Muslim Brotherhood youth break away
Cairo - Several young members from the Muslim Brotherhood have launched their own political party, exposing cracks in the influential Islamist organisation that is expected to be the most formidable contender in Egypt's upcoming elections.
Banned from politics for half a century, the Brotherhood nonetheless maintained an effective organisation based on a network of social services, successfully running candidates as independents in past parliamentary elections.
Now that a popular revolution has deposed President Hosni Mubarak and removed restrictions, the Brotherhood was expected to jump in and possibly even dominate a new parliament. Some liberal and secular parties are so concerned that they have called for delaying the election to allow more time for them to organise and campaign.
But the movement also faces new challenges: The openness in Egypt is taking its toll on the venerable Islamist group, with younger, more pragmatic activists chafing under the doctrinaire leadership of the old guard.
The Brotherhood's political party is called Freedom and Justice, required under the new regulations to admit women and Christians but guided by the group's Islamic ideology. The Brotherhood is worried enough to threaten to expel members who join competing parties and threw out a leading member who decided to run for president on his own.
Other Islamist groups also have announced plans to register new political parties - including some from the ultraconservative Salafi brand of Islam, which was previously averse to participating in political life.
Attention is going to Brotherhood members who have broken away and formed their own parties, like Egyptian Trend.
"This is not a Brotherhood party or a party of the Brotherhood youth," said Islam Lotfy, a Brotherhood member and a founding member of the new party.
The Brotherhood leadership said the decision of Lotfy, and as many as 20 others from the group will be penalised, because their actions violate a ban on its members to join any other by the newly formed Freedom and Justice Party.
"They will be referred to internal investigation and will be expelled if they don't quit" the new party, said Mahmoud Hussein, Secretary general of the Brotherhood. "They will have different loyalty."
Lotfy sees no contradiction between being a member in the Brotherhood as an advocacy group and joining a new political party.
"I have set my priorities. Working with the [Egyptian Trend] party is a choice and a priority," he said.
Lotfy was active in a youth coalition that formed during the early days of revolution that began on January 25 and forced Mubarak to step down 18 days later.
He said the new party wants to capture the experience he gained during those tumultuous days working with other political groups and activists who espouse different ideologies.
"We have an extended experience from working with the January 25 group toward specific goals. We were able to put our ideological differences aside," he said. "We want a new party that overcomes politics."
This is a veiled criticism of his original organisation, which formally joined the protests days after they began. Younger members are growing critical of the decision-making process in the Brotherhood, controlled by a senior leadership, which is extending its reach to its Freedom and Justice party.
Lotfy said his new party is not an "Islamic" party, but one that devises its own programmes and priorities from the public, which he called the mainstream.
Its members are from different ideological backgrounds, including leftists, and liberals who aim to drastically improve Egypt's social indicators and international standing by 2030.
"We believe that the audience we are targeting no one has reached out to yet," he said. "I have gained a lot of experience from the Brotherhood which is known for its great ability to organise... I hope I can gain from that, and this would be reflected in our performance."
Brotherhood leaders say the party will run for only half of the parliament's seats in elections expected in September, and they are working to form coalitions with other parties, including liberals.
Another leading member of the Brotherhood had earlier announced his plans to run for the upcoming presidential elections, in violating of the Brotherhood's decision not to field candidates.
Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fottouh, a leading member of the Brotherhood known for his moderate views and appeal among the youth, was expelled on Saturday for violating the group's rules.