Praying at Tahrir Square - AFP
Praying at Tahrir Square on Friday. The Brotherhood’s young guard believes that the time has come to emerge from the underground mentality. Photo by AFP
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The winds of revolution sweeping over Egypt have not passed over the Muslim Brotherhood. This coming Thursday, its young guard plans to declare an internal revolt and demand far-reaching reforms in its supreme institutions - the guidance bureau and the Shura ("consultation" ) council. The initiative was already announced in the Egyptian press in late February, but no details were given.

The young guard is demanding new elections to these institutions in order to integrate themselves into the political decision-making process. They believe the time has come to emerge from the underground mentality and to introduce transparency into the election process and into institutional discussions. After all, de facto, ever since the revolution, the Brotherhood is no longer an outlawed political movement. For that reason, it is no longer necessary to maintain the secrecy that serves its most conservative elements. Most of the demands of the young guard are not new, but the revolution has rendered them more timely.

In the meantime, the official leadership of the Brotherhood is playing down the planned revolt. Both conservative and reformist forces within the movement know that it has lost much of its popularity in recent years. For obvious reasons, they have not said this explicitly to Haaretz, but other knowledgeable sources have. It began with the decision to refrain from joining the original call for a demonstration on January 25, which touched off the revolution. Young members of the movement did, in fact, join the demonstrators on that first day and took part in the umbrella groups that initiated the uprising. The official leadership, however, lent its support only starting from the third day on. After that, it responded affirmatively to the invitation extended by Omar Suleiman - when he served for a very short time as Mubarak's deputy - to the official opposition parties, to participate in a dialogue (an initiative rejected by the protesters at Tahrir Square ).

The young members of the Brotherhood were furious with their leaders. Their behavior, they said, indicated their disconnect from the public during times that direct democracy was exercised. But the Brotherhood began losing popularity even before the uprising, according to a source in Cairo who is in frequent contact with its members. The parliament members affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, who were elected in 2005, did little to impress the voters. They were neither creative nor very active inside parliament. Outside parliament, the movement's leadership stood out conspicuously when it did not express support for the prolonged struggle at the textile plant in Mahalla el-Kubra, where workers were demanding decent wages and benefits before its expected privatization.

On April 6, 2008, the workers declared a strike. To prevent the strike, police overtook the textile plant, the organizers were arrested, and three civilians were killed when demonstrations in support of the workers were brutally suppressed. The incident aroused a great deal of public sympathy for the workers among Egyptian opposition groups. The April 6 Movement, which played a key role in paving the way to the revolution, is named after the strike that was thwarted. But the Brotherhood leadership kept on the sidelines. For this reason, young activists in the movement have complained that the official leadership did not grasp the significance of what was taking place and was not aware of the socio-economic situation of the workers.

A question of worldview

Leftist activists in Egypt believe this issue is not one of awareness, but rather, of worldview. Because of its religious nature, the Brotherhood, they say, encourages ideals like charity and integrity (that is, opposition to corruption ) but not equality.

Sources in the non-Muslim public (affiliated with the left-wing and liberal elements ) believe that the Mubarak regime tended to overestimate the power of the Brotherhood. This served three intertwined objectives. The first was imposing the emergency law that lasted 30 years and enabled arbitrary arrests, civilian trials in special military courts, and the widespread use of torture. This, in turn, enabled State Security Intelligence to grow out of control, penetrate all levels of civilian society and strike fear in the political sphere.

The second objective was to fortify and guard the Mubarak regime and to ensure its continued existence, and the third was to guarantee economic, political and security support from West.

It seems clear that the Egyptian army, which is effectively ruling the country today, was deeply alarmed by the persistent demand made by the revolutionaries to dismantle State Security Intelligence. Last week, thousands of activists succeeded in breaking into the agency's headquarters in order to rescue some documents, photograph them and publish them immediately on the Internet. In the past three weeks, al Tahrir activists have been warning that the army wants to contain the revolutionary momentum. It will be interesting to see where the Brotherhood comes out on this one.

When the Supreme Military Command Council appointed a committee to introduce changes in the constitution to enable democratic elections, it chose two judges with Islamist profiles - one was a member of the Brotherhood and the other (the head of the committee ) was a former Nasserite who now favors basing state laws on the Shariya (Islamic law ). Human rights organizations have described the committee members a mix of members of the old regime and Islamists.

When the changes were published two weeks ago, the Brotherhood announced that they were acceptable. But a government public opinion poll published at the end of last week, in which 24,121 Egyptian citizens participated, shows that 57 percent of Egyptians are opposed to the proposed changes, while 37 percent support them. Those who support the changes are afraid that if they are not passed, the army will continue to rule for a prolonged interim period. Those who oppose the changes fear they will effectively preserve the 1971 constitution, which grants extensive powers to the president. The changes also entail a very swift process of reform that would benefit existing and established political organizations - the former president's National Democratic Party and the Brotherhood.

The referendum on the proposed changes will be held on March 19. The revolution goes on.