The Islam Defenders Front (FPI) will not hold its congress for new leadership until 2013, yet several of its elites are already in competition to wrest the chairmanship from the frail Habib Rizieq.
A source within the FPI said internal rivalry has intensified since 2005 between the founding elite and those who have since joined the organization. Rizieq previously showed preference for fellow Arab-descendant Habib Faiz Alatas, a graduate of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, to take over the hard-line group's leadership.
Faiz, then FPI secretary-general, was among the key provocateurs of the raids on the Liberal Islamic Network (JIL) headquarters in Utan Kayu, East Jakarta, in August, 2005.
His preaching at the Al-Azhar Mosque in South Jakarta ignited a wave of anger among FPI members and followers against the JIL movement led by liberal Islamic figure Ulil Abshar-Abdalla.
Rizieq's concealed support for Faiz eventually stirred up debate within the FPI elite, particularly the founding figures who considered Faiz to have no root in the organization and no strong network.
Just two years before the 2009 congress to elect a new FPI leader, Faiz died in an accident.
"Habib Faiz died in a traffic accident around three years ago," said FPI secretary-general Ahmad Sobri Lubis.
Sobri said Faiz was remembered by fellow FPI members as a young, inspiring and enthusiastic cleric, who often replaced Rizieq when he could not deliver the Thursday night sermon.
"Faiz was not the crown prince of the FPI. There's no such thing as that. Everyone has an equal chance to lead," said Sobri.
As for leadership regeneration, Sobri said it would only be done in the upcoming congress in 2013.
"Several years ago, Habib Rizieq had called us to prepare younger figures to replace him because he was too exhausted to lead. However, so far, no one been deemed suitable to replace him," said Sobri.
Sobri was optimistic the upcoming congress was likely to see new leadership.
FPI secretary for the Consultative Assembly Syeikh Misbahul Anam said he was preparing the next generation of leaders to replace Rizieq.
"We have some potential members who deserve to lead, and we are continuously developing them for the next congress. Anyone can be named leader," said Misbahul, whose boarding school Al-Umm was FPI's first headquarters.
"We do not recognize seniority. Everyone has the same obligations, rights and chances."
Sources at FPI said among candidates to replace Rizieq included Sobri Lubis, Misbahul and Munarman, the commander of the FPI's militia, the Islam Defender Troops (LPI).
Sobri and Misbahul are among the founding figures of FPI while Munarman is a new figure, who joined the organization less than four years ago.
Munarman, who spent 18 months in prison with Rizieq for inciting the Monas incident in 2008, is a former chairman of the high-profile Indonesia Legal Aid Foundation (YLBHI). Munarman also deals with FPI legal affairs.
Rendi Witular/Hans David