The Nov. 4 death of the Muslim Brotherhood’s acting general guide Ibrahim Munir has triggered a new internal power struggle.
At the moment, there are three factions struggling for control, all operating outside of Egypt: One in Britain and two others in Istanbul. The London faction, once led by Munir, is now led by Mohei El-din El Zayet. One Istanbul faction is led by Mahmoud Hussein, and the other is the “Current of Change” faction. Each claims to be the legitimate representative of the Brotherhood and its goals.
Before his death, Munir declared that the Brotherhood would no longer seek power in Egypt. The Istanbul factions reject this position, and one of them believes in militant operations against the Egyptian government and army.
After Munir’s death, the group’s London faction immediately declared El Zayet to be its acting guide. In response, an Istanbul-based faction anointed Mahmoud Hussein.
“The Muslim Brotherhood group realizes that the youth boys and girls are its present tools, the power of the group, the hope, its glory makers, the safety valve for its continuity and the name of its future,” Hussein said in a Nov. 20 speech. “That’s why the group is working on preparing and qualifying a generation of youth leaders who is completely qualified in all professions and able to lead the group toward a safe transition into the second centennial for the group, God willing.”
The feud cannot be settled anytime soon. It requires a general assembly vote, something difficult to arrange with members behind bars or in exile.
Egypt considers El Zayet a terrorist. He was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison by a military court for a number of terrorism-related cases involving a terrorist cell known as the Helwan Brigades. Helwan Brigades attacks in 2014-15 killed five police officers and destroyed a number of electrical towers. El-Zayet was charged with coordinating various brigade groups.
Munir was credited with keeping the global Muslim Brotherhood group intact after it was banned in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Jordan. In 2016, he persuaded the British parliament not to ban the Muslim Brotherhood or label it a terrorist entity. He told a parliament committee that sharia laws tolerate apostates and homosexuals, which contradict the teachings of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna.
But both Munir and Mahmoud Hussein were abhorred by the Current of Change faction, which is comprised mostly of the group’s youth, who see the old guard as too old and entrenched. It is also known as “The Third Wave” and “The New Kamalists,” referring to Mohamed Kamal, a deceased founder of the group. Current of Change organized a convention in Istanbul last October coinciding with the anniversary of Kamal’s death.
Kamal masterminded a number of terrorist activities in Egypt before being killed by Egyptian security forces in 2016 after a short battle at his hideout in Cairo. The Change movement believes in restoring the tenets set by the group’s founder Hassan al-Banna and its ideologue and terrorism mastermind Sayyid Qutb. These tenets include fighting apostate governments and ousting rulers by force as a form of jihad. Qutb believed in imposing sharia laws on to society in place of civil law.
The Current of Change faction issued a charter during its first official meeting in Istanbul. It indicates that the group is willing to resume terrorist activities in Egypt, according to Sky News Arabia. It shuns any reconciliation or rapprochement efforts with the Egyptian government.
“All options are open to the use of force and violence, and the need to release prisoners,” the charter said.
It also called for “the end of the era of centralization within the [Brotherhood] and the reliance on decentralization,” seen as a statement that it would not follow the London or Istanbul factions.
These positions contradict Munir’s statement that the Muslim Brotherhood no longer seeks power in Egypt.
Munir had claimed that his faction’s focus is on freeing Brotherhood members in Egyptian prisons, “achieving societal reconciliation, and building a broad national partnership that adopts the demands of Egyptians in achieving political and economic reform.”
“Ibrahim Munir’s statement seems to make concessions to the authority in Egypt, thinking that this might allow [the Muslim Brotherhood] to return to political work after a while, or at least to engage in social work, especially since Munir and his front have the perception that the group no longer possesses any weapons with which it can confront the political system in Egypt,” wrote Egyptian counterterrorism researcher Munir Adeeb.
If Muslim Brotherhood bylaws were applied to the letter, the next acting general guide should be 80-year-old Mohamed El-Beheiry, who lives in Turkey. He is the oldest member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was part of the notorious cell known as Organization 65, which was headed by Sayyid Qutb and also included Badie.
Organization 65 carried out a number of assassination attempts targeting Egypt’s then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and launched other coordinated attacks in an effort to topple the Egyptian government. Egyptian authorities dismantled the group in 1965, sentencing a number of its members—including Qutb—to death.
El-Beheiry was one Munir’s many enemies and participated in an attempted coup against him in October 2021. In response, Munir suspended El-Beheiry and a number of his accomplices.
El-Beheiry’s potential rise as the next acting general guide would deepen the rift between the Muslim Brotherhood factions. Younger members feel that they are being ignored and treated as cannon fodder in their leaders’ battle with the Egyptian state.
The future of a unified Muslim Brotherhood group in Egypt remains murky, as the group is splintered into at least three known factions, each with its own set of goals and agenda that sometimes contradict the others. The new Current of Change group lacks the legitimacy that is enjoyed by the London and Istanbul factions, but carries the ideals of the overzealous radicals of the group, who represent a large number of the Brotherhood’s younger generation.
Hany Ghoraba is an Egyptian writer, political and counterterrorism analyst at Al Ahram Weekly, author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy and a regular contributor to the BBC. He is a senior fellow at the Investigative Project on Terrorism.