Mohamed Badie, the so-called Supreme Guide of Egyptâ€™s Muslim Brotherhood,â€¦ (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters )
During a recent night of opposition protests, people chanted against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and decried the draft constitution he was pressing. But the angriest and most fervent chants of all were aimed at a 69-year-old veterinarian, who many are convinced is secretly ruling Egypt.
â€œDown, down with the Guide!â€ they yelled.
The reference was to Mohammed Badie, the so-called â€œSupreme Guideâ€ of the Muslim Brotherhood, the spiritual leader of the powerful if insular Islamist organization that is the dominant political force in post-revolutionary Egypt.
In the nearly two years since the popular uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians have rallied against what they have seen as a succession of threats to their revolution. But with the Brotherhood consolidating its power for the long term â€” electing one of its own as Egyptâ€™s president and approving a new constitution that opens the door to an Islamist state â€” Badie may be the most lasting symbol of the polarized nation Egypt has become.
To the Brotherhood, the man known as â€œel Morshed,â€ Arabic for â€œthe Guide,â€ is simply the modest and devout spiritual leader of millions of members who feel free at last to express their conservative religious identity and exert political power. The Brotherhood, whose credo is â€œIslam is the solution,â€ was banned for decades for being an alleged threat to the state. â€œBadie is a very quiet man who can repeat the verses of the Koran by heart,â€ said Essam el-Erian, a Morsi adviser and Brotherhood party official who scoffed at the idea that Badie somehow directs Morsiâ€™s decisions. â€œIf you saw him in the streets, you could not distinguish him.â€
To many seculars, Christians and moderate Muslims, however, Badie is the dark prince of a coming Islamist tyranny, the symbol of their worst fears and most far-flung conspiracy theories about how the Brotherhood operates. During street protests, it is common to see images of Badie, who usually wears a suit and wire-rim glasses, depicted as an Iranian ayatollah or as Satan. A popular YouTube video casts him as Marlon Brandoâ€™s don in â€œThe Godfather.â€
â€œThe Guide is the true ruler of Egypt,â€ said Radwa Badawi, 59, among the protesters one recent night who described what they believe are Badie-led plots to bring militias from Gaza or establish an Islamist caliphate across the Middle East and North Africa. â€œMorsi, the president, has nothing to do with any of it. He just executes the orders of the Guide. â€
The reality of Badieâ€™s influence is more complicated and difficult to know. According to analysts, he is a relatively uncharismatic figure who was chosen for the top position in 2010 partly for that reason: Over the years, he distinguished himself by being indistinguishable from more powerful members of the Brotherhood.
â€œHe is easy to control, and ideologically and intellectually, he is in harmony with the Guidance group,â€ said Ashraf el-Sherif, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, referring to the powerful 19-member body that sets policy and has supplied key officials in Morsiâ€™s cabinet. â€œBadie is in the position first and foremost because they trusted that he is â€˜one of us.â€™ â€
A â€˜faithfulâ€™ young man
Born in Beni Suef, south of Cairo, Badie married the daughter of a first-generation Brotherhood member. He is a â€œpatient manâ€ who quotes Koranic verses â€œeven when he talks about soccer,â€ according to the Brotherhoodâ€™s official Web site.
Badie rose through the ranks working in roles focused on education while eschewing more outwardly focused political work. In 1965, Badie was arrested along with thousands of others in connection with the trial of Brotherhood leader Sayyid Qutb, an influential intellectual who laid the groundwork for many modern Islamist radicals. Qutb was hanged for allegedly plotting against the state. Badie and several others were released in 1974 and went on to become the modern power center of the movement.
â€œWe were tortured by dogs, by whips, by tools,â€ said Diaa el-Tobky, a retired airline pilot and Brotherhood member who met Badie in prison and said he was almost certainly tortured as well. â€œThey would pull out our beards with pliers.â€
Tobky recalled Badie as a â€œfaithfulâ€ young man who went from cell to cell attending to prisonersâ€™ ailments. He said prison only strengthened their religious commitment.
â€œWe like to say that the Muslim Brothers are like nails,â€ said Tobky. â€œWhen you hammer this nail, it only goes deeper into the wood.â€
After Badie was released, he worked as a Brotherhood official in Beni Suef until he was elected to the Brotherhoodâ€™s Guidance Bureau in 1993.