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A Conflict Is Raging Between Young Members And Old Guards Of The Muslim Brotherhood

The younger members of the movement want to take revenge and are shifting the group’s ideology in a more radical direction.

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Mahmoud Khaled / AFP / Getty Images

Young supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood demonstrate outside Cairo University after an Egyptian court rejected a request to appoint new judges for the trial of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in 2014.

CAIRO — Less than 24 hours after a spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood called on the movement to take revenge in the name of the Islamists in May, 19-year-old Ahmed decided that he would answer the call.

“Finally, there is a voice of someone who understands," Ahmed told his father, a longtime Muslim Brotherhood supporter. The family names of Ahmed and his father are being withheld upon their request because they are active members of the Brotherhood, now a banned organization in Egypt. “An eye for an eye. We have been saying this for a long time. Your peacefulness has only begotten us death and humiliation. Those guys [the military] only understand one thing and that is blood.”

But Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Ali, didn’t agree. While Ahmed was following a call for revenge against the government of President Abdel Fattah Sisi from the Muslim Brotherhood’s new, youthful leadership, his father was adhering to the old guard of the movement, which called for peaceful protests. The father and son fought for two hours, and then Ahmed was thrown out of his family’s home.

“Do you think throwing me out will solve anything?” Ahmed recalls telling his father as he walked out of the house. “Stay as you are until they slaughter us one after the other like chicken.”

Across Egypt, disagreements like the one in Ahmed’s family were happening on a much wider scale within the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

For the last 80 years, loyal followers of the Muslim Brotherhood have prided themselves on operating like an extended, traditional family, with the younger members of the group following the elders of the movement. But the ousting of the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi from office, and subsequent arrest of thousands of their members and top leadership, has left the Muslim Brotherhood in shambles.

While the youth who support the Islamist movement want to see a direct, even violent confrontation with Egypt’s army and police, the older generation believes that in order to survive, the movement needs to compromise, and keep a level head for the years to come. Disagreements over how to move forward could lead to a coup within the movement by the younger members, said Said Sadek, a professor at American University in Cairo.

“On the one hand there is a generation now that wants to carry weapons in public and is supported by fatwas from figures outside the Brotherhood,” said Sadek. "On the other hand there is the generation of the elders who were groomed to calmer ideas. The clash of ideas is splitting the Brotherhood into two.”

One of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders in exile, Muhammed Sudan, who currently lives as a fugitive in London, acknowledged that there was a conflict within the movement.

"There is definitely an internal conflict between generations," said Sudan, who spoke to BuzzFeed News via phone. He said the rising tensions between the youths and the elders were due to a breakdown in the structure of the group, and the difficulty in communicating official messages.

Since being outlawed in December 2014, the Brotherhood has not been able to hold official meetings for “governorate offices,” which range from meetings set by the Guidance Office, a centralized Brotherhood group, to what are known as family meetings, in which local chapters of the Brotherhood meet informally.

Eric Trager, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy specializing in Islamist movements, said the Brotherhood has been trying to find its footing since the arrests, and recent death death sentences handed down to its senior leadership.

"The Guidance Office seemingly has little control on the ground,” said Trager. “The Sisi government broke the Brotherhood's command chain through its mass arrest campaign, and the repressive environment has made it harder for Brothers to attend their usra ("family") meetings."

With those traditional family units broken down, the youth decided it was time to change.

"Things couldn't have continued the way they were,"said Maha, a law student who asked that BuzzFeed withhold her family name because she is an active member of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. "A more vivid leadership was needed to manage things, one that was fast, so elections were held to choose a new administrative bureau and youth secured a majority.”

A number of committees were formed to run the affairs of the Brotherhood during the six months after the dispersal of the Rabea mosque sit-in. However, members of these committees were arrested one by one. In February 2014, the Brotherhood held elections to choose an internal committee to manage the crisis, in which the youth won 65% of the seats.

Over the last six months, newly elected Brotherhood spokesperson Mohammad Montasser started issuing strongly worded statements calling for revenge and a "revolution that would decapitate heads." But even as Montasser was calling for blood, an older, longstanding member of the group, Mahmoud Ghozlan, was publishing articles calling for the movement to reject violence.

Ghozlan's article triggered angry calls among the youth that he had displayed "submissiveness,” while the calls by the much younger new spokesperson were met with anxiety among the elder leaders. The older generation held a meeting to form a new Guidance Bureau to act in absence of the current members who were either fugitive or in jail. Among the members of the new guidance bureau were Ghozlan and Abdel Rahman Berr, the Mufti of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Montaser rejected the new guidance bureau and insisted that an administrative bureau managed by the youth was the only entity which could represent the Brotherhood.

The debate between the youth and the elders escalated further when 150 religious scholars from a number of countries issued a statement called "Nida' al-Kenana," in which they sided with the youth against the elders. The statement was hailed by the youth of the Brotherhood, who vowed to continue on their revolutionary path.

While some argue that the recent steps have pushed the Brotherhood into uncharted waters, experts like Trager don’t believe the rift in the movement threatens to split the group, but rather shift its ideology in a more radical direction.

"It's important to emphasize that these disagreements are over tactics, not ideological questions since both old and young Muslim Brothers seek to establish an Islamic state in Egypt as a first step towards establishing a 'global Islamic state'," Trager said. “The fact that older Brotherhood leaders are losing control of the organization means that these more radical cadres will become more influential."


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Maged Atef is a journalist based in Cairo.

Contact Maged Atef at .

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