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Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood faces election rift

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s main opposition Muslim Brotherhood has begun voting for a new leader despite disputes over the process, senior members said.

Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest opposition group, gestures during an interview with Reuters in Cairo October 28, 2009. REUTERS/Tarek Mostafa

“The elections have started and the process is ongoing,” Muslim Brotherhood leader Mahdi Akef, who has said he will step down when his term ends in January, told Reuters.

Other members said voting began over the weekend, and deputy leader Mohamed Habib said results were now being tallied.

Egypt’s Al Dustur newspaper said top candidates for the leadership post included Mohamed Ezzat, secretary general of the group, and Mohamed Badi, a senior member of its guidance bureau.

Habib, named by Akef as deputy leader, had wanted to postpone the leadership vote until after elections for a new 115-member shura council due in July. He told Reuters he thought the vote was rushed.

The internal dispute could weaken the Brotherhood ahead of elections to the country’s parliament in late 2010.

“This is the biggest crisis of its kind since 1954,” political analyst Diaa Rashwan told Reuters, referring to a violent government crackdown on the group in that year.

Political analyst Khalil El Anani said the elections were “illegitimate according to the internal regulations of the Brotherhood.”

Anani added that 2007 constitutional amendments banning political activity based on religion would also reduce the Brotherhood’s electoral performance.

A majority of members of the shura, the body responsible for mapping policies, had voted to hold the elections and announce results before January 13, the deadline for Akef to leave office, said a member who asked not to be named.

Ibrahim El Zafarani, a senior member of the council, said the elections were held quickly in an effort to stem internal disputes over the leadership election.

“There is a rush because the guide is leaving. The definitely rushed elections are an attempt to resolve this issue,” Zafarani told Reuters.

The Brotherhood won about a fifth of the seats in the lower house of Egypt’s parliament in 2005.