in the nation, the 80-year-old Akef has been busy over the past five years mobilizing Al-Ikhwan members to run for political office, leading street protests and demonstrations, and making headlines with his outspoken commentary. After announcing his retirement, the local media headlines dedicated almost a week to speculating about Akef’s health, rumors of dissension in the ranks, and Al-Ikhwan’s future.The speculation is far from idle. Al-Ikhwan claims to have millions of members, supporters and offices nationwide, though the group will not discuss exact numbers, citing the government crackdown on its members. While it is not recognized as an official political party, 88 members won seats in the 2005 Parliamentary elections by running as independents — the largest opposition bloc in Parliament. Whoever is tapped to replace Akef takes over during a critical period marked by the upcoming 2010 parliamentary elections and the presidential elections in 2011. The chief questions among analysts remain as to whether the next supreme guide will be as tough and politically oriented as Akef, or if the transfer in leadership may lead to a change in Al-Ikhwan’s strategy. In an Egypt Today exclusive interview, Akef dismisses rumors about his health. “I made my decision to retire while I’m in my best mental and physical health, thank God,” he says. “Listen, in 2004 when I was appointed [as Supreme Guide]I told my brothers [in Al-Ikhwan’s Shura Council]that when I reach the age 80, I hope that they excuse me from this position because I know that there are other excellent representatives in Al-Ikhwan who are qualified enough to take my place.” His eightieth birthday came last July, and Akef reminded the council again of his intent to step down, announcing that he wished to retire before his term officially ends in January 2010. The council asked him to at least stay through the end of his term, to which Akef has agreed. Other rumors speculate that there is internal pressure behind Akef’s announcement. Shady Al-Adl, head of Al-Ghad party’s youth committee and a member of the April 6 youth movement, gives them a voice: “I don’t think Akef’s retirement is really because he wants to give other people the opportunity to rule. I think he started to realize lately that the young Al-Ikhwan members criticize him excessively in their blogs and websites, and that he was receiving a lot of negative criticism.” Akef denies that he is being forced out by factions within the Brotherhood, saying that no one had ever pressured him to step down. “This is my decision and I’m responsible for it.” Other voices seem to side with Akef. Mustafa Al Nagar, the 29-year-old Brotherhood blogger behind the Amwag Al Tagheir (Waves of Change) and Ana Ma’ahom (I’m with Them) blogs, says, “Mahdi Akef has given us an internal freedom and a chance to express ourselves and our different views more than any other supreme guide.” He adds that he and his fellow Ikhwan bloggers criticize the group’s leadership on their websites, “to improve and try to correct any negative thoughts or ideologies adopted by Al-Ikhwan, but not to [overthrow or change leadership].”Rumors aside, Akef is definitely feeling the pressure to stay in his post. Abdel Monem Abdel Maksood, Al-Ikhwan’s lawyer, says that Akef’s request to step down has encountered heavy opposition within the organization. The strength of this opposition, Abdel Maksood notes, will be determined when Al-Ikhwan holds its next elections in January 2010 — he posits that Akef could be re-elected for a second term as supreme guide against his wishes.
The article goes on to discuss the history of Mr. Akef’s controversial statements as well as the development and impact of the Egyptian Brotherhood during his tenure.