CAIRO (AP) – Egypt’s largest opposition movement, the Muslim Brotherhood announced on Saturday its new leader, a member of the group’s conservative faction, as the organization faces both internal differences and an intense government crackdown.
Mohammed Badie, a 66-year-old academic, is the group’s eighth supreme leader since its foundation in 1928. He was chosen by the movement’s 30-member international council. Badie succeeds Mohammed Mahdi Akef, who became the group’s first ever leader to step down.
“Show the world the true Islam, the Islam of moderation and forgiveness that respects pluralism in the whole world,” he told members after the announcement. He did not speak to journalists.
The 80-year-old Brotherhood is the largest and best organized opposition movement in Egypt, holding a fifth of parliament’s seats, and inspiring the formation of similar groups around the region, including the Palestinian Hamas.
For the past several years, though, the government has undertaken a wide-ranging crackdown against the group, jailing members across the country and banning others from running in local or national elections.
The group is widely expected to lose many of its parliamentary seats in next year’s legislative elections.
Though famous for presenting a unified front to the outside, there have been increasing reports of tension within the movement between the more conservative old guard members, and the younger, reform-minded moderates calling for greater cooperation with other opposition currents. Akef’s unprecedented resignation, all other guides have died in office, reportedly came after he quarreled with the conservative faction over including more moderates on the governing council.
The Brotherhood has long seen internal debates over how much it should operate within the system. In its early years, the group had an armed wing that carried out bombings and other attacks until the 1970s, when it officially renounced violence, though it remains outlawed.
The Brotherhood has gained popularity through a network of schools, clinics and other social services known for being far more efficient than their state-run equivalents.