Reports are swirling that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is about to announce a shakeup in its Shura Council, with five new members - all reportedly associated with the conservative "dawa" trend - replacing elderly, deceased, and imprisoned incumbents. This seems to have strengthened the conservative trend at the expense of reformists, and has evidently infuriated many youth activists within the organization. Some of them, including leading Brotherhood blogger Abd el-Monem Mahmoud, suggest that the conservatives are taking advantage of the regime's repression to consolidate their power within the organization and to prevent the emergence of a reformist leadership headed by the imprisoned Khairat al-Shater. This seems to be rapidly developing into one of the sharpest public internal struggle within the MB in years.
There is still a lot of uncertainty about what's actually going on. For instance, there are sharp disagreements about whether elections were held or the new members simply appointed. Some of the reformist critics complain about reformist candidates being passed over in favor of less popular conservatives, while some of their favorites deny being considered or interested. The status of the imprisoned Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater and Mohammed Bishr is also unclear - some say they are being removed, others that they are simply being put on a kind of "injured reserve" while they are unable to fill their roles. But whatever the case, as important a MB figure as Gamal Hishmet warned publicly that the lack of transparency in the organization threatens its internal stability.
The most controversial part of the appointments is the alleged sidelining of the reformists and especially of those associated with Khairat al-Shater. The imprisoned deputy guide is a wealthy businessman and charismatic reformist with wide support from activist youth, the champion of the reformist trend and widely tipped to be the next Supreme Guide. He was the force behind the English-language Ikhwan Web, and the patron of the MB Blogging movement I profiled last year. I can personally attest to Shater's interest in opening up channels of communication with the West: he wrote a moving response to my Foreign Policy article, delivered from prison via his daughter, which I did not publish at her request. Shater's pragmatism and democratic leanings, argues Mahmoud, threatened the old leadership of the MB, which despite its talk of shura did not want to lose its dominant position.
This appears to be the most open and intense internal divide in the Muslim Brotherhood in some time, and a sign that the regime's repression is pushing it into a more conservative and less reformist direction. The Muslim Brotherhood youth bloggers, who had been mostly quiet since the organizational crackdown late last year, now appear to be lashing out in frustration, with Mahmoud openly complaining that the MB lacks the means for real internal dialogue and that its leadership lectures instead of discussing. How the leadership will respond to the public airing of this internal dissent will be extremely interesting, as will the impact on the MB's approach to democratic participation. This is definitely something to watch (keep on eye on Mahmoud's blog, which has been red hot for the last few days).