Muslim Brotherhood heavyweight Mohamed Saad El-Katatni has become the first elected president of the group's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) after members of the party's general assembly cast their ballots on Friday.
El-Katatni won with 67 per cent of the vote over his rival, Essam El-Erian, who garnered 32.7 per cent of the vote after polling was conducted in Education City, located in 6 October City on the outskirts of Cairo. Ironically, Education City – formerly known as 'Mubarak City' – is where the National Democratic Party of ousted president Hosni Mubarak held its last conference before being dissolved in the wake of last year's revolution.
The results, announced by Hussein Ibrahim, head of the FJP's electoral committee, were met with thunderous applause. El-Katatni then took the podium to address his supporters.
"My beloved brother, Essam El-Erian, and members of the general assembly, my dear guests, and all representatives of the media, I thank you all for attending these elections, which represent a celebration of democracy for the FJP," the new party chairman declared. "The real winner here is the FJP."
He also stressed that the party's main goal was to maintain unity and work towards Egypt's national revival. He also heaped praise on his electoral rival.
"My brother, Essam El-Erian, brings enormous value to the party with his political experience," he said. "We have learned from many of his experiences; it's impossible to ever let go of this amazing man."
El-Katatni then spoke of his victory as "only a first step" towards the many goals the FJP hopes to achieve.
"We have many challenges ahead of us, which we began when Mohamed Morsi was party president, and now we will continue down this path in building the party," he said. "But the most important priority now is to unite the Egyptian people again with all its parties and ideologies and to work together for the good of the nation."
The new FJP president added that the party’s main aim was to establish God’s law in Egypt.
"The Muslim Brotherhood established the party to represent the Brotherhood's political project, which, in the end, will be a wise government that will institute Islamic Sharia Law," he asserted.
He went on to say that the party would extend its hands to all of Egypt's diverse political forces.
"The FJP has a vision: to raise Egypt back up to its rightful place among the nations of the world," El-Katatni said. "The FJP will work to obtain experience from other political parties in this regard."
He concluded by thanking supporters who gave him their vote.
Since Mohamed Morsi stepped down as party head upon assuming the Egyptian presidency, El-Erian became acting party chairman while El-Katatni has served as FJP secretary-general.
The elections are the first time for the FJP, which was established in May of last year, to elect its own president. Its first president, Mohamed Morsi, was appointed by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi, however, had to step down after being elected president of the country, leaving the FJP's top position vacant.
The FJP, currently the strongest political group in Egypt, has over 400,00 members. However, according to party bylaws, only members of its general assembly are allowed to vote for the president. The assembly has 1,029 members, 866 of whom turned up to vote on Friday.
The winning candidate needed to secure two-thirds of the vote or the polls would have been deemed invalid.
The party's electoral process began with the assembly unanimously voting to accept Morsi's resignation.
Ibrahim kicked off the conference by asserting that the FJP elections represented a "victory for the Egyptian Revolution."
"This is the fruit of the 25 January revolution," Ibrahim asserted. "We're here because of the blessing of God and the martyrs who gave their lives for us, without whom there would have been no revolution."
The FJP elections, he added, were also the result of decades of struggle and sacrifice by the Egyptian people.
"These elections prove Egypt is moving forward," Ibrahim said. "Egypt will not move backwards again. We will have real democracy in all institutional, governmental and non-governmental bodies. We will have a true democracy that respects all opinions."
He went on to say that Egypt was facing "major obstacles," not least of which was the forging of a new constitution. Currently, a Constituent Assembly, made up largely of former MPs, is working on drafting a new national charter.
The assembly, however, has been plagued with legal challenges following the dissolution this summer of Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliament, deemed unconstitutional by a constitutional court.
"We're now working on a constitution that has been the subject of heated debate, along with many agreements. It still needs hard work, both by those inside and outside the Constituent Assembly," Ibrahim said. "What's important is that the Egyptian people have the last word."
The voting process began at 1:45pm and lasted for one hour.
In his electoral campaign, El-Katatni promised that his focus would be to further develop the party and its provincial branches and promote the political empowerment of women. He also aims to widen the party’s ongoing dialogue with the country’s various political forces and to improve party finances.
El-Erian's electoral programme similarly promised to empower the party's branches across Egypt, achieve social justice for all Egyptians, and improve the FJP's relations with other political forces.
He also promised to bolster the role played both by women and the party's younger cadres. If elected, El-Erian had promised not to run for parliament or accept any government post so as to focus exclusively on his role as party head.
El-Katatni and El-Erian are both considered long-time Brotherhood leaders. El-Katatni, 60, served as speaker of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliament, currently dissolved. He also boasts vast experience in electoral campaigning, having served as MP from 2005 to 2010.
El-Katatni now serves as FJP secretary-general. He is closer to the Muslim Brotherhood's conservative current, led by followers of Islamic thinker Sayed Qutb, including group financer Khairat El-Shater.
El-Erian, 58, is a former parliamentarian who served as the Brotherhood's media spokesman for years. He spent much of the Mubarak era in and out of prison for participating in the group's political activities, as the Muslim Brotherhood had been formally outlawed under the previous regime.
In Egypt's first post-Mubarak parliamentary polls late last year, the FJP won 47 per cent of the seats in the People's Assembly.