CAIRO – The political party of Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood elected a former speaker of parliament as its new leader Friday to replace Mohammed Morsi, who resigned from the post after winning the country's presidential election.
Saad el-Katatny, who led Egypt's Islamist-dominated parliament until it was dissolved by a court order earlier this year, garnered 581 votes to become the new chief of the Freedom and Justice Party. He beat out the party's deputy leader, Essam el-Erian, who earned 283 votes.
The result essentially ensures the Brotherhood's continued tight oversight of the party, which it created after the popular uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak last year. El-Katatny is considered close to the Brotherhood's more conservative faction led by chief strategist and financier Khairat el-Shater, who was the group's first-choice presidential candidate before being disqualified on technical grounds.
El-Erian, on the other hand, was viewed as more of a reformist open to dialogue with Egypt's liberal parties and as a leader who would push for more independence for the party from the Brotherhood itself.
When it comes to the two candidates' political views, however, the differences are minimal, said former Brotherhood member Mohammed Osman.
"The Brotherhood organization no longer has two movements. It just has one wing, which is the conservative wing," said Osman, who split from the movement to become a chief strategist for ex-Brotherhood member and former presidential candidate Abdel-Moneim Abolfotoh. "The party and organization, and el-Katatny and el-Erian, are one and the same in the end."
The once-banned Brotherhood has emerged as Egypt's strongest political force following last year's anti-Mubarak revolt. The group's Freedom and Justice Party captured the most seats in parliamentary elections, and followed that up with Morsi's win in the presidential vote in June.
The party, however, has come under sharp criticism from liberals, secularists and Coptic Christians who accuse it of trying to write the new constitution with a sharply Islamic bent, while supporters of the former regime fear the Brotherhood is using its newfound power to settle old scores.
The group still has the support of millions of Egyptians, including many of the country's poor who rely on the Brotherhood's grassroots efforts and charity for assistance.
Around 10,000 protesters rallied Friday in Cairo, demanding an apology from the Brotherhood for violence last week, when supporters of the group clashed with anti-government protesters, leaving more than 100 people injured.
Protesters also called on the Brotherhood and its fellow Islamists to ensure the country's constitution represents all factions of society. The 100-member assembly tasked with writing the new charter is packed with Islamists, many of whom are Brotherhood members.
Protesters from a wide range of groups — from activists who helped topple Mubarak to supporters of that the ousted leader's regime — took part in Friday's march that ended in Tahrir Square, the epicenter of last year's revolt.