One of my most interesting experiences on this trip has been to talk to a senior Muslim Brotherhood leader who quit the organization in protest – in the midst of the Tahrir Square upheaval. We spoke in his living room in a suburban Cairo apartment complex.
Mohammed Habib, a grandfatherly, white-bearded geology professor was, from 2004-09 the first deputy to the secretive organization’s Supreme Guide; like many Brothers he spent over six years in prison while the organization was banned under the Mubarak regime.
During past decades the Brotherhood often existed as an underground movement, passing from a violent phase to a strategy of peaceful pursuit of an Islamic state. Yet, in a strange paradox, the Brotherhood had constant contacts, and intense relationships, with the Egyptian military and intelligence agencies, who sometimes saw it as a useful counterweight to other political movements.
Given the many years and intense loyalty required to become a member and to rise in the hierarchy, the resignation of such a senior figure was highly unusal. But Habib quit because of his sharp disagreement over secret meetings between senior Brotherhood leaders and Hosni Mubarak’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, during the Tahrir Square protests, after which the Brotherhood’s leaders asked their youthful members to leave the square. The young people refused.
Says Habib: “The SCAF (the Egyptian military armed forces council) managed to con the entire Islamic bloc, but the only force they could not con was the young people. It was obvious there was a split between the Muslim Brotherhood organization and the rest of the revolution.”
That drove Habib to resign. In our meeting he spoke at length of the characteristics of the Brotherhood leadership, insights that are especially important at a time when they have a candidate contesting the presidential election. I will post more of the interview soon.