How political Islam is winning the war for talent (and gaining a competitive edge)

Foreign Policy Magazine – Excerpts: In 2009 the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohammed Mehdi Akef voluntarily stepped aside — the first time a top leader in the movement had voluntarily resigned before reaching death’s door. His message, as Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment describes it, was that ‘we old guys need to step aside — I’m going to set an example.’ This month Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Akef’s counterpart in the ruling establishment, hinted he would run for a third term in office next year, extending his three decade rule.

Akef’s resignation was the high note in a pitch that Islamist groups have repeatedly made: that they are more internally democratic and dynamic than their secular counterparts. It’s a cultivated image that glosses over a deeply flawed system, one that can be just as autocratic and hostile to new ideas. But it is giving Islamist groups a competitive edge, especially in attracting and retaining a new generation of talented members.

Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood are the sharpest examples: they recruit young, smart entry-level members, sort them according to interest and expertise, and, in some cases, allow them to rise the ranks, with an emphasis on ideological purity and a populist touch. Through an internal political Darwinism, the process produced leaders who’ve have been able to outsmart and outmaneuver their secular rivals. It has also energized the lower ranks, where young volunteers then help run rallies, canvass for elections, or take up arms.

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