The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) opposition movement Monday announced the results of elections for membership in its authoritative Guidance Bureau, following months of atypically public disputes.
Elections were overseen by the group’s supreme guide, or murshid, Mohamed Mahdi Akef, who earlier this month announced his intention to step down from his post on 13 January. In a brief press statement, Akef announced that bureau elections had been held "in a suitable manner, despite the situation we’re in."
"The situation" mentioned by the supreme guide was in reference to recent fissures within the MB, which some members fear could end up jeopardizing the group’s traditional unity.
"In recent weeks, we have patiently endured a number of developments and circumstances," Akef told fellow members after election results were announced. "You, as a result, have suffered from contradictory statements and the general mood. But, with the grace of God, you were patient too."
Those to win seats on the 16-member Guidance Bureau include bureau secretary-general Mahmoud Ezzat and senior MB member Mohamed Morsi, both seen as leaders of the group’s "conservative" camp. Essam el-Erian, the "reformist" head of the group’s politburo–widely seen as Morsi’s chief rival–also secured a seat on the bureau.
The internal divisions that have emerged in recent months were caused largely by a spat between el-Erian and Morsi over bureau membership. According to reports, Morsi had vehemently objected to calls for the appointment of el-Erian to the bureau.
MB veteran Mohammed Badei also won a seat. According to blogger and MB member Abdel Moneim Mahmoud, Badei represents a likely contender for the soon-to-be-vacant post of murshid.
In what could be seen as a blow to the group’s "reformist" camp, MB second-in-command Mohammed Habib and reformist member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh both failed to win seats.
Within the last two days, Habib has declined to make any statements to the press. Following the announcement of election results, repeated attempts to reach Habib were unsuccessful.
Last week, Habib told Arab satellite news channel Al-Jazeera that the date for elections had been brought forward via underhanded methods. El-Erian himself admitted to Al-Masry Al-Youm on Sunday that election procedures had "lacked transparency." El-Erian went on to complain that he had only learnt of recent bureau decisions through the media rather than through official MB channels.
According to Mahmoud, telephone text messages were sent with the names of election winners at least one day before election results were officially announced. While senior MB officials were telling reporters that results had yet to be released, bloggers and online activists were already circulating what appeared to be a leaked list of new Guidance Bureau members.
Hossam Tamam, a local expert on the MB, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that leaks now tend to come from within the group’s ranks rather than from the state security apparatus. This, he said, had become a preferred method for rival MB members to score points against one another.
The date for bureau elections had been approved by the MB’s consultative Shura Council, which dictates group policy and–in theory–overrides the murshid. Earlier this month, an informal referendum was held among group members to decide whether or not to postpone bureau elections.
According to recent press statements by Habib, it was Ezzat who unilaterally decided that the majority favored holding early elections. Habib even hinted that Ezzat might have pressured the Shura Council, too, to opt for the earlier date. Although his name was on the list of candidates, Habib for the most part distanced himself from the contest.
Following the elections, el-Erian told Al-Masry Al-Youm that some MB members were thinking about challenging the results and calling for fresh elections.
"But it’s too early to decide that now. People are talking, but no petitions have been brought forward yet," he said. "These things need to be discussed by the group’s executive body, and if they’re found to be legitimate, fresh elections become a possibility."
Mahmoud, for his part, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that a new telephone text message–apparently from young MB members–was circulated on Monday. The message reads: "No Allegiance. No trust. No leadership for the insurrectional dissenters of the bureau."
A page on social-networking website Facebook was also created, presumably by dissenting group members, voicing fierce opposition to the recent vote. "We refuse the illegitimate Muslim Brotherhood elections," the page reads.