The incident of the arrest of Mahmoud Ezzat, the Deputy Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood group, in an apartment in Cairo’s Fifth Settlement, on 28 August 2020, has revived the debate about the Brotherhood’s future and its leadership structure. Subsequently, the Brotherhood announced organisational arrangements whereby Ibrahim Munir singled out as its chief executive. This raises questions about the dimensions of this step, the extent it would be able to overcome the organisation’s crises, and its potential repercussions for the organisation’s future.

What is going on inside the organisation?

After Ezzat’s arrest, the group remained for nearly three weeks without a specific alternative leadership, even as its spokesman asserted that "the group’s business is running in a normal and institutional way and is not affected by the absence of one of its leaders”.[1] While the group’s internal regulations organise such cases, stipulating that “In the event that the General Guide is absent outside the Republic or is unable to carry out his duties due to illness or an emergency excuse, his first deputy shall take his place in all of his duties” (Article 4), and that “In the event of compulsive impediments that prevent the Guide from carrying out his duties, he would be replaced by his first deputy, then the other deputies in order of seniority, then members of the Guidance Office in order of seniority" (Article 5). In this case, this applies to Ibrahim Munir. However, the actual interaction with the event indicates the occurrence of a" written crisis" and dissatisfaction with this leadership transition on the part of the group’s Secretary-General Dr Mahmoud Hussein and his supporters. This was expressed through several indications, most notably the group’s first official statement, issued on 14 September 2020, which announced the appointment of Munir as the group’s leader and his assumption of the Guide’s duties without giving details.

This opened the door to speculation about the possibility of Mahmoud Hussein’s continued presence on the new scene. This was settled by the second statement, issued on 17 September 2020, which referred to the abolition of the General Secretariat and the formation of an administrative committee to assist Munir that would include member of the Guidance Office Mahmoud Hussein and others without specifying their names for security reasons, according to the remarks made by Talaat Fahmi, the group’s spokesman,[2] who was also keen on “emphasising that no struggle existed between the Hussein and Munir fronts despite the difference in opinion, and that this delay is attributable to the inevitability of passing the decision through the grassroots before its official announcement”. He added that "the new leadership decided, with a view to unifying efforts and shortening the mechanisms of work, that there is no need for the General Secretariat, considering that most members of the Guidance Office are in prison. Thus, it decided to form a committee with Hussein as one of its members", although his continuation is actually attributable to the fact that he is the only remaining free member of the Guidance Office.

Despite the traditionality that characterised the group’s leadership transition process, in consistence with its organisational regulations, in light of the current scene, that transition is particularly important in terms of its timing and the symbol chosen to lead the group. The assumption of the group’s leadership by a figure such as Ibrahim Munir at this stage indicates the following:

  • The appointment of a figure such as Ibrahim Munir sets an organisational precedent within the group in the sense that a person would combine the leadership of both home and abroad organisations, undertaking this task from outside Egypt. Munir is the deputy Guide and the group’s Secretary-General who fully represents the General Guidance Office in all transactions. However, he is based in London as the person responsible for the group’s office in the British capital which constitutes the headquarters of the leadership of the group’s General Shura (Consultative) Council. That office also controls many of the group's various activities. Considering the size of its huge projects, the office continues to be an important financing tool that is always present in the event of crises. Therefore, the office would have control over directing the whole group, in addition to "coordination between the Brotherhood groups in different countries".[3]
  • This leadership transition represents an opportunity to re-shake the dual hierarchy of the leadership and unify it after a protracted struggle that has not been theoretically resolved over the years in favour of one side, although in practice, it seems that balances of power have started to tilt in favour of the Ezzat-Munir front.

Implications

The change in the organisation’s leadership at the present time constitutes an event that indicates two keys to redrawing some features of the next stage of the organisation’s life in the foreseeable future, in which the organisational and the political aspects overlap.

  • At the organisational level, the internal changes and the absence of the direct actors to the struggle redefine a new reality in light of these exceptional circumstances experienced by the group in terms of the appointment of a new leadership that has a margin of freedom in light of its operation from outside the country. This would necessarily drive towards a complementary path to the top changes that includes prospective changes in the internal organisational structure, and a narrow central path that aims at facilitating the approval and implementation of the decisions necessitated by the stage ahead, especially in light of the termination of the practical existence of the Guidance Bureau inside Egypt after the arrest of Ezzat and the consequent difference in the traditional organisational procedures and overcoming that structural imbalance. This is not expected to be met with violent resistance, especially that Munir has resolved many aspects of the leadership struggle in recent years through his support of Ezzat’s front and his actual control of the organisation's management. In spite of “Ezzat's presence in charge of business at home, the group’s management was practically carried out from abroad. The statements were written by Mahmoud al-Ebiary, the organisation’s actual director, and reviewed or considered by Munir and Hussein, and those around them".[4]

There is a belief that Munir’s current position, as the sole figure in charge of the group at home and abroad, makes him somewhat capable of healing the organisational rift and “stopping the duplication of the decision and its occasional delay, let alone the chasm between the leadership and the grassroots”,[5] through his organisational symbolism of the Brotherhood group and its financial capability, especially that he was not a direct party to the leadership crisis that emerged in recent years although he subsequently supported Ezzat’s front. This strengthens his position as a link between all sides in light of the financial capacity and political contacts of the London office. In addition, the fact that he has no deputies and his practically exclusive management through his newly created "covert" committee would grant him a central executive capacity that would facilitate the possibility of bringing about organisational leaps in case he wants to pass or take a decision, especially that he is the only person who determines the term of the committee, and he is also the one who chooses its members. He left the door open for evaluating performance and replacing members if necessary, although he acknowledged that the group’s Shura Council is the general observer of the various existing procedures.[6]

  • At the political level, these changes increase the opportunities of the political management of the organisation’s dynamism in light of the removal of the organisational weight of supporters of "qualitative work" together with the internal divisions among planners of this path, the shifting loyalties, the financial crisis and persistent international pressures, in addition to the success of Egyptian security policies over the past years in greatly curtailing the path of violence pursued by the group. All this would generally prevent developing the path of violence as a strategic choice due to its failure to achieve a tangible result, especially with Munir's assertion that "the measures taken are related to what has become of Egypt's internal situation, leaving no room for waiting".[7]

Accordingly, efforts are expected to be made to maximise the political paths by intensifying focus on and support for any peaceful movement against the political regime in Egypt, in light of the group’s assertion that “it would not strike any deal whatsoever with the regime, and that its waiting for the occurrence of events that would help bring the regime down is only too normal.[8]


Conclusion

The limits of the effectiveness of the recent leadership changes in the Muslim Brotherhood, and the opportunities and risks they entail, remain tied to the nature of the corresponding interaction by the group's grassroots, the Egyptian authority, and the international community:

  • The position of the group’s grassroots remains uncertain yet towards those changes. It is distributed over several directions, including those who welcome the disappearance of Mahmoud Hussein from the forefront of the leadership scene in light of the various crises that afflicted the group under his administration; those who show their indifference and lack of interest in what happened in light of their vision that what is happening reflects struggles between the seniors in which the grassroots have no role, especially with the continuing worsening conditions for the general membership both at home or abroad and lack of solutions thereto; and those who would support this trend, considering that the practical expansion of the influence of the London office in recent years over aspects of the group’s authority has been achieved through the creation of loyalty circles from different generations, by facilitating their realisation of multiple material and moral gains from their internal positions in the group.
  • The interaction of the Egyptian authority with the group’s new leadership remains to be unexpected in light of the zero-sum conflict between the two parties and the official government position completely opposed to any political or social presence of the group in light of its involvement in violent practices over the past years and the fact that it lacks political pressure cards that might push the Egyptian authority to negotiate.
  • The international position constitutes a decisive factor in determining the extent of effectiveness of the new leadership and the limits of its capability or otherwise to achieve political gains for the organisation, especially in light of the international trend towards considering the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organisation. The organisation’s current leadership is particularly keen to prevent the expansion of this phenomenon by denying the group’s adoption of the violence option and emphasising the adoption of the political action course. Thus, Munir’s appointment and posing him as a symbol of the group’s central leadership would be a catalyst for the group’s repeated attempts to prevent banning the Brotherhood as a terrorist group in other countries, similar to what happened in Britain.

References

[1] See the remarks of the group’s spokesman at: https://cutt.us/ksVz6

[2] Interview with Talat Fahmi, media spokesman of the Muslim Brotherhood group, on “Work arrangements within the group during the next phase”, Watan TV, 19 September 2020. Available at: https://cutt.us/cGoSM

[3] “Ibrahim Munir, the first accused in the "international organisation" (1-2), Official figures visit the Brotherhood's office in London”, almasryalyoum, 6 July 2009. Available at: https://cutt.us/hzeBB

[4] Essam Tallima, “Who is the acting new Guide?”, 14 September 2020, arabi21. Available at: https://cutt.us/5oCRU

[5] Ibrahim Munir’s interview with Al Hiwar TV, 19 September 2020. Available at: https://cutt.us/n8nlB

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ahmed Ramadan, “Brotherhood’s Deputy Guide: we shall not strike a deal with Sisi; we await his fall”, Aljazeera.net, 25 August 2020. Available at: https://cutt.us/8KYfE

 

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