Old hands will remember that Husni Mubarak promised, in 1981, that he would be a one term President. Well, he quickly forgot that promise.
In contrast, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Muhammad Mahdi Akif is vowing to step down in January 2010, a half dozen year after he replaced the former Supreme Guide Ma'moun Hudeibi, who died in January 2004. Hudeibi was one of the old guard. I interviewed him in February 2003, and while he was affable and forthcoming there was no mistaking him for a democrat. In fact, when I asked Hudeibi about the attempt of younger member to create a political party outside of the Ikhwan, he expressed his annoyance at their insolence.
In contrast, Akef has been been much more comfortable with pluralism of opinion within the Ikhwan. While I have not interviewed Akef, I did interview his deputy, Muhammad Habib, and he revealed what certainly sounded like a sincere embrace of democracy as essential for Egypt's development and for the restoration of freedom to the increasingly autocratic state.
It is probably too early to predict who might succeed Akef, although Habib is certainly a front-runner. If Akef follows through on his promise, it will enhance the Ikhwan's reputation, and only underline the calcified regime stultifies politics in Egypt, and undermines the country's vitality. I would not be surprised to see the regime attempting to pressure Akef to stay in place to avoid the bad example.
Surprising times for outlawed opposition - The National Newspaper