Hassan al-Banna was barely twenty two years old when he established the Muslim Brotherhood movement in 1928. Having started out his professional life as an Arabic teacher in the city of Ismailiya, some fifty miles east of Cairo, the first General Guide of the Brotherhood was devoted to young people and to their education, and remained so throughout his life.1 Indeed, in important ways, the Brotherhood organization that Banna founded was begun primarily as a youth movement whose principal focus was the cultivation of a new generation of Muslims devoted to Islamic revival and the establishment of a new Islamic social and political order.
Today, eighty one years since its creation, the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer a youth-focused organization simply, but a movement that spans across several generations. This has given rise to a number of new dilemmas for the Brotherhood’s leadership and for the organization as a whole. Among other things, persistent gaps exist between the oldest generation of Brothers and the youth that stem from differences in ideology and strategy. These differences are exacerbated by a basic lack of internal channels for dialogue within the group, which has meant that youth with fresh ideas and new aspirations have virtually no opportunity to rise to leadership ranks or to influence the movement’s future direction. This has worked to stifle meaningful organizational reform.
As a consequence of these and other factors, many young people are becoming disenchanted with the Brotherhood, and the movement as a whole appears to be losing its ability to inspire its youth and to claim their loyalties. This has generated a crisis within the Brotherhood, with a growing number of reform-minded young people seeking a new pathway forward.
The Demographic Context
Egypt is currently experiencing a youth bulge, according to data from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, with Egyptians aged 15-28 years accounting for some 28 percent of the total population. In other words, nearly one-third of Egypt’s eighty million residents are under the age of thirty.2
Although Egyptian youth are often accused of passivity and apathy, the political ferment seen in the country since 2004 has undoubtedly touched young people, prompting many of them to join NGOs and to participate in the protest movements that have emerged in the last few years. Egyptian young people have a well developed political consciousness as well: no longer focusing simply on jobs or adequate education, they increasingly make more expressly political demands, calling for increased political participation, respect for human rights, and greater personal liberties. At the same time, the information revolution has given youth the opportunity to participate in politics directly and cheaply, and to join in the global discussion on freedom, human rights, and democratization.
What is remarkable is that Egyptian youth have not engaged in politics in conventional ways--for example, by joining political parties (which are at any rate aging, stagnant entities in Egypt), or by taking a more active role in trade unions. Instead, they are creating new political and social entities to voice their demands and to air ideas. That Egyptian youth constitute a political force cannot be denied: the youth movement played an instrumental role in spearheading the general strike on April 6, 2008, youth groups are well-organized and networked on Facebook, and more than 150,000 blogs addressing political and social themes are based in Egypt.3
Young members of the Muslim Brotherhood are no exception to these general trends among Egypt’s youth. The Brotherhood remains the largest political opposition group in Egypt, and although the organization cuts across generations, young people are the single largest subgroup within the movement (a result of the Brotherhood’s past success in mobilizing young people through religious and educational activities in cities and villages). Muslim Brotherhood youth are therefore a major part of the new dynamism among youth that has emerged in Egypt over the last three years. And if there is anything that sets them apart from other young activists, it is that they are better organized and have greater capacity to engage in informed, effective political action. Moreover, Brotherhood youth activists played a significant role in the 2005 national election that gave the Brotherhood 20 percent of parliamentary seats for the first time in history. The youth organized to challenge the dominance of the National Democratic (NDP) candidates in local elections, and they successfully organized the candidates’ campaigns and monitored the counting of votes.4
Since the 2005 election, Egyptian universities have been centers of broad-based Muslim Brotherhood youth activities. The Brotherhood, for instance, plays a vital role in student life at Egyptian universities, and youth members run--often successfully--for student union elections. These young people have attempted to connect with and open up to the broader society in order to expand the Brotherhood’s base across social and class lines. This has prompted a crackdown from the Egyptian authorities: several young activists have been arrested, Brothers have been locked out of student elections, and some Brotherhood youth have even been expelled from universities for their political activities. Indeed, the Brotherhood youth were prominently represented in the demonstrations and strikes in Egyptian universities in 2007 and 2008, including the April 6 strike. This stands in contrast to the Brotherhood’s leadership, who preferred to exercise caution on such occasions for fear of direct clashes with the regime.5
Generational Structure of the Brotherhood
Historically, young members of the Brotherhood have tended not to have much of an impact on top-level decision-making within the movement, playing instead the role of small cogs in the organization’s machinery. This tendency has been reinforced by the fact that the Brotherhood is officially still banned in Egypt and must pursue political action in a semi-clandestine manner; most important decisions are made without oversight from within the organization and do not necessarily reflect all the ideological currents or generational concerns of the group’s members. In effect, this has meant that any opinion at odds with the group’s core leaders-- most of whom are deeply conservative--has been silenced.
To better understand the role of the Brotherhood’s young generation, it is necessary to consider the generational structure of the organization. Here we can divide members into roughly four main generations. The first generation is sometimes known as the “Old Guard” or the veteran generation because they lived through the Nasserist suppression of the Brotherhood during the 1950s and 60s. This period saw the first open clashes between the Brotherhood and the government, and the movement was officially banned, many of its leaders were imprisoned, and some were executed. Today, this veteran generation ranges in age from 60 to 80, and as a whole, they are the most conservative members of the movement--ideologically, politically, and religiously. Their primary objective is the movement’s survival and the institutional preservation of the Brotherhood as a cohesive organization, and this makes them intellectually rigid and closed. Partly as a consequence of their historical experiences, this generation tends to put more weight on underground missionary work and other forms of ideological outreach rather than on political action. For example, the Old Guard is generally resistant to the reformist ideas popular among younger members that favor transforming the organization into a political party. Veteran members also generally lack a well-developed understanding of politics and of democratic practices and principles such as equality. Perhaps the best examples of this generation are the current General Guide, Mahdi Akef (age 81); the Brotherhood’s mufti and a member of the Guidance Bureau, Sheikh Abdullah al-Khatib (age 80); the deputy of the General Guide, Mohammed Habib (age 66); and the organization’s Secretary-General, Mahmoud Ezzat (age 65).
The second generational group might be called the pragmatists. These are members who came of age during the Brotherhood’s return to the political arena in the 1970s after President Anwar al-Sadat released many Brothers from prison and pursued a more conciliatory policy toward the movement. It was during the 1970s, too, that the Brotherhood rejected violence within Egypt and parted ways with the jihadist groups that began emerging in the 1970s and 80s. Members of this generation tend to be in their 50s; they are pragmatic realists who engage in politics with a high degree of professionalism and skill, and they seek to integrate the Brotherhood into the nation’s political life. The best known representatives of this generation are Essam al-Erian, the head of the Brotherhood’s political bureau; Abd al-Moneim Abu al-Futuh, a member of the Guidance Bureau; and Mohammed Saad al-Katatni, the head of the Brothers’ parliamentary bloc.
The third generation is composed of the so-called neo-traditionalists. These members came of age during the Brotherhood’s clash with the Mubarak regime in the 1990s and the military trials of Brotherhood leaders in 1995. For this generation, these experiences helped to reinforce the movement’s secretive and closed culture and desire to remain underground. Generally in their 40s, this cohort has pledged their allegiances to the organization’s older shaykhs, they tend to favor underground work and ideological outreach, and they do not put great stock in political action, which is seen as ineffective and undesirable. Like the oldest generation, they are ideologically and religiously conservative, and they dominate the organization’s various administrative bureaus and mid-level leadership positions in the provinces.
The fourth generational group, the youth, are in their 20s and early 30s, and most of them--particularly members from urban areas like Cairo, Alexandria, and Mansoura--are much more intellectually curious and open than the elder Brothers. This is partly due to the fact that this younger generation has not undergone the rigorous ideological indoctrination and organizational grooming that former generations of Brothers underwent, and also because the Brotherhood has tended to become more involved in political action than religious outreach over the last decade.
Generally speaking, whereas the elder Brothers are resistant to change and seek organizational survival above all, the youth seek greater integration into Egypt’s political life. As a result, young Brotherhood members have sharply criticized the political and religious discourse of the older shaykhs; some have even criticized the Brotherhood’s organizational structure as undemocratic. For example, many of these youths believe that the movement should be transformed into a political party rather than remain a religious dawa organization. Some of them are convinced that becoming a political party is the only way to preserve the Muslim Brotherhood from extinction. Moreover, the young generation of Brothers has a very different position regarding to the idea of an “Islamic State.” Unlike the first generation, young Brothers claim that the main task of the movement is to build a democratic and civil state within Egypt and not a religious one.6
Reform-oriented and politically engaged, this younger generation faces several problems as members of an organization that remains deeply conservative. Among other things, the youth lack access to the decision-making centers within the group. There are no youth representatives or advocates of reformist views in the 13-member Guidance Bureau, the organization’s highest executive body, and there are no transparent, objective criteria in place to allow for the internal advancement of youth. Furthermore, some young reformists face pressure and even harassment from the mid-level leadership because of their ideas. The younger generation also suffers due to the atrophied channels for internal dialogue and the dominance of an institutional culture of obedience and conformity. This has led some young Brothers to seek new ways outside of the organization to express their opinions and viewpoints, and on blogs and in the popular press, these youth have increasingly expressed their views boldly and forcefully.
A Brotherhood of Bloggers
With few opportunities within the organization to exchange opinions and advance their views, many young Brothers began in 2006 to turn to the Internet to express criticism of the movement’s leadership. By using electronic forums like blogs and Facebook, young Brothers have been able to circumvent the Brotherhood’s established organizational frameworks, and blogs have quickly emerged for youth as an alternative to mosques as venues from which to disseminate ideas and a new vision for change. For many young Brothers, blogging hasn’t simply represented a personal pursuit or a form of entertainment; their primary goal has been to conduct a transparent discussion of the many pressing issues within the Brotherhood and its internal political reform.7 As such, youth blogging represents an increasingly revolutionary internal challenge for a closed organization like the Muslim Brotherhood.
The bloggers’ movement has evolved through several phases since first emerging in 2006. At first, bloggers focused on straight news blogging, documenting all news and commentary about the Muslim Brotherhood that appeared in various media outlets. The most prominent representative of this trend is the blog Ana Ikhwan (I’m a Brother), run by 28-year-old Abd al-Moneim Mahmoud, a reformist youth. Through his blog, Abd al-Moneim successfully created a broad network of relationships and contacts with most of Egypt’s liberal, secular, and rights activist bloggers.8 Monem (as he is known among the Brothers) ran an electronic campaign advocating for the release of Abd Elkarimn Soliman, a secular blogger who has been sentenced to four years imprisonment for insulting Islam, inciting sedition, and defaming the President of Egypt.9
The second phase was what might be termed activist blogging. Brothers’ blogs began focusing on the clash between the regime and the Brotherhood movement, recording news of detainees and exposing the government’s repressive policies towards Brothers. This began in 2007 in response to the military tribunal that was convened for 40 first-tier leaders of the Brotherhood. Sons and relatives of the detained Brothers established blogs to bring their plight to the wider public’s attention. The most popular of these blogs, Ensaa (Forget It), closely followed the military trial and posted personal information about every detainee in both Arabic and English.10
In the third phase, young Brotherhood bloggers started engaging in auto-critique and openly began criticizing the movement’s leadership, its organizational structures, and its rigid and out-dated political and religious discourse. Amwaj Fi Bahr al-Taghyir (Waves in the Sea of Change) is the most prominent of these blogs, and was established by the 29-year-old dentist and reformist Mustafa al-Naggar. During the 2005 elections, Naggar participated in the Brotherhood’s electoral campaign in the hopes of mobilizing people in support of Islamist candidates. However, he has since expressed disappointment over the Brothers’ poor showing in the elections, and his writing has begun to focus increasingly on how to transform the Brotherhood into a more open movement and a more effective political party. Naggar has been especially critical of the Brotherhood’s political platform, released in August 2007, and he has also attacked the approach of the older generation in dealing with local and regional issues.11 Naggar’s blog additionally serves as a clearinghouse for links to other blog-based critiques of the Brotherhood.12
Today, young Brotherhood bloggers are no longer considered a group of dilettantes, but as an effective political force that offers policy-based criticisms of the movement and its leadership. An example of this is the strong position taken by young bloggers against the leadership’s decision not to participate in the April 6 strike in 2008. As a result of this condemnation, and fearing the wrath of the youth, the organization subsequently took part in the May 4 strike.
It is also significant that the bloggers’ movement is not dependent on particular personalities, but is constantly changing with the inclusion of new members. When the movement began in 2006, it was shaped mainly by writers who sought to focus on the Brotherhood’s internal structure. These bloggers included Magdi Saad of Yalla Mesh Mohem (Oh Well, It Doesn’t Matter) and Abd al-Moneim Mahmoud of Ana Ikhwan, along with several other bloggers like Mohamed Hamza,13 Mohammed Adel,14 Islam Lutfi,15 and Abd al-Rahman Rashwan.16 But this discourse quickly developed into a more substantive critique of the Brotherhood’s political decisions and its ideology. Prominent representatives of this trend are Mustafa al-Naggar, Abd al-Rahman Ayyash of al-Gharib (The Stranger), and Ibrahim Abu Seif of Iskhar (Mock Away), as well as Abd al-Rahman Mansour, Abduh Ibn Khaldoun, and Amr Magdi. Interestingly, some bloggers have not stopped simply at verbal criticism, but have openly begun to break ranks with the movement. For example, people like Moneim Mahmoud have refused to attend organizational meetings and have even frozen their membership.
The new wave of blogging is not limited to young males; indeed, several Muslim Sisters have also started blogging--a new development not only for the Brotherhood but for Egyptian society in general, which remains intellectually conservative. Initially, blogs authored by Muslim Sisters focused on personal issues related to the arrest of their relatives and loved ones. But there are now about ten blogs authored by young women who belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps the most prominent of these is Wahi Elmashar (Feelings Revealed) which is authored by 19-year-old Arwa al-Taweel and has received some 50,000 hits in a six month period. Taweel’s blogging is diverse, addressing both intellectual and political issues alongside more social and general matters.17
The Young Reformists
Not all young Brothers are reformists, of course. However, the newest generation of Brotherhood conservatives appears to be substantially different than the older generation of Islamists. They tend, for instance, to be conservative culturally rather than religiously or ideologically. As a whole, these young conservatives are more intellectually open than their elders, and this makes them, like other young reformists, more accepting of democratic principles such as freedom, equality, justice, and citizenship. In a field study of young Brotherhood members conducted in fourteen Egyptian provinces, I found that many of them harbor a well-developed understanding of democratic values and are eager to practice them.18 In contrast to the first generation, for example, young Brothers believe that Christians and women have the right to run for and occupy the office of president in Egypt.19
This embrace of democratic principles appears to be the result of several factors, including the exchange of ideas over the Internet or in other intellectual forums. This exchange has brought the young Islamists into increasing interaction with other political and intellectual camps, such as liberals, leftists, and reformists, both at home and abroad. Some young Islamists have also completed training sessions in human rights and democratization and are members of NGOs that defend civil liberties and human rights. This has led them to defend freedom of expression, for instance, on principled grounds. This can be seen in the case of detained blogger Abd al-Karim Suleiman, who is serving three years in prison on charges of showing contempt for Islam and who, despite being anti-Islamist, received the support of some young Brothers.
Unlike the older generation, young Islamists appear to have come to grips with consensus-based politics. In other words, they realize the necessity of making alliances with non-Islamists in order to bring democratic change to Egypt. As a consequence, the ideological divides between young Islamists and other politically-inclined young people of a liberal persuasion appears to be diminishing, in stark contrast to the clear gaps between the first generation of Brotherhood leaders and their peers in opposition parties.
Young Brothers have additionally learned lessons from the experiences of Islamist political movements elsewhere in the Middle East, including most especially from Turkey’s AKP and Morocco’s Justice and Development Party. Young conservatives view Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a model that should be emulated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Guide.20 They believe the AKP has succeeded in mixing Islam, democracy, and nationalism, and that the Brotherhood should strive to do the same by creating a political party that is distinct from its religious mission. In this respect, they support in principle the separation between religious outreach and political action.21
Young Brothers also appear to have accepted the principle of the nation-state, and are less interested in the idea of the caliphate or in striving to establish a pan-Islamic political formation. Some have even sharply criticized Islamist groups that advocate the establishment of an Islamic state. For these young Brothers, citizenship should be the primary organizing principle of the state, which in turn must protect the rights of minorities and guarantee civic equality regardless of color, ethnicity, religion, or gender.22 Young Brothers have also adopted a more pragmatic view of relations with the West. Rather than seeing this relationship from an ideological or hostile perspective, they approach it from the view of mutual interests and respect. Many Brotherhood youth welcomed President Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009 and believe that he can usher in a new era of relations between US and the Muslim world. Some of them, however, are quick to argue that change in Egypt must come from within, and not as a result of intervention from the outside.23
Less Revolution, More Opening
What do the youngest members of the Muslim Brotherhood want? To simplify, young Brothers of the reformist orientation are seeking three things. For one, they want to change the political and religious discourse of the Muslim Brotherhood so that it is more flexible and accepting of democratic principles. Many of the young Brothers that I interviewed believe that the inflexibility of the Brotherhood’s fundamentally utopian and revolutionary ideology presents a major stumbling block to the organization’s normalization and integration into Egyptian political life.24
Young Brothers also seek to make the Brotherhood’s organizational structure more democratic and transparent. They advocate that power should be routinely rotated among group members, and they want the authoritarian values that have become entrenched in the Brotherhood’s culture, such as obedience to and veneration for the movement’s leadership, to be replaced by objective criteria for evaluating a leader’s effectiveness and skill. Some also hope to see amendments to the Brotherhood’s bylaws that would give young people a chance to contend for leadership positions within the organization. Mustafa al-Naggar has gone further and criticized the widespread practice of nominating and electing people to office within the organization based on their perceived adherence and loyalty to the group and its ideology, rather than on a rational assessment of their political platforms and ideas.25
Young Brothers strongly believe the organization should change its political strategy and tactics, both with regard to the Egyptian regime and other political forces and opposition parties. They oppose the secrecy that governs the Brotherhood’s operation and believe it harms the group’s popularity and its ability to connect with the Egyptian public.
In seeking to implement these reforms within the organization, the youth have come up against several hurdles. First of all, because of the youth’s relative powerlessness and lack of influence, it has been all too easy for the movement’s leadership to brush off the youth’s demands. Second, young Brothers have not yet been able to form a cohesive and effective bloc within the movement to advocate and lobby for their demands (although recently some youth leaders have begun to address this problem). Nor does the younger generation enjoy strong relations with the second-generation of reformist Brothers, since many of the latter, such as Abd al-Moneim Abu al-Futouh, a member of the Guidance Bureau, and Essam al-Erian, fear that their support of the youth will affect the unity and cohesion of the organization as a whole, and will thus reflect poorly on the Brotherhood in the face of its opponents.
Nevertheless, young Brothers have made several gains over the last two years. First of all, blogging has broken down the psychological barriers many of them had kept in place to avoid criticizing the Brotherhood and eroding the principle of secrecy, upon which the Brotherhood was established eight decades ago. The famed saying of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, “We must cooperate in matters wherein we agree and excuse one another in those wherein we disagree” has become “no cooperation without agreement and no agreement without the opinion of the youth.”
Also, blogging has put the Brotherhood in the very difficult position of confronting the organization with two equally unpleasant choices. On one hand, the group can and has attempted to ignore the voices of young bloggers, writing them off as so much chatter and electronic noise. But this route has costs--among other things, it hurts the Brotherhood’s reputation, exposing it as an authoritarian group that does not tolerate, much less actually engage, a diversity of opinions. This response will also give bloggers additional momentum in their struggle against the ideological and organizational inflexibility of the group, which is already happening to some degree. On the other hand, giving serious consideration to the criticisms of young Brothers could mark the beginning of concessions that might affect the internal structure of the organization itself. Faced with this choice, so far the Brotherhood has attempted to pursue a middle ground of constructive neglect as part of a strategy of containment. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be working.
Another gain made by the youth is that Brotherhood leaders, fearing the reactions of bloggers, have begun weighing strategic decisions with more caution. Indeed, this is perhaps one reason that the organization has delayed issuing the final draft of its party platform, whose initial form was sharply criticized by the bloggers. The position of the old generation toward women and Christians angered many reformists in the movement and widened the gap between youth and old leaders. The ideological gap between both parties affects internal harmony and makes it difficult for the older generation to take any further steps before testing the reaction of young people. As we’ve seen, the movement didn’t participate in April 6th strike in 2008, which pushed many young Brothers to criticize and condemn the leadership of Brotherhood. Thus, the movement decided to participate, partially, in the second strike on May 4th 2008.
Old Ways for New Challenges
So far the Muslim Brotherhood has not developed a clear strategy for dealing with the internal challenges posed by the youth and their demands for reform. Initially, the organization chose to simply ignore the youth altogether, brushing off their critiques published in blogs and elsewhere online as no more than the personal musings of a very small number of young Brothers in Cairo and Alexandria. This tactic betrayed the ignorance of the Brotherhood’s leadership about the nature of blogs and their impact on the organization’s public image, but it was the official tack taken by the group throughout first half of 2007. The Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership didn't issue any statements regarding the bloggers’ movement because they were totally disinterested in it.
A new approach became visible in the second half of 2007, after the blogs received coverage in the national media. At this point, bloggers were no longer seen simply as isolated cases of dissent but as a larger phenomenon that represented a serious challenge to the organization. As a result, some Brotherhood leaders began holding meetings with the youth bloggers, both on general occasions devoted to discussing issues of freedom of opinion and in private meetings, like the one organized between Dr. Mohammed Mursi, the head of the Brotherhood’s political division, and a group of young Brotherhood bloggers, which was specifically devoted to an airing of the youths’ opinions and criticisms.26
The meetings between Brotherhood leaders and young bloggers seems to have been designed to feel out the potential difficulties and embarrassment that the latter might cause, particularly in light of the Brotherhood’s present difficulties with the regime and its relationship with the Egyptian political elite, neither of which was pleased with the political party platform recently proposed by the Brotherhood.
In general, there are two mindsets within the Muslim Brotherhood about how to deal with blogging by members. One camp continues to believe that no serious attention should be given to the phenomenon, writing it off as Internet chatter that will not have an impact on the Brotherhood’s broad base, which does not deviate from the organization’s main line.
Others, however, believe that blogging is an expression of a new spirit among the Brotherhood’s base--a spirit that should be absorbed and strengthened. At the same time, this camp believes that young bloggers are evidence of the organization’s intellectual vitality and can be harnessed to improve the Brotherhood’s image as an open organization involved in the give-and-take exchange of ideas and opinions. Nevertheless, even partisans of this approach believe in the need for flexible rules that can moderate the tenor of criticisms directed at the organization while also absorbing bloggers organizationally and benefiting from them in political action.
In fact, the Brotherhood’s approach to bloggers is not notably different from the way it has handled other internal dissenters and critics. The group has generally engaged in a strategy of neglect and containment, rarely paying much attention to such criticisms, both because of the group’s involvement in more pressing matters, such as its relationship with the regime and other political forces, and because of fears that a constructive response to dissenting opinions will constitute a precedent and open the long-closed door of auto-critique. This, in turn, could have serious repercussions for the organization’s cohesion and unity.
It is difficult to believe, however, that this strategy will successfully stop young Brothers from publicly expressing their political and intellectual critiques of the Muslim Brotherhood. Not only does such an outcome seem unlikely, it would also reinforce the image of the Brotherhood as a group that suppresses dissent.
A Coming Schism?
What will happen if the Brotherhood does not respond to the demands of reformist youth? Will it lead to schisms within the organization or will the reformists retract their demands? Historically, the Muslim Brotherhood has experienced some schisms, due to both policy differences and generational conflicts. The last major split occurred in 1996 when Abu al-Ela Madi led a movement out of the Brotherhood that sought to embrace political life and transform the movement to a party. This faction formed the al-Wasat party, which to this day has yet to receive the permit to operate officially.
With the current crop of youth, however, an outright break with the organization seems unlikely for several reasons. First of all, the closed nature of political life in Egypt and the lack of political parties leave the youth with few alternatives for political action. Young Brothers, for example, generally view the al-Wasat experience as having been a failure, and this may encourage them to remain within the framework of the Brotherhood, even if they currently have few prospects to play a meaningful role. Moreover, many young Brothers believe that the al-Wasat party--or for that matter, any other party born of the Brotherhood--couldn’t ever succeed politically in today’s Egypt, as the government would never allow a real competitor to the ruling National Democratic Party to emerge.27
Second, reformist youth are willing to bide their time, believing that the resolution to their ongoing struggle with the Brotherhood’s first generation will come soon enough. The advanced age of the Brotherhood’s current leadership makes it likely that they will soon vacate their positions, which the youth anticipate will lead directly to real changes within the organization more favorable to the youths’ ideas.
Third, many young Brothers fear that leaving the organization would only strengthen the position of their more reactionary rivals, who may attempt to demonize and purge internal voices of reform. Finally, there is no strong push for reformist demands among the Brotherhood’s base. Bloggers are still the most influential segment of reformers and their numbers are limited and based largely in urban areas. One young Brother told me that he did not want to leave the Brotherhood since he wanted to spearhead the transformation of the movement from within.28
Clearly, the young reformists pose a challenge to the Brotherhood’s first generation leadership and to a movement that has grown increasingly inward-looking and rigid ideologically. At some point, the Brotherhood’s leadership may feel the need to respond to their demands and aspirations, and to adjust the organization accordingly. Meanwhile, only time will reveal whether the reformers among the Brotherhood youth are genuinely committed to the modernizing and democratizing principles that they espouse, and whether they possess the leadership skills necessary for breathing new life into an aging organization and leading it in a new direction.
Keywords: Muslim Brotherhood, Banna, Egypt, Brotherhood bloggers, Muslim reformists