Muslim Brotherhood Adapting to Life as a Party

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Saad al-Katatni, secretary general of Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), waves after being nominated by the FJP for the post of the parliament speaker during the newly elected parliament's first session in Cairo on 23 January 2012. (Photo: AFP - Khaled elFiqi)

By: Bisan Kassab

Published Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Cairo - The Freedom and Justice Party is preparing to elect a new chairman to succeed Mohamed Mursi. While large numbers of young Muslim Brotherhood members favor the current caretaker chairman, Issam al-Arian, for the post, the Guidance Bureau – the Islamist group’s governing council – is inclined to back Mohamed Saad al-Katatni as the next chairman.

“We cannot let the party make the strategic decisions alone,” Mahmoud Ghozlan, member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, summarized his group’s view of its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP.)

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Ghozlan explained that the Brotherhood “believes that coordination between it and the FJP is necessary when it comes to decisions over whether or not to run in the presidential and legislative elections, or whether to participate in cabinets, for example.”

He added, “The FJP is not the only one to be affected by such decisions.” Ghozlan maintained, however, that “the group gives full freedom to the FJP to make decisions concerning its day-to-day operations and financial matters.”

Youth segments of the FJP are increasingly inclined to believe that the Guidance Bureau will be the one to ultimately determine who will be the next party chairman in the elections scheduled to take place on October 19.

According to a journalist specializing in Muslim Brotherhood affairs, who asked not to be named, reformist youths within the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP have started campaigns on social media sites to promote current caretaker chairman Arian for the post of the FJP chairman.

The journalist said that the reformists’ move was “to confront what they see as the Guidance Bureau’s insistence on Katatni (Speaker of the dissolved People's Assembly) for the post by influencing members of the General Organizational Conference who are eligible to vote.”

These accusations against the Islamist group of interfering in the FJP leadership election were countered by Ghozlan by accusing, in turn, those behind these leaks of deliberately hiding their identity – in reference to press reports that cited unidentified sources to promote this scenario.

The Guidance Bureau member said that they were making their allegations in this manner “to escape the fact that they lack any proof, particularly when they know there will be no punishment [for their claims] no matter what happens.”

Ghozlan then cautioned that “the so-called youth wing of the FJP wants to portray the matter as being forceful meddling by the Muslim Brotherhood, in the event that someone other than Arian, who has broad support from the FJP youths, were to be chosen as candidate.”

He went on to say, “But this is not true. The members of the Organizational Conference are free to choose whomever they want as the party chairman, even if they choose a woman,” in reference to Sabah al-Saqari, who is running for the post.

To explain how he has no qualms with a woman running for the Islamist party leadership, Ghozlan said that this post, “just like the post of prime minister, does not fall under the notion of Islamic law’s Supreme Guardianship [which would encompass the presidency, a post that the Muslim Brotherhood would not accept a woman occupying.]”

Kamal Helbawy, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader who has broken away from the group, proclaimed that “as long as the FJP is in need of counsel from the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau, then it would be more prudent for the FJP to expand its membership to all of the bureau’s members, so that the process may take place in a formal and democratic manner.”

Helbawy said that the Muslim Brotherhood needs to carry out a jurisprudential review of its position on women. He pointed out that “before nominating any women for the leadership of the FJP, let the party ask itself this question: What if that candidate won and the party then decided to run in the next presidential elections? Would the party then accept to put that candidate forward in those elections (like it did with Mursi)?”

Saqari herself does not seem to have a political track record that can rival those of Arian and Katatni. The highest post she ever attained was Secretary of Women’s Affairs of the east Cairo division of the FJP, having failed in the past to win the post of Assistant Secretary General of the party.

Saqari spoke to Al-Akhbar and affirmed that “it will be the members of the General Conference who will decide whether I am competent to assume the leadership of the party,” and added, “But until then, I am entitled to exercise my full political rights.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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