Two days ago the Muslim Brotherhood selected a new Supreme Leader, only the eighth time this has happened since the society was founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna. The individual selected is a relatively unknown professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Beni Suef named Mohamed Badie. He is one of the members of the 1965 Group, the collection of MB leaders who were imprisoned with former MB leader Sayid Qutb in August 1965 for allegedly trying to overthrow the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser.
What does his selection mean for the MB and for politics in Egypt? I think there are two big conclusions that can be drawn:
1. It seems clear now that the MB will not take a confrontational position in challenging the regime during the upcoming parliamentary elections (this October) and presidential elections (next year). In 2005, the Brotherhood's reformist faction managed to convince its leadership that the political environment was open enough to safely compete in parliamentary elections; they were rewarded with a quarter of the seats, the largest opposition bloc in Egypt's recent history.
But this year looks to be a different story. There is far less external pressure on Mubarak than there was in 2005 to run somewhat fair elections and that, combined with recent constitutional amendments prohibiting independents from competing for parliament seats (this is how MB candidates always run, since the MB itself is banned), were always going to make it a tough fight for the Brotherhood. Badie's selection as Supreme Leader and his relatively conciliatory remarks about the regime in his acceptance speech (he said that "the Brothers have never been antagonistic to the ruling regime") make it even more clear that the Brotherhood will likely retreat back into social work and away from political activity in the years to come. However, if a leadership crisis does ensue, as some predict will happen if and when Hosni Mubarak can no longer serve as president, it will be interesting to see if the MB rise to the occasion and enter political life again, even under this low-key, conservative leader.
2. Another implication of Badie's selection is that the MB may shift to the right, becoming more insular and more consolidated around a rural, hard-line base. There are a sizable number of young and middle-aged moderates in the MB and they may be disappointed and disillusioned with Badie's rise to the position of Supreme Leader. Moderate leaders who were once active in student movements in the 70s and who advocated more political engagement, like Essam el-Erian and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, have been systematically shut out from the Guidance Bureau, which has remained in the hands of the older, more conservative leaders. Many younger members of the movement, particularly recruits from Cairo and other urban areas, will feel less and less represented by these conservative members and frustrated by the lack of political action, particularly if they see political opportunities being missed. Moreover, as Ibrahim al-Hodeiby (the grandson of former Supreme Leader Ma’amoun al-Hodeiby) writes, there is a growing number of MB leaders from Egypt's rural areas whose ideas are drawn from Wahhabi Salafi ideology and Badie's selection may be a sign of their increasing influence on the movement. Hodeiby, by the way, is one of those young moderate members...
In the 1990s Abu el-Ela Madi and some other MB reformers left the movement to form the Wasat Party. The party hasn't really gotten off the ground; it has been denied a party license on four separate incidences and it doesn't have much of a membership base. But if Badie's selection is a sign of a deeper conservative entrenchment in the MB, then in the years ahead we may see moderates in the movement splintering off to join parties like the Wasat, where their views and beliefs might be better represented. This could portend a realignment of Islamist politics in Egypt, which has always been dominated by the Brotherhood.