For example, el-Shater said that a Mubarak-era law giving women the right to seek divorce should be reviewed. The law, he said, was because of the influence of then-first lady Suzanne Mubarak, who he said had a policy of "siding with women in any conflict with men."
On Sunday, the Brotherhood caused controversy when its lawmakers objected to a World Bank loan allocated to improve Egypt's battered sewage system because it would involve interest, which is banned under Shariah.
In an appeal to hard-liners this month, the Brotherhood's spokesman Mahmoud Ghozlan wrote a blistering commentary against Abolfotoh, warning that he was too liberal. He noted past moderate stances by Abolfotoh: for example that a Christian has the right to be president and that books promoting atheism should not be censored.
A string of recent moves by the Brotherhood to flex its power alienated moderates, even among its supporters, who felt it was going too far.
The group demanded the military allow it to form a government, even going so far as to freeze parliament for several days in protest when the generals refused. The Brotherhood and other Islamists tried to pack a panel tasked with writing the next constitution with their own followers — only to have liberals on the panel revolt. A court disbanded the Islamist-dominated panel.
Tarek el-Bishri, a prominent former judge seen as sympathetic to the Brotherhood, washed his hands of the group in an article Friday.
"It is using its legislative power not to serve the national interest, but to serve the party and a handful of individuals' interests," el-Bishri wrote. "As a former judge, I am screaming and ask others to scream against this behavior, to clear my conscious before God."
Several former Brotherhood members say the harder line reflects the mindset of the el-Shater and the core leadership, which came to the fore in the past two decades and pushed out moderates. Around 70 prominent moderates have left the group in recent years, including Abolfotoh.
Most of the current leaders believe the Brothers are the only "surviving group that can bring back Egyptians to Islam," said Abdel-Sattar el-Meligi, who was once a senior figure in charge of Brotherhood finances until he fell out with the group.
Though the Brotherhood long included more moderate strains, el-Shater and the current leadership were more influenced by the more intolerant Wahhabi interpretation prevalent in Saudi Arabia, where some sought refuge from regime repression in the 1960s and '70s. They also come from a more secretive wing of the group that has long been working underground, the defectors say.
They point to a Brotherhood document titled "Empowerment on Earth," uncovered in a 1992 raid on el-Shater's office. The 14-page document outlines plans, complete with handwritten diagrams, to infuse Brotherhood supporters in key sectors, including professional syndicates, student unions, business circles and the military and police.
The Brotherhood has denied the plan's authenticity, saying security services concocted it to tar the group. However, el-Meligi and another prominent defector from the Brotherhood, Haitham Abu Khalil, confirmed it.
"The plan is real and it carried working strategy for the group to topple down the regime," el-Meligi said.