Just three months before parliamentary elections, the Muslim Brotherhood is facing dissension within its ranks, as reformers push for a more open system of choosing leaders and political candidates. The movement’s leadership appeared to be dragged into the mass protests that forced Mubarak from office, and young Brotherhood members who joined the uprising say the organization is still too slow to react to the sentiments of the masses.
Amid the strains, some within the movement who have been calling for change are slowly splitting off from the Brotherhood’s new Freedom and Justice Party and forming their own, moreinclusive political parties. The result could split the Brotherhood’s voter base and weaken its representation in the next parliament.
So far, just four new parties are being formed, and Brotherhood members dismiss them as insignificant. But the cracks in the organization’s usually monolithic structure suggest that the movement may be unraveling.
“The splintering shows the strains that the revolution has put on the Brotherhood,” said Elijah Zarwan, an Egypt expert with the International Crisis Group.
The Brotherhood has retaliated against the breakaway forces, and this week it expelled five youth members from the organization for forming a party, according to Islam Lotfy, who said he was among those thrown out. The expulsions were widely reported, but a Brotherhood spokesman, Mahmoud Ghozlan, said Wednesday that they were under review and had not been implemented.
Last month, the organization’s leadership expelled Abdel Moneim Abou el-Fatouh, a leading reformer and the respected head of the Arab Medical Union, for putting himself forward as a presidential candidate. The Brotherhood has said that it plans to field candidates for 30 to 50 percent of seats in parliament. But, in an apparent acknowledgment of concerns that it could wield too much power in a post-Mubarak Egypt, the movement’s leaders have said that they do not seek to rule the country and will not field a candidate for the nation’s top office.
Lotfy, a 33-year-old lawyer, was part of the youth coalition that helped drive the Egyptian revolution. The young Islamist said his new party, the Egyptian Current, would be more diverse and would promote a democratic government, though he stopped short of describing the party as secular.
He called his expulsion “aggressive” and warned that the Brotherhood would end up losing more support if it isolated itself from the new realities of Egypt. “Maybe the leaders are scared of this new era of freedom because they aren’t used to it,” he said. “They’re used to living under persecution.”