Within the ongoing dispute between the two conflicting factions of the Muslim Brotherhood, the London group led by Ibrahim Munir on the one side, the Istanbul group led by Mahmoud Hussein, former Secretary-General of the Muslim Brotherhood on the other, the latter decided on July 12 to permanently dismiss Ibrahim Munir from the Muslim Brotherhood together with 13 other supporters of the wing he was controlling. This development constitutes the peak of conflict between the two parties since October 2021, as it is one of the most dangerous crises that have been emerged since its foundation in Egypt in 1928.
The Istanbul faction’s decision to “separate” Ibrahim Munir from the Muslim Brotherhood came in light of a number of variables and developments related to the group:
- Ibrahim Munir’s group intended to hold its first meeting of the new Shura Council on the 14th, 15th and 16th of July 2022. Munir had succeeded in holding elections, where he chose 33 members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Shura Council. These are an alternative to some members of the Shura Council loyal to the opposing faction, controlled by Mahmoud Hussein together with his supporters Medhat Al-Haddad, Rajab Al-Banna, Ali Youssef, Mamdouh Mabrouk and others.
- The group’s attempt to penetrate the current political scene in Egypt, especially after the Egyptian president’s call for a national dialogue, as well as Egypt’s tendency to political reforms and openness to the national opposition, which the group is trying to exploit through the many messages of wooing that came out of its leaders.
- Turkey’s desire to complete rapprochement with Egypt and the Gulf states, and the numerous indications that the Muslim Brotherhood is about to leave Turkey for a third country, in addition to reducing the role of its media platforms.
- The confusion that the Muslim Brotherhood is experiencing in more than one country, especially in Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Sudan, Syria and Jordan, as before in Egypt and the Gulf states. This resulted in splits and public disagreements among the organization’s branches in those countries.
- Most of the MB leaders fell into the hands of Egyptian security authorities, including Mahmoud Ezzat, the deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, and Mohamed Badie as Ezzat’s predecessor.
Their absence from the scene and the ambiguity of their position on the ongoing disputes opened the door to jurisprudence and even endorsed statements attributed to some of the arrested leaders.
The roots of the conflict between London and Istanbul
The crisis dates back to late 2013, when the dispersal of Rabaa was a major shock to both the Muslim Brotherhood’s and President Morsi’s supporters. It disrupted the leadership structure of the group after the arrest of many leaders, led by Muhammad Badie. The remnants of the group tried to avoid division by adhering to the decisions of the “Supreme Administrative Committee”, but the state of fragmentation in the group’s ranks was much deeper than that.
Later, the internal crisis – in its current form – erupted in the central Muslim Brotherhood organization in Egypt after Egyptian security services arrested Mahmoud Ezzat, the acting general leader of the group, in August 2020. Ibrahim Mounir assumed the position as Ezzat’s deputy (appointed by him in this position in July 2015), according to Article 5 of the group’s general regulations. This angered the Hussein group, known as the “Turkey Office/Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Association Abroad” (founded by Hussein from Turkey in 2013). Mahmoud Hussein saw that he was more deserving the position – according to the same regulation – and as the last member of the Muslim Brotherhood Directing Office remaining outside prison (the office represents the highest leadership and executive body), and the Secretary General of the Guidance Office and its oldest elected member of the movement’s general secretariat.
Mahmoud Hussein tried to obstruct Munir’s access to power, initially through an official request, signed by ten leaders of the General Shura Council, to amend Article 5 of the group’s bylaw and reformulate it so that Hussein would assume his position as leader instead of Munir, but did not succeed.
Other factors, such as how to deal with the Egyptian-Turkish talks on the relations’ restoration between the two countries, led to an intensification of the conflict between the two groups in May 2021: The front of Ibrahim Munir, the acting Muslim Brotherhood leader residing in London, and the group of Mahmoud Hussein, the former secretary general, residing in Istanbul. This follows new procedures and decisions by Ibrahim Munir, that Hussein described as “exclusionary,” such as postponing the basic elections and establishing a maximum age for candidacy set by Munir at 45 years, which implicitly meant excluding Hussein and his supporters from all important positions and central committees within the group.
Also, the decision to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood’s office in Turkey, and to investigate Mahmoud Hussein and a number of his supporters on charges of financial and administrative violations. Finally, the formation of a new administrative committee to manage the group’s affairs.
Mahmoud Hussein and his group rejected Munir’s decisions and questioned their legitimacy. The group took a decision to elect the prominent leader of the group, Mustafa Tolba, as a representative of the temporary committee, to replace Ibrahim Munir. Later, it was announced that Mounir himself had been dismissed from the Muslim Brotherhood.
A chronology of the conflict’s most important chapters
- On June 12, the Istanbul faction decided to permanently fire Ibrahim Munir from the Muslim Brotherhood together with 13 of his main allies.
- Hours after the London faction dismissed Mustafa Talba, appointed by the Istanbul group, the latter front responded with a statement on February 1, 2022 in which it rejected the decision and renewed its allegiance to Muhammad Badi, the group’s imprisoned leader in Egypt. The Istanbul Front’s statement affirmed full commitment to and respect for the decisions of the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Shura Council. It pointed out that the Council would be the supreme reference for the organization in all its affairs, and called on all members to abide by the decisions of the Shura institutions.
- On June 29, 2022, the London group decided to dismiss its acting leader Mustafa Tolba. Munir wrote in an official statement that „London“ did not recognize the decisions of „Istanbul“, or as the General Shura Council is called. They stressed that only the Deputy Supreme Leader Ibrahim Munir represents the group’s legitimacy and what was decided by „Istanbul“ “is a split in the row that requires accountability.”
- On December 17 2021, the Mahmoud Hussein group announced a temporary solution to the faction’s leadership, choosing Mustafa Tolba as representative of the temporary committee and the acting general leader Muhammad Badie as Ibrahim Munir’s replacement. At that time, the group’s statement said that the temporary administrative committee would last only six months, which would mean that its work would expire in mid-June and the post would become vacant again. The selection of Mustafa Tolba was a unilateral decision by the Istanbul office in a move to exclude Munir, following the latter’s decision to freeze the membership of Mahmoud Hussein, Medhat Al-Haddad, Muhammad Abdel Wahab, Hammam Ali Youssef, Rajab Al-Banna and Mamdouh Mabrouk, which prompted them to announce his dismissal from his position after that.
- In early July 2021, the “Supreme Administrative Body”, headed by Ibrahim Munir, issued a set of decisions: Dissolving the administrative office of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in Turkey and the Shura Council in Turkey, with the postponement of the elections, scheduled for July, for six months.
- In September 2020, Ibrahim Munir announced the formation of a committee to manage the organization’s work, ending the role of the General Secretariat and the position of Secretary-General, led by its leader, Mahmoud Hussein.
- On January 26, 2016, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, former head of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, called the Brotherhood in Egypt to hold “comprehensive elections for its institutions at home and abroad, as soon as possible” to get out of the current crisis it is going through. Al-Qaradawi also called for stopping the media exchange between the group’s leaders, calling on the two conflicting parties, “to work and cooperate with each other within the framework of the group’s existing institutions”, until the elections. Al-Qaradawi revealed that he had participated in a number of “personalities who have intellectual, advocacy, and weight (he did not name them)”, to “mediate and help addressing the existing problem, and bring the positions of its parties closer.”
- In 2016, a youth group known as the “Public Office Front” or “Change Movement” split from the Muslim Brotherhood organization, formed a parallel group with an executive office and a parallel general Shura Council. It has become supportive of Ibrahim Munir since 2020.
- In December 2015, the Muslim Brotherhood office in London announced the dismissal of Mohamed Montaser (residing in Egypt) from his job as a media spokesman for the group, and the appointment of Talaat Fahmy (55 years old) as a new spokesman. This was followed by the launch of a new website for the group and the continuation of issuing counter-statements between the leaders of the group and its executive offices about the organization’s management and the form of the revolution they are taking against the Egyptian authorities.
The group’s current reality
Based on the foregoing, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is now semi-officially divided into two main factions that control the scene. In addition to other currents that took somewhat separate paths according to their own agendas, these factions are:
- Ibrahim Munir’s faction („London“): Its most prominent figures are Muhammad al-Buhairi, who resides in Britain and Ahmad Mahmoud al-Abyari, who moved from Austria to London recently, beside Youssef Nada, former commissioner of the group’s international relations, responsible for its investments in most parts of the world.
This front is linked to the organization’s activities in Europe and Britain in particular,,in the United States and Canada, it has “good” relations with the leftist parties in those countries. Over the past two years, this faction has worked to strengthen its position and attract the Muslim Brotherhood’s administrative offices outside Egypt, as well as members and active supporters around the world. It has benefited from the presence of support from external offices (most notably the London office, Malaysia, Somalia and others). Ibrahim Munir’s group has the partial support from some members of the General Shura Council abroad.
- Mahmoud Hussein’s faction („Istanbul“): Its most prominent leaders are Mustafa Tolba, Medhat Al-Haddad, Muhammad Abdul-Wahhab, Hammam Ali Youssef, Rajab Al-Banna, and Mamdouh Mabrouk.It represents the Brotherhood of Egypt (the local organization) and is supervised and managed in secret by Mahmoud Hussein, who has good relations with Turkish intelligence and the ruling AKP. He relies on the financial and administrative basis he controls for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the support of a number of leaders who benefit financially from the alliance with him, especially Mustafa Tolba.
- The Change Movement faction (or General Office): It was formed following an internal crisis between 2015 and 2016, where the movement witnessed a dispute in Egypt regarding the position of the second Supreme Administrative Committee, which was formed in February 2014 to conduct business as an alternative to the Guidance Office, the majority of whose members have been arrested since July 2013. It includes the mid-level leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and some young people. This group operates completely independently and has an executive office (an alternative to the Guidance Office), and a general Shura Council (separate from the well-known council) and it does not agree with the Muslim Brotherhood’s conflicting groups except for the selection of Muhammad Badie.
- The Interior Muslim Brotherhood faction: It includes the remainder of the organization’s solid bloc under the leadership of what is known as the “administrative committee in the Egyptian interior.” This front stands in a silent, anticipating stance, and is keen not to take sides with either of the two conflicting groups.
Fact check on the conflict between „London“ and „Istanbul“
- Each side sought to monopolize the group’s leadership and management, refused to fully participate with the other side. Their response to the crisis was characterized by stagnation and excessive radicalism.
- The insistence of both parties on using the same organizational tools and taking the same procedural decisions to prove their eligibility to lead, including the method of violators’ assassination, and cutting off financial support for them.
- The ongoing media war between the two parties: By claiming that each of them has the right to unilaterally lead the group and accusing the other side of breaking the established traditions of the movement, committing regulatory violations that contradict the general regulations of the Muslim Brotherhood, issued in 2009.
- Attempts by both parties to rapprochement with the “neutral bloc“ in the organization or what remained of it inside Egypt.
- The stubbornness of the two sides and their rejection of all the initiatives put forward by Muslim Brotherhood and non-Muslim Brotherhood parties, despite the neutrality and flexibility of most of them.
- Each party seeks to distinguish from the other, while Mahmoud Hussein’s group adheres to appearing in a traditional and conservative manner, Ibrahim Munir seeks in its current path to give it a modernist facade by strengthening its organization with the youth and adopting their theses.
Expected repercussions and implications
The recent developments that led into isolation and counter-isolation between the leaders of the international organization and the leaders of the Egyptian component, represent the visible differences and vertical and horizontal divisions within the organization. Today we are talking about more than one leadership within the organization, as well as about parallel entities and entities within the organization itself.
In light of the two parties’ tendency to the conflict in escalating and not to calming down until the other side is subjugated, in the absence of any indications of bridging the rift, the following points can be identified in drawing the future path for the organization:
- It seems that Mahmoud Hussein’s announcement in Turkey to “dismiss Ibrahim Munir from the Muslim Brotherhood” is just a symbolic step aimed at acknowledging the separation of the Egyptian part within the organization from the international one led by Munir from London. Thus, we are facing a public and official rupture between the international organization represented by the immigrant group in Britain, and the Egypt group, represented by members living Turkey.
- The continuation of this estrangement and the questioning of the legitimacy of the other party by each side will put the group in a position of weakness and make it lose the ability to adapt to the changing conditions in the region and keep pace with the changes taking place in the relations between its former sponsors and supporters – such as Qatar and Turkey – on the one hand and the Arab countries on the other. On the other hand, however, this will allow any of the conflicting groups within the Muslim Brotherhood to make agreements or deals between them and some governments.
- Despite the foregoing, this fragmentation does not mean that the organization will fail soon. The flexible method of the Muslim Brotherhood’s structure allows space for local sub-groups spread throughout the world to disperse, and then try to gather and form again whenever the appropriate conditions are created. It is known that the Brotherhood faced leadership crises and struggles during the great ordeals it went through (the years 1948, 1954, and 1965), and its bases were divided into conflicting parts, but it was emerging from that situation in a dramatic way.
It seems obvious that even if one of the two parties manages to resolve the conflict, the Muslim Brotherhood in its traditional, well-known form, eroded and lost the greatest amount of cohesion, after it had always been proud of being the most cohesive Islamic movement. Thus, it may soon turn into a mere intellectual framework for diverse groups, antagonizing each other.