- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

CAIRO The Muslim Brotherhood has worn many faces in its 70-plus years: Egyptian crusader against British influence, partner in Egypt's fledgling republic, assassin of President Anwar Sadat, government-persecuted Islamists, al Qaeda training ground, and political party.
Whatever the image, the veritable grandfather of Islamic movements may be facing another shift: Its supreme guide lies in a coma, following a recent stroke, and at 81 years old, few expect Moustafa Mashour to recover sufficiently to continue his leadership.
"The Brotherhood's officials are responsible for any elections for a new supreme guide, and that's only if Mashour passes away," the Muslim Brotherhood's deputy guide and spokesman, Mamoun Al Hodeibi, told UPI. "We are not going to rush into any decisions concerning the choice of anyone for this position."
The matter comes as the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most powerful opposition force, is already of several minds about the direction of its future.
The Brotherhood is "a very disciplined organization, and they will have a very disciplined succession," said Emad Shahin, a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo and an authority on Islamist movements.
The bylaws of the Brotherhood stipulate a conference to choose the most experienced member of the Guidance Council, which leads the organization. This will undoubtedly be Mr. Al Hodeibi, who at 81 is actually a few months older than Mr. Mashour, the group's leader since 1996.
But discipline aside, the Brotherhood faces the same problem as movements throughout the country namely, the conflict between the older and younger generations.
"It will take some time," said Essam al Erian about a new generation leading the organization. At 48, he is part of the dynamic "middle generation" that was active first in the universities in 1970s and then in professional syndicates. Mr. al Erian was imprisoned for five years starting in 1995 when the government cracked down on the Brotherhood.
"Our society has its tradition, and it is difficult to change these to this day," he said of the older generation's leadership.
The present leaders were comrades of the organization's founder Hassan Al Banna and cut their teeth in the struggle against the British and the monarchy in the 1940s.
Mr. Mashour was leader of the secret wing that conducted assassinations and sabotage against the government. Originally allies of Gamal Abdel Nasser's Free Officers movement that took power in 1952, they were rounded up and imprisoned in 1954. Mr. Mashour himself spent 20 years in prison.
It was the middle generation that helped rebuild the movement in the 1970s and 1980s and attract thousands of new and younger recruits. "From the end of the 1970s until today, we cannot think about the Muslim Brotherhood without the contribution of this middle generation," said Dia Rashwan, an analyst of Islamist movements with Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, a think tank.
"These people played a very important role and kept the idea of the Muslim Brotherhood alive and spread it to a new generation," Mr. Rashwan added.
Mr. Sadat, hoping to use that momentum to keep communist influence at bay in Egypt, eased government pressure after he took over the presidency in 1970. It turned on him instead, when soldiers associated with the Brotherhood shot and killed him in 1981.
A partner in the assassination was the extremist offshoot Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led by the same Aman al Zawahiri who joined forces with Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.
The current generation of Muslim Brotherhood, however, with its experience in university politics as well as in the parliament during the 1980s, is more used to negotiating with other groups and cooperation across political lines something the older generation, accustomed to secret societies and later, prison cells, is less comfortable doing.
Mr. Mashour himself has been kept out of the limelight since his 1998 comments, that Copts Egyptian Christians shouldn't serve in the army because they aren't trustworthy, and should instead pay protection money, caused a huge uproar.
Mr. Erian of the "middle generation" does not foresee any new or sudden changes in the movement under any new leadership.
"In a big organization like the Muslim Brotherhood, the policies cannot be drawn by one person; it is an institution," he said.
He admitted, however, that there "might be some changes in tactics."
The new generation has shown itself to be media savvy by guiding reporters to polling places during elections to show how the government was obstructing voters. In 1994, the Brotherhood released a manifesto saying women had the right to work, education and run for public office a move believed to be influenced by the middle generation.
Running as independents, young Brotherhood candidates won 17 seats in the 2000 legislative elections, making them the largest opposition bloc in the 454-seat parliament.
The government, however, is aware of this dynamic strata of the organization and in the past seven years of crackdowns has only imprisoned members of this group, leaving the aging and passive leadership alone. For this reason, many experts believe that the organization will stay nominally under the control of the old group as long as the government has its eye on it.
"It's not easy to create a new Muslim Brotherhood, especially when they live under internal government pressure as well as the international pressure on all Islamists since September 11," said Mr. Rashwan.
With Egypt's current president getting on in years, the country appears to be in a state of transition, and a dynamic Brotherhood just might invite too much attention from a nervous military.
"The old guard has acquired the experience of how to navigate their relations with the government," said Mr. Shahin, the professor at Cairo's American University. "They will not try to test it. They've gone through hundreds of tests before, and they know who wins in the end."
On the other hand, as Mr. Erian said, institutions are more than just a single leader at the top. He observed that "the vast majority of the organization is under 30 or 40, and I think the majority that rules and regulates everything is from the same generation."

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