In a defiant move attesting to growing rifts between dovish and hawkish camps, prominent Muslim Brotherhood reformist Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh has decided to form a new political party that will compete with the Freedom and Justice Party, which was itself recently launched by the Brotherhood.
After weeks of rumors and conflicting reports on his political future, Abouel Fotouh is set to launch a party named Nahdat Masr (Egypt’s Renaissance) next week, said Mohamed al-Shehawy, the new party's spokesman.
"The party will support morals and general liberties and will focus on renaissance, economy and development," said al-Shehawy in a phone interview, adding that the 60-year-old Islamist is currently developing the party's platform.
Abouel Fotouh's announcement represents another phase in the ongoing ideological and generational conflicts that have been racking the nation’s best-organized Islamist organization in recent weeks.
It comes on the heels of a similarly defiant act by hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood youths who insisted on holding a conference on the political future of the organization, despite the opposition of the group’s ageing leadership.
Nearly 300 young Islamists gathered in a hotel in Giza to exchange views for the first time publicly on how to reform the Muslim Brotherhood and what model the group’s new political party should follow. In their final resolution, the youths insisted that the party should be fully independent from the Muslim Brotherhood’s other proselytizing and social-service entities, and that Muslim Brotherhood members should be given the option of joining other political parties.
Such recommendations came in response to an earlier statement made by the group’s hard-line Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, who warned that no Muslim Brotherhood member would be allowed to join political parties other than the Freedom and Justice Party. In light of this affirmative statement, Abouel Fotouh might be sealing his fate with the 83-year-old organization by launching a competitive political entity.
In a public lecture held in Alexandria last week, Abouel Fotouh had reportedly intimated that he would resign from the organization, to which he has belonged since the 1970s, if it gets involved in partisan politics. “He will explain his position on that [in a press conference] next week," al-Shehawy told Al-Masry Al-Youm.
Practically speaking, Abouel Fotouh has not been an influential player in the Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition force, since early 2010, when he was excluded from the Guidance Bureau in a poll marred by irregularities. His dismissal from the group’s supreme executive body was widely seen as an indication of the rise of hardliners. Now, with rising prospects for political liberalization, many reformist members are encouraged to engage in politics independently from the tight grip of the conservative leadership.
Earlier this month, a group of young Muslim Brotherhood activists, along with Ibrahim al-Zaafarani, a middle-generation reformist Brother, launched an online campaign for another party tentatively named the Renaissance Party, hoping that Abouel Fotouh would preside over it.
But al-Shehawy explained that Abouel Fotouh’s venture has nothing to do with al-Zaafarani's.
In recent years, Abouel Fotouh has risen to the fore as a liberal Islamist who preaches democratic values, women’s rights, freedom of speech and expression, and who opposes discrimination against non-Muslims. His views stood at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood’s mainstream discourse at many occasions.
In 2005, his visit to the late Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfouz provoked outrage among Islamists, especially since he condoned the republishing of the novelist’s most controversial piece “Children of the Alley”, which remained banned for decades on grounds that it contained a blasphemous allegory for the history of creation. Islamists had long opposed this text.
In 2007, it became obvious that Abouel Fotouh's views were not shared by the majority of Muslim Brotherhood leaders. For one thing, he affirmed repeatedly that non-Muslims and Copts are entitled to run for president in a Muslim country, while the group unveiled a party platform stating the opposite.