The question of the future of the Muslim Brotherhood is a sore spot for the group. A year after coming to power, and attempting to monopolize the state, the Brotherhood have lost everything that they gained.
Following a long period in which they denied that violence is in their vocabulary, the Muslim Brotherhood’s behavior has confirmed the complete opposite.
The Brotherhood did not understand the nature of the crisis that led to their overthrow, leaving the group alienated from society in a manner unprecedented since the group’s formation in 1928.
Eighty-five years after the group’s establishment, the Brotherhood’s presence in Egypt’s future political scene is in doubt. This time, the Brotherhood’s crisis is between itself and the rest of Egypt, and the hatred and anger that is being expressed at this time threatens the Muslim Brotherhood’s very existence. The Brotherhood’s propensity and incitement to violence further deepens the crisis, indicating a potential split in its ranks.
The Brotherhood dealt with its man in the presidential palace being overthrown in the same way that it did with the crisis that led to the event, namely by denying facts and burying its head in the ground. It dealt with the popular anger in Egypt and its causes in a reckless manner, attributing these problems to conspiracy theories revolving around the former regime, its interests and corruption, and the military coup against legitimacy.
To talk of a “military coup” is to deny the some 33 million people who came out to protest—protests that, in terms of sheer numbers, are unprecedented throughout human history. The military intervention was necessary in order to prevent the outbreak of civil war and the collapse of the state. The military was perhaps disturbed by the fact that prior to his ouster, former president Mohamed Mursi seemed to threaten a civil war. Also, Mursi portrayed himself as the definition of legitimacy when he mentioned the word 74 times in a single speech. He failed to understand that his legitimacy had already been undermined, since it is a question of general acceptance and the will of the people.
At decisive phases, the Brotherhood was obstinate and stubborn, particularly in its gambling on the US administration. It overestimated the role that it could assume in dealing with the issues of Palestine and Syria and believed that, under pressure from the Pentagon, the army would not stand with the people—regardless of how many people took to the streets. When the group’s downfall began to become increasingly clear, Mursi was the only one talking about civil war.
The Muslim Brotherhood now must choose between two broad approaches for the future.
First, there is the violent behavior which the Brotherhood adopted immediately after losing power. Violence would have an exorbitant cost to Egyptian society, and would involve the suicide and departure of the oldest and most controversial Islamist organizations.
The Brotherhood behaved like a militia that uses arms against its own citizens and engaged in street battles in attempts to intimidate civilians—as demonstrated in a video shot in Sidi Gaber, Alexandria, showing young anti-Mursi protesters being thrown off a roof. Then, members of the group tried to storm the Republican Guard barracks, allegedly in order to free the former president from captivity, despite information confirming that he had been transferred to an unknown military facility. This was a deliberate and organized operation to force the army to open fire and cause casualties, thus smearing its image and inviting the international community to intervene to repeat the Syrian scenario, or at least increase pressures on Egypt’s new leaders.
They have failed, as what happened in Egypt was a genuine popular revolution: a new, complete and corrective revolution. The sovereign state, its institutions and the judiciary, as well as foreign media outlets, have regained their strength and power in record time.
The most dangerous thing that could affect the group’s future is for it to act as a terrorist group, or to reject the rhetoric of Hassan Al-Banna, the organization’s founder, when he, in the second half of the 1940s, condemned those who killed Mahmoud Al-Nukrashi Pasha, then prime minister, as “neither brothers nor Muslims.”
The statement made by Dr. Mohammad El-Beltagy, in which he said that ambushes and operations targeting military personnel in the Sinai Peninsula would not stop until Mursi is returned to power, confirms the political connections with Al-Qaeda. It also raises questions over what actually happened with the return of seven kidnapped soldiers and the killing of sixteen others in Rafah during Ramadan last year—as well as the continuation of the sabotage of gas pipelines, after they had ceased for a full year.
There is a second possible path for the Brotherhood when the group becomes aware of just how much it has lost, and sees its leadership scattered and deep divisions within the organization. In fact, analysis by the group’s senior figures portend splits in its ranks, though such splits will not take place at the present time. Facing an existential crisis, the Brotherhood will most likely pull together, rather than pull apart, at least for a time. Nevertheless, the current leadership might be toppled and replaced by another one capable of facing the new reality.
In the near future, the group may be prosecuted for various crimes, some of which have been documented, such as the jailbreak from Wadi Natrun prison (according to a court ruling), or engaging in violence or incitement. The legal process must take its course, but without harassment or rancor. Justice is the touchstone of genuine adherence to the rule of law rather than the settling of scores. In fact, as Egyptians say, shedding blood is prohibited.
The Brotherhood is waiting for the parliamentary elections, which, according to the new constitutional declaration, are set to take place in six months’ time. According to the Brotherhood’s traditions, the group will run regardless of the circumstances. However, it will be difficult for them to run in the elections unless their legal status is changed to that of a missionary group that has nothing to do with politics and whose funds are overseen by governmental bodies.
In fact, the Brotherhood will be isolated if they decide to boycott the elections and embarrassed if they do otherwise.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a part of Egypt’s tapestry and not an outside influence. However, unless it changes its legal status and refrain from mixing what is religious (sacred and fixed) with what is political (changing), the Brotherhood will not be able to endure. Most importantly, the group must realize that the world today does not accept authoritarian organizations viewing themselves as stronger than the people.
This is lesson of the June revolution.
The counterpoint to this piece can be read here.