Mahmoud Hussein is a longtime member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and served as the group’s secretary-general for 10 years.“Dr Mahmoud Hussein appointed Secretary General for the MB in Egypt,” Ikhwanweb: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Official English web site, January 21, 2010, http://www.ikhwanweb.com/article.php?id=22710. Hussein's role as secretary-general was reportedly contested by members of the Brotherhood’s revolutionary youth, but Hussein received continued support from the group’s older generation.Samuel Tadros, “The Brotherhood Divided,” Hudson, August 20, 2015, http://www.hudson.org/research/11530-the-brotherhood-divided. According to some reports, by 2015 Hussein was no longer able to publish on many of the Brotherhood’s official online platforms controlled by the younger, revolutionary wing.Sonia Farid, “Internal conflict: Is the Muslim Brotherhood falling apart?” Al Arabiya, June 2, 2015, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/analysis/2015/06/02/Internal-conflict-Is-the-Muslim-Brotherhood-falling-apart-.html. Hussein was ousted from his leadership role in 2020 over accusations of embezzling funds.“Muslim Brotherhood suffers internal rifts, dismiss Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein,” Egypt Today, September 16, 2020, https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/1/91998/Muslim-Brotherhood-suffers-internal-rifts-dismiss-Secretary-General-Mahmoud-Hussein.
Hussein was born in 1947 in the British mandate of Palestine. He became involved with the Brotherhood in the late 1970s while studying in the United States at Iowa City University, where he served as president of the Brotherhood-affiliated Muslim American Youth Association. Hussein returned to Egypt after his studies and quickly advanced in the Brotherhood, becoming a member of the Guidance Office in 2004. He served time in prison between 1995 and 1998 for his involvement with the group.Eric Trager, Katie Kiraly, Cooper Klose, and Elliot Calhoun, “Who’s Who in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 2012, http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/whos-who-in-the-muslim-brotherhood#MahmoudHussein. Hussein fled to Qatar in July 2013 following then-President Mohammed Morsi’s removal from office.“The Muslim Brotherhood: Sibling Rivalry,” Economist, June 16, 2016, https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21700673-egypts-main-islamist-movement-tearing-itself-apart-sibling-rivalry.
Following Egypt’s coup, the Muslim Brotherhood split into factions between the so-called old guard and a younger generation of Brotherhood activists on the Egyptian streets. Hussein and acting Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat lead the old guard, which has prioritized the group’s survival and advocated a gradualist approach to transforming the Egyptian state.“The Muslim Brotherhood: Sibling Rivalry,” Economist, June 16, 2016, https://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21700673-egypts-main-islamist-movement-tearing-itself-apart-sibling-rivalry. Hussein has publicly advocated non-violence, but Egypt analyst Mokhtar Awad of the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism theorizes this is only because of Hussein’s opinion that the Brotherhood is too weak to survive an all-out military confrontation with the Egyptian regime.Mokhtar Awad, “Written Evidence from Mokhtar Awad, Research Fellow at George Washington University,” U.K. Parliament, April 2016, http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/foreign-affairs%20committee/political-islam/written/32560.html. Nevertheless, in an interview with the satellite channel Watan, Hussein suggested that the Brotherhood’s leadership initially adopted a strategy of “disorienting and attrition” in response to the coup, adding to suspicions that the leadership initially supported low-level violence against authorities.Mahmoud Hussein, “Disorienting and Attrition: MB Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein,” Watan TV, January 16, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAruv43OrPU. However, in that same interview, Hussein insisted that “the methodology of the group is a peaceful methodology and it (the Brotherhood) does not practice violence.”Mahmoud Hussein, “Disorienting and Attrition: MB Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein,” Watan TV, January 16, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAruv43OrPU. Some reports suggested that Hussein’s mixed messaging reflected a perceived Brotherhood strategy of publicly disavowing violence while trying not to push away younger, more extremist elements of the movement.Omar Said, “No United Front: Mixed Messaging from the Muslim Brotherhood on Violence,” Mada Masr (Cairo), April 8, 2015, https://www.madamasr.com/en/2015/04/08/feature/politics/no-united-front-mixed-messages-from-the-muslim-brotherhood-on-violence/.
In May 2015, then-Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed Montasser—loyal to the younger, revolutionary generation—released a statement saying that Hussein was no longer the secretary-general of the Muslim Brotherhood.Sonia Farid, “Internal conflict: Is the Muslim Brotherhood falling apart?” Al Arabiya, June 2, 2015, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/analysis/2015/06/02/Internal-conflict-Is-the-Muslim-Brotherhood-falling-apart-.html. In response, Hussein posted to Facebook, urging the Brotherhood’s older leaders to take control over the group’s decision-making processes.Arwa Ibrahim, “Muslim Brotherhood’s youth wing reaffirms leadership after failed Egypt’s ‘soft coup,’” Middle East Eye, May 29, 2015, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/egypts-muslim-brotherhood-revolutionary-path-1512727265. Numerous media reports noted Hussein’s continued influence and power.Samuel Tadros, “The Brotherhood Divided,” Hudson Institute, August 20, 2015, http://www.hudson.org/research/11530-the-brotherhood-divided.
According to a January 2018 report from a pro-government Egyptian newspaper, Hussein was allegedly devising a strategy to spoil Egypt’s 2018 presidential elections by spreading “news and rumors with the goal of killing Egyptians’ morale.”“We publish the suspicious brotherhood plans to distort Sisi’s image in the Presidential Elections...,” El-Fajr (Cairo), January 12, 2018, http://www.elfagr.com/2921348.
In September 2020, the Brotherhood dismissed Hussein as its secretary-general over accusations Hussein had stolen monetary donations to the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood appointed Helmy al-Gazzar as its new secretary-general.“Muslim Brotherhood suffers internal rifts, dismiss Secretary General Mahmoud Hussein,” Egypt Today, September 16, 2020, https://www.egypttoday.com/Article/1/91998/Muslim-Brotherhood-suffers-internal-rifts-dismiss-Secretary-General-Mahmoud-Hussein.