Away from the current controversy between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and other political forces, there is a dire need to seriously and realistically rethink the MB. Not only because it is the major power ruling Egypt right now, but also to understand the group’s dynamics as a formidable organisation and complicated social and political phenomenon.
And so, a pressing question arises: Is it possible to reform the MB? And if so, how can that be done and what type of reform is needed? Perhaps these questions are not to the liking of the MB which sees itself as a reformist movement due to its origins, composition and rhetoric, or even to the liking of its opponents who see no alternative but to get rid of the MB even if the price is a return to what is worse than Mubarak’s era.
Nonetheless, these remain as key and critical questions not only because they pertain to the MB which currently has a grip on power in Egypt – and thus repairing the situation in Egypt is partially linked to reforming the MB – but also because of the group’s ability to adapt to the new reality in post-revolutionary Egypt, and thus its ability to explore its future.
Before answering these questions, one should point out that reforming any ideological social movement is a complicated and long process, and requires courageous decisions by its leadership and members.
Reform could undermine the cohesion of the group and willingness of the leadership to pay the price for reform. Accordingly, at least in their view, MB leaders are justified in worrying about reform or change not only because it could lead to internal institutional disruption but also because of expected outcomes. These would include redrawing the centres of power and balance within the MB in favour of a group or faction at the expense of another.
Reforming the MB means addressing three issues: organisational restructuring (perestroika); changing the value system (glasnost); and embedding institutional democracy. These three ideas are derived from the transformation that took place in the last days of the Soviet Union before it disintegrated and collapsed at the end of the 1990s – but without jumping to conclusions about whether the fate of the MB will be similar to the former Soviet Union.
An important difference is the MB lacks, at least right now, a central leadership figure such as Mikhail Gorbachev to lead these reforms or changes. Accordingly, the wager now is on the collective leadership inside the group that could decrease the possibility of fractures and collapse similar to the USSR – although anything is possible.
This article will focus on the first element of these reforms, namely organisational restructure or MB perestroika. This means two things. First, overhauling main internal organs in the group (or its hardware), including the Guidance Office, the MB Shura Council, administrative offices, and provincial Shura councils. This should be done in a way that allows reconfiguring organisational and social power centres within the group on the one hand, and encourage diversity of thought, ideology, and generation within the MB on the other.
Also, revising relations between decision making and decision implementation organs inside the group, and striking a degree of balance between them.
Second, restructuring the internal value system of the MB (or its software). According to MB bylaws, the dividing lines between MB organs almost entirely overlap or do not exist at all. For example, the MB Shura Council is almost completely under the control of the Guidance Office and the General Guide, although it should be the legislative and oversight body of their activities.
This is clear in Chapter Three of the MB bylaws (articles 12-18) regarding choosing Shura Council members and its action mechanism, which render it merely a follower of the Guidance Office or the General Guide. Besides, there is not set procedure for questioning the Guidance Office and the General Guide.
Restructuring is also related to reviewing the procedures, means and criteria for promotion, social and organisational mobility inside the group in order to be more representative and transparent for all group members.
Last November, there were reports that the group was drafting new bylaws that would address the flaws of existing bylaws that have been amended several times since the beginning of the 1980s until 2009. But some MB leaders later denied this.
The problem is not about the possibility of amending MB bylaws – since this has been done several times before – and there is almost blanket consensus within the group on the matter, and in fact there is a special committee to work on this called “the bylaws committee”. The problem is mainly rooted in the extent of translating amended bylaw into organisational realities that allow revamping the group, not only administratively but also educationally, ideologically and politically.
In other words, the MB is not only required to amend existing bylaws to remove organisational and administrative flaws, but also overhaul the organisational mentality that controls the MB, whereby bylaw amendments are parallel to structural changes in educational and generational epicentres in the group.
Unfortunately, restructuring the MB organisationally and ideologically has been underway over the past two decades and resulted in one faction taking control and monopolising the leadership of the group without oversight or genuine participation by others or MB grassroots. After two decades of quasi equilibrium between conservatives and reformers that began in the mid-1970s until the mid-1990s, and after reformers were able to impact the group’s leadership – thanks to the support and guidance of Omar Al-Tilmisani, Ahmed Al-Malat, and others who were known as the public action current inside the group – conservatives succeeded in gradually isolating them.
After Tilmisani died in May 1986, he was succeeded by Mohamed Hamed Abul-Nasr at the helm of the MB, which in time was an important turning point for conservative control of the group. In 1996, Mustafa Mashhour succeeded Abul-Nasr, a weak leader who came from the rear ranks of the group and lacked organisational weight. Mashhour and his deputy Maamoun El-Hodaiby (who would eventually become the General Guide) succeeded in stamping out what is known as the second generation or reform generation inside the group.
These included key figures such as Abdel-Moneim Abul Futouh, Abul Ela Madi, Ibrahim Al-Zaafarani, Khaled Dawoud, Essam Al-Erian and Helmi Al-Gazzar (before they did an about turn and joined the conservative wing). A milestone development in this transformation is what is known as the controversy over Al-Wassat Party, which revealed the transformation taking place inside the MB in favour of the conservative current or the hawks.
The second transformation that contributed to increasing the leverage of conservatives within the group came at the beginning of the new millennium when Hodaiby (the son) succeeded Mashhour as the leader of the MB in November 2002. Although his was a short tenure (only two years) he succeeded in cementing the control of the conservatives. Mahmoud Ezzat, who was chosen as MB secretary general in 2001, restructured the group’s administrative offices to become more attuned and compliant to the conservative current.
Meanwhile, the star of businessman and MB strategic mastermind Khayrat Al-Shater began to rise after he was appointed to influential positions. Al-Shater was chosen as member of the Guidance Office in 1995 and after Hodaiby’s death became a leading MB middle figure. This helped him become a second deputy to the new Guide at the time Mohamed Mahdi Akef, who gave Al-Shater a carte blanche to overhaul the MB as he sees fit.
During the first decade of the new millennium the Ezzat-Shater alliance (who have old ties that began in Yemen then Britain during the first half of the 1980s) succeeded in actual (not the bylaws) restructuring of the group, whereby the key components of the group came under the complete control of conservatives.
For example, the Guidance Office was reorganised and all reformers were eliminated, most notably Abul Futouh and Mohamed Habib – who left the MB unceremoniously despite his position as first deputy of the Guide.
The MB Shura Council was also revamped to include many members from provinces, and the organisational and representative balance of provincial administrative offices and Shura councils was also overhauled. Meanwhile, a new generation of conservatives who are more loyal and subordinate to the Ezzat-Shater bloc was promoted to higher ranks, most notably Mohamed Saad Al-Katatni, Saad Al-Husseini, Sobhi Saleh, Mahmoud Ghazlan, Mohei Hamed, Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Osama Nasr, Abdel-Rahman Al-Barr and Essam Al-Haddad. And most notably, Egypt’s sitting President Mohamed Morsi – who deserves an article all by himself.
Thus, MB overhaul or perestroika is similar to a surgical procedure to dismantle this solid organisational bloc through real change, whether at the level of MB organs or leadership, to allow in new blood that is independent and capable of changing the course of the MB towards openness and natural integration in society as a political movement, not as a closed faction. Without this, the MB will never reform.