By Eric Trager, Katie Kiraly, Cooper Klose, and Eliot Calhoun
Given its growing control over key government institutions and its unmatched mobilizing capabilities, the Muslim Brotherhood will likely remain Egypt’s most consequential political actor for many years to come. But who are the men who make up this uniquely cohesive and secretive “society,” and what impact will they have on the country’s domestic and foreign policy?
Since Hosni Mubarak’s February 2011 ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as Egypt’s most potent political force. It won a decisive plurality in the winter 2011–2012 People’s Assembly elections and a majority in the January 2012 Shura Council elections, thus gaining control over both houses of parliament and the committee that is writing the next constitution. And in June, the group successfully campaigned to elect Brotherhood leader Muhammad Morsi as Egypt’s first civilian president.
Since taking office, Morsi has moved quickly to consolidate the organization’s power, appointing fellow Muslim Brothers to head key ministries and cracking down on media criticism of the group. His boldest moves came on August 12, when he sacked the generals who posed the greatest threat to his authority, promoted new generals who now answer to him, and issued a constitutional declaration that gave him full executive, legislative, and constitution-writing powers. Although Morsi and the Brotherhood may yet face challenges from non-Islamists, Salafists, former regime elements, and, perhaps, the judiciary, the group’s unmatched mobilizing capabilities and control over key government institutions will likely make it Egypt’s most consequential political actor for many years to come.
For this reason, it is worth taking a closer look at the individuals who make up the Brotherhood’s organizational and political leadership. After all, the group views itself not as a political party directed by a single chairman, but as a cohesive “society” that operates on the basis of internal consultation, or shura. Accordingly, its strategic and policy decisions will be guided not only by Morsi and Supreme Guide Muhammad Badie, but also by a team of longtime Brotherhood officials who will coordinate efforts across the various political bodies the group now dominates.
Who are these individuals? While the profiles in this compendium demonstrate that Brotherhood leaders come from many different educational and professional backgrounds, their stories illustrate three important points about the organization.
First, the Brotherhood’s leadership is composed almost exclusively of longtime members. Most were recruited during high school or college and, in many cases, served in top administrative positions within the Brotherhood’s nationwide structure before being promoted to the Guidance Office (the organization’s top executive authority) or nominated for political office. To some extent, this is typical of any political organization: veteran members tend to lead. But for the Brotherhood, having longtime members in top posts ensures that its leaders have all been vetted over the course of decades for their willingness to comply with the internal shura committee’s decisions. This does not mean that internal divisions are impossible, but the tight, time-tested circle in which decisions are made makes this highly unlikely. As a result, the Brotherhood maintains a unity of purpose that other Egyptian political groups have yet to achieve.
Second, in addition to their positions within the group, most Brotherhood leaders were active in important societal organizations under the Mubarak regime, serving on the boards of professional syndicates, heading labor unions, running religious charities, and/or participating in key social clubs. These positions enabled them to build their stature at a time when avenues for more direct political participation were often blocked. Such activity also helped the group expand its outreach networks, through which it gained popular support by providing social services and increasing its recruitment efforts.
Third, almost all of the Brotherhood’s top leaders were directly persecuted under the Mubarak regime, and many served time as political prisoners. To some extent, this enhances their unity, particularly among those who were imprisoned together. More important, it makes them unlikely to tolerate competing centers of power, since the Brotherhood’s ouster could invite a new era of repression against the organization.
Individual profiles suggest other important points about the Brotherhood as well. In particular, the group’s recruitment networks clearly have international reach, since three of its top leaders (including Morsi) came aboard while living in the United States. The Brotherhood’s internal promotion structure is also somewhat nepotistic, given that its top leaders frequently are related to each other through marriage or are professional colleagues. Finally, despite the fact that Brotherhood officials have never run a government ministry or wielded meaningful political power until recently, the group is confident that it has the expertise to lead Egypt because its members come from many different professional backgrounds.
This first installment of Brotherhood profiles examines top figures from the Guidance Office, the Freedom and Justice Party (the group’s political arm), the parliamentary leadership, and members of Morsi’s presidential office. These profiles will be updated as new information surfaces, and new ones will be added over time.
(Note: To see quotation sources and photographs for each individual profiled, download the PDF version of the compendium.)
- Saber Abouel Fotouh
- Salah Abdel Maqsoud
- Saber Abdul Sadeq
- Sabri Amer
- Sheikh Sayyed Askar
- Khaled al-Azhari
- Muhammad Badie
- Muhammad al-Beltagy
- Amr Darrag
- Essam al-Erian
- Mahmoud Ezzat
- Ahmed Fahmi
- Ali Fath al-Bab
- Mahmoud Ghozlan
- Essam al-Haddad
- Mahmoud Hussein
- Saad al-Husseini
- Hussein Ibrahim
- Farid Ismail
- Saad al-Katatni
- Mahmoud el-Khodary
- Hassan Malek
- Muhammad Morsi
- Mustafa Mosaad
- Gen. Abbas Mukhaymer
- Al-Sayyed Negidah
- Subhi Saleh
- Akram al-Shaer
- Khairat al-Shater
- Ahmed Suleiman
- Muhammad Tousoun
- Tareq Wafiq
- Osama Yassin
- Born: August 1951
- Position: President of Egypt; formerly member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Office, parliamentarian (2000–2005), and chairman of the Freedom and Justice Party
- Education: Doctorate in engineering from University of Southern California (1982), master’s degree in engineering from Cairo University (1978), bachelor’s degree in engineering from Cairo University (1975)
- Occupation: Engineer
Morsi was first recruited to the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States while studying for his PhD in engineering at the University of Southern California. His children were born in California and are U.S. citizens. After receiving his doctorate in 1982, he taught as an assistant professor at California State University–Northridge until 1985.
He then returned to Egypt to teach at Zagazig University, where his colleagues included current Brotherhood deputy supreme guides Mahmoud Ezzat and Mahmoud Ghozlan. Some sources report that Morsi’s rise in the MB began in 2000, when he was elected as a member of the People’s Assembly and served as the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc leader from 2000 to 2005. After losing his parliamentary race in 2005 due to Mubarak regime forgery, he became leader of the Brotherhood’s political division. From 2007 onward, he was also the key point of contact between the MB and the regime’s repressive State Security apparatus (and, according to MB political leader Saad al-Husseini, between the Brotherhood and Hamas).
Morsi has been arrested at least twice: he was detained for seven months in 2006 after protesting alongside several judges who had been targeted by the regime, and again during the January 2011 uprising, along with several other Brotherhood leaders. Following the uprising, the MB leadership appointed him chairman of the newly formed Freedom and Justice Party. In April 2012, he was chosen as the group’s backup presidential candidate in the event that its initial candidate, Khairat al-Shater, was barred from running. When Shater was indeed excluded due to a previous conviction, Morsi became the MB’s presidential nominee. In the first round of Egypt’s presidential election, Morsi won 24.78 percent of the vote, securing his position in a runoff against Ahmed Shafiq in mid-June. On June 24, Morsi was declared president, having won 51.73 percent of the vote.
Read the rest at The Washington Institute