Cablegate: Egypt: Mb Internal Clashes Continue
DE RUEHEG #2298/01 3491401
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 151401Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4448
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 CAIRO 002298
NSC FOR AGUIRRE
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/14/2019
TAGS: PREL PGOV KDEM KJUS PTER EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT: MB INTERNAL CLASHES CONTINUE
REF: A. CAIRO 1893
B. CAIRO 2011
Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Donald A. Blome, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1.(C) Key Points: -- (C) Muslim Brotherhood (MB) internal disputes are heating up as Supreme Guide Akef affirms he will step down at the end of December. Deputy Supreme Guide Mohammed Habib appears poised to take his place. -- (C) The current leadership crisis focuses on the scheduling of lections for a new Supreme Guide either before o after a new MB Shura Council is formed. -- (C) he split once again divides "conservatives" who sek to maintain the MB and its religious and socia activities, even if it means withdrawing from drect political activity and the "reformers" who eek internal reform, and a continued commitment t challenge the government through the political rocess. -- (C) GoE efforts may be targeting thee fault lines in an attempt to keep the MB off blance and ineffective by inflaming the conservatve/reformer split.
2.(C) Comment: The MB's leaership crisis has, to an unusual degree, been plyed out in public and in the press. For the MB'sreformers, this reflects a changing reality to wich they must adapt or lapse into political irreleance. Conservatives, in contrast, see an organizaion weakened by factional fighting and a determied GoE campaign to suppress it. In these circumtances, a tactical withdrawal to protect the MB' unity and core religious mission is imperative.Both courses will hold particular concerns for the oE, and thus a policy of trying to balance the to camps may be what we are seeing. Still, it isclear that the GoE is determined to avoid anothe strong showing from the MB in next year's parlimentary elections. And even if those seeking greatr political participation win the debate, the ned to focus on internal housekeeping will put theMB at an electoral disadvantage.
3.(C) Commet continued: Inter-generational conflict remain the political theme in Egypt. Ongoing internal ebate within the MB leadership oddly mirrors claim of an old-guard/new-guard clash within the rulig National Democratic Party (NDP). The concern xpressed by the current leadership of both the NP and the MB about the impact of rapid or aggressve reform is a common thread. What may be diffeent is the strength of the new generation or the"reform" leadership. The MB experience has been oe of bottom-up pressure to change over a lengthyperiod. Abdel Moneim Fotouh and Essam El Eryan wre both politically active students and leaders of their respective professional labor syndicates. Gamal Mubarak and the reform wing of the NDP are relative newcomers to politics. End Comment.
4.(C) According to press reports, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) Guide Mahdi Akef has once again affirmed he will step down at the end of December. His term as leader of the MB is scheduled to end on January 14. One of two Deputy Supreme Guides, Mohammed Habib (Note: The second Deputy Supreme Guide Khariat El Shater remains in prison. End Note.), is currently the most likely successor to Akef. Embassy contacts confirm press reports that Habib will act as General Guide until elections take place. The date of those elections has been the subject of internal disagreement reported to the media following a heated MB Guidance Bureau meeting on December 12. ----------------------------- Akef Tired of Playing Referee -----------------------------
5.(C) Akef has been unsuccessful at keeping a lid on the most recent series of internal clashes. Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies analyst of Islamic movements Khalil Anany called the current clash "dangerous" for the MB and said none of the current leadership is powerful enough to resolve internal crises, making Akef potentially the "last legitimate Supreme Guide." Christian intellectual Rafik Habib, who maintains close contact with the MB and the Supreme Guide, says that Akef is tired of playing mediator. As the first Supreme Guide to step down, Rafik Habib says his departure is also meant to send the message that reform is needed and it is time for the next generation to take over. Habib also said that Akef, known to have reached out to the CAIRO 00002298 002 OF 003 government in the past, has said he is willing to make a deal with the GoE that would limit MB participation in political life (according to Habib, for a period up to 10 years) in exchange for promises of democratic transformation. Habib added that in 1995, in an effort to marginalize the MB, President Mubarak made a decision to limit official discussions with the MB. As a result, the MB's only channel for official communication with the GoE is through the security services, an interlocutor unlikely to negotiate broad political reforms. It is not clear how the end of Akef's term will affect the MB's ability to deal with the government.
6.(C) The current conflict among members of the Guidance Bureau focuses on two different interpretations of the MB by-laws. The first group, led by recently-released MB "reformer" Abdel Moneim Fotouh, has urged immediate elections for the Supreme Guide. The second championed by Mahmud Ezzat, known to be one of the Guidance Bureau's most conservative members, suggests elections be put off until June when a new Shura Council, the MB's 90-member legislative body, will have been elected. The media has also reported on a possible Guidance Bureau (the highest administrative authority within the MB) election in June as well. Recently released Guidance Bureau member Dr. Gamal Hishmat, told the media he believes it "logical" that a new Supreme Guide be accompanied by a new Shura Council and Guidance Bureau. (Note: "Conservative" and "reformer" are shorthand terms used by outside observers to describe MB members in Arabic, but not necessarily used by MB actors to describe themselves. End Note) ----------------------------- MB Internal Elections Process -----------------------------
7.(C) The Supreme Guide is elected by the MB Shura Council, which is in turn elected by MB members in Egypt-wide elections. Elections for the Shura Council were to have taken place during the summer of 2009. Whether they have is not clear. Akef admitted in October that ongoing MB arrests "slowed MB activities" but said they did not stop them. Rafik Habib affirmed they did happen by whatever means possible, including text message. Once elected the names of the top three candidates are forwarded to the Guidance Bureau which must then affirm the results. The final step is confirmation of the winner by the MB's "International Shura Council" consisting of about 35 members. Habib said he understands leadership decisions made in Egypt have never been rejected by this body. ------------------------ Inter-Generational Split ------------------------
8.(C) According to Al Ahram Center's Khalil Anany, the current dispute, like the disagreement over a potential seat for MB reformer Essam El Eryan (Ref A), reflects a (mostly) inter-generational split between MB "conservatives" eager to preserve the organization and its religious and social services mission and the "reformers" who see the need for increased political engagement and internal reform. Anany suggests that Fotouh is pushing for a "rapid and smooth" transition from Akef to the new Supreme Guide in order to ensure the MB is ready for elections in the lower house of parliament, the People's Assembly (PA), in the fall of 2010. Anany continues to expect the MB to run for these elections, but says the MB is not likely to run as many candidates as it did in 2005 (Note: In 2005 the MB ran in 150 of the 444 constituencies in the PA, 88 members won. End Note). Rafik Habib also said he expects number will be lower in the 2010 elections. ------------------------------- Mohammed Habib Likely Successor -------------------------------
9.(C) Khalil Anany expects that Deputy Guide Mohammed Habib will most likely permanently replace Akef. According to Anany, Mohammed Habib (often described as a "conservative") wants the job and has sought in the last several months to position himself as a centrist. Putting himself in the middle of the current dispute, Habib is seeking to cement his reputation as a potential successor to Akef, known for his ability to mediate these kinds of disputes in the past. Anany also said that Habib has put forward an internal reform proposal he believes will appeal to the movement's youth frustrated by the current leadership. (Note: While Anany offered no details, these reforms would change some of the disputed by-laws. End Note.) Despite Habib's efforts to win CAIRO 00002298 003 OF 003 over the reformers, Anany said he is also advocating postponing internal elections until June. In Anany's view the delay will allow Habib to solidify his reputation and get buy-in on his reforms.
10.(C) Separately, Rafik Habib also told PolOff Mohammed Habib will probably succeed Akef. Popular within the MB, Mohammed Habib came in second in the last Supreme Guide election. (Note: Widely admired reformer and architect of the 2005 elections Khariat El Shater was third but is not in the running now because he remains in prison. End Note.) Conservative leader Mahmoud Ezzat, who is eager to assert himself in the internal debate over the future of the MB but almost never speaks to the media, has according to Rafik Habib "no desire to be a public figure" and will not run for Supreme Guide. ---------------------------- Fotouh Release Intensifies Internal Conflict ----------------------------
11.(C) Anany also suggested the GoE's recent release of MB reformer Fotouh (Reftel B) was meant to "heat-up the ongoing dispute within the MB leadership" in the lead-up to the election of the Supreme Guide. This, along with recurring arrests, is part of a larger strategy of pressure on its economic and social activities that would force an "internal collapse." Anany added that the MB contributed to the GoE effort with its own "mistakes" including its public defense of Hamas during the Gaza crisis and "sympathy" with Hezbollah, a draft political platform that bars both Christians and women from becoming Egypt's president, and the MB's inability to take advantage of political and social momentum coming out of the 2005 elections (including youth movements and increasing labor actions). Rafik Habib characterized the "recurring cycle of detentions," particularly of MB reformers, as an effort to split the group, thus reducing its ability to act politically and as a social movement. He noted the curiously good timing of Fotouh's release, too late for him to influence the Guidance Bureau's decision to reject the candidacy of reformer Essam El Eryan -- that decision had been made ten days before -- but in enough time to make internal discussions about the Supreme Guide's election "more painful." ---------------------------- Khariat El Shater Only Guidance Bureau Member in Jail Through Elections ----------------------------
12.(C) Separately, nine MB members were released from military jail on December 14 after serving their full term of three years. The group includes Ayman Abd-Al-Ghani, the son in law of jailed Deputy Supreme Guide Khariat El Shater. Four others, including Guidance Bureau member Mohammed Al Basher, will reportedly be released in mid-January. El Shater was convicted in the same case and continues to serve the rest of his seven-year sentence along with 13 other MB members. Shater is the last remaining member of the MB Guidance Bureau in detention. Scobey