Mohamed Mahdi Othman Akef was born the same year the Muslim Brotherhood was founded – 1928. He was born in Kafr Ewad al-Sinita, one of the villages on the outskirts of Mansoura city to the north of Cairo. Mohamad Mahdi attended primary school in al-Mansoura before moving to Cairo to live in a popular area called al-Sakakini. He then enrolled in the King Fuad I High School and later the Higher Institute of Sport Education from which he graduated in May 1950.
He came to know of the Brotherhood in 1940 and was educated by its scholars including Imam Hassan al-Banna. He was especially close to Sheikh Muhibb al-Din al-Khatib.
He joined the Faculty of Law in 1951 and led Ibrahim University [currently Ain Shams] camps in the war against the British occupation in the Suez Canal until the revolution was underway and left the university camps to Kamal al-Din al-Hussein who was responsible for the National Guard at the time.
The last position Akef held in the Brotherhood before the decision to dissolve it was issued in 1954 was president of the student section.
He was also chairman of the Department of Physical Education at the General Centre of the Muslim Brotherhood.
He was arrested in early August 1954 and was tried on charges of assisting the then fugitive General Abdel Moneim Abdel Raouf – an army leader and prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood – who oversaw the expulsion of King Farouk. Akef was sentenced to death. This was commuted later commuted to life imprisonment with hard labour.
He was released from prison in 1974 during the reign of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to resume his work as Director-General of Youth at the Ministry of Reconstruction.
He moved to Riyadh in Saudi Arabia to work as a consultant to the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) and was also responsible for its international camps and conferences.
He participated in organising the largest Muslim Youth Camps in the world beginning in Saudia Arabia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Turkey, Australia, Mali, Kenya, Cyprus, Germany, Britain, and America.
He served as director of the Islamic Centre in Munich.
Mahdi Akef was a member of the Guidance Bureau; the highest leadership body within the Muslim Brotherhood from 1987 until his retirement in 2010.
He was elected a member of the People’s Assembly in 1987 by the Department of East Cairo as part of the Islamic Alliance list under whose umbrella the Brotherhood contested.
He was brought before a military court in 1996 in what is known as the Salsabil Affair which at the time included a large number of the leadership of the Brotherhood and was accused of being responsible for the Brotherhood’s global organisation. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
Joining the Muslim Brotherhood
When he was 12 years old in 1940, his attention was attracted by the Muslim Brotherhood’s interest in the sport he loved and “the sophisticated ways of the Brotherhood.” Akef joined to the movement which was then growing in leaps and bounds.
After he finished Fouad secondary school, he joined the Faculty of Engineering. However, Imam Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, suggested to him to enrol in the Higher Institute of Physical Education as he wanted members of the Brotherhood to be present in all schools, colleges and institutes at the time and because of the love and inclination that he had for sport.
Akef was one of 35 members of the Popular Council that represented the Muslim Brotherhood bloc in parliament in 1987 for East Cairo. He believed that the Brotherhood was successful in the elections because “they continuously spoke about public interest and government monitoring as a primary goal of the council, as well as monitoring and discussing laws and public finance.
At the beginning of 1995, tensions in the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian government reached a breaking point. The government launched a campaign of arrest against many of the middle-ranking members of the Brotherhood and subjected them to a succession of military trials that lasted over five years. Akef was brought before a military court in 1996, accused of responsibility for the international organisation of the Brotherhood. He was sentenced to three years in prison to be released in 1999.
After the death of Muhammad Ma’mun al-Hodeibi in January 2004 Mahdi Akef assumed the office of General Guide and continued in this role until January 2010.
He was married to the sister of the Brotherhood leader Dr Mahmoud Ezzat.