(IPS) CAIRO --
of thousands of Egyptians paid last respects to the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood group Friday, January 9, as debate over who is to take over the helms of the banned group began.
The mosque -- in Raba'h El-Adawyah district, Nasr City in northeast Cairo -- from where worshippers moved to lay Mamoun El-Hodaibi in his final resting place resembled a military barracks.
A large number of security forces and large crowds from separate areas of the country turned out to pay the 83-year old leader a last farewell, in what has been an emotionally-difficult scene. Hodaibi had been admitted into one of the Egyptian capital's hospitals to undergo medical checks on his ailing colon. Hours after returning home, he passed away around dawn Friday.
Hodaibi took up the office less than 14 months earlier, after the fifth spiritual leader passed away in November 2002.
Mohammad Mahdi Akef was elected the new leader of the Muslim Brotherhood following a secret ballot Jan. 14. Nine of the group's 15 member-guidance bureau voted in favor of Akef.
The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt's largest political opposition party and a proponent of fundamentalist-nationalist policies. After Sept. 11, El-Hodaibi sympathized with the loss of American lives but rejected the idea that Arab or Islamic groups were responsible.
"According to our religion, we do not accept the killing of civilians. We condemn all attacks like this," he declared. "..It is completely unacceptable that accusations are being thrown at Islamic and Arab groups, because they have no clue who did this."
He speculated at the time that "people such as the Israeli Mossad and the Latin American countries" may have committed the attacks.
The funeral procession swept slowly to the car that had taken him to the family's graves in Qalubiya governorate, near Cairo. Queues of cars lined up for the procession, blocking traffic in the area, with microphones blaring out the news that the moderate and personable leader of the outlawed group is now dead.
The news made headlines in national papers, with the official Middle East News Agency -- unprecedentedly -- publishing a profile of the deceased leader and interviewing the spokesman of the banned group.
Observers claimed that the government had prevented many followers from showing up for the funeral and closed most roads leading to the area to better control the situation. Khayrat Al-Shater, a member of the group's General Guidance bureau, ruled out a rapprochement with the authorities, calling the ideas of Hodaibi "moderate and satisfactory."
The new Guide General joined the Muslim Brotherhood in 1948 before the assassination of the group's first Guide General. In 1954, Akef was sentenced to death, on charges of involvement in a failed assassination attempt on the life of late Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Naser in Alexandria, but that sentence was commuted to hard labor. In 1974, he was released from jail. He left for Germany in 1980, where he ran the group's Islamic center. He is currently the Muslim Brotherhood liaison official with the Muslim world.
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