Death of spiritual leader may aplit Muslim Brotherhood

Monday, January 12, 2004

CAIRO The spiritual guide of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has died in what could pave the way for a new era for the 75-year-old pan-Islamic organization.

Mamoun El Hodeiby, the leader of Egypt's banned Islamic opposition and inspiration for numerous Sunni insurgency groups, has died at age 83. El Hodeiby, said to have died of natural causes, served as spiritual guide of the Brotherhood since late 2002. He was buried on Friday.

The Brotherhood, regarded as the most powerful opposition group in Egypt, has spawned insurgency movements throughout the Middle East.

The group, which has rejected attacks within Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has been banned by Egyptian authorities, but followers were allowed to run for parliament as independents in the elections in 2000, Middle East Newsline reported. The group won 17 out of 454 seats.

Islamic sources said the death of El Hodeiby could renew the rift within the Brotherhood as it seeks to appoint a permanent leader. The Brotherhood has long been split by those who want to boycott the Egyptian government and advocates of integration into the larger society.

Over the weekend, Mohammed Hilal, deputy to El Hodeiby, was appointed to serve as caretaker of the movement. Hilal, a former attorney and businessman, is 80 years old and has been regarded as an administrator rather than a political leader of the Brotherhood.

El Hodeiby, the movement's sixth leader, was said to have controlled Brotherhood affairs for the last decade. He was the Brotherhood's deputy leader and spokesman in the 1980s, and appointed general guide in November 2002 following the death of Mustafa Mashhour.

The Brotherhood, said to have received funding from Gulf Cooperation Council states, has sponsored similar Islamic groups in such countries as Algeria, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. A delegation of Brotherhood leaders from Jordan has arrived in Cairo and other delegations were expected to arrive from Algeria, the Palestinian Authority, Sudan, Tunisia and Yemen.

El Hodeiby was a leading judge in Cairo's Appeal Court. In 1965, he was imprisoned by then-President Gamal Abdul Nasser and six years later was pardoned by his successor, Anwar Sadat. After a long stay in Saudi Arabia, where he worked in the kingdom's court system, he returned to Egypt and won a seat in parliament in 1987.

The Brotherhood is expected to choose a new leader after a 60-day period. The decision will be made by the movement's Shura Council, which consists of 86 members.

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