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Opinion: Is history repeating itself? | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Supporter of ousted president Mohamed Morsi shout slogans during a protest outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, Egypt, 09 July 2013. EPA/MOHAMMED SABER

The Egyptian army removed President Mohamed Mursi after giving him an ultimatum, and the squares were packed with crowds chanting, “The army and the people are hand in hand.” What is different this time is the US administration’s stance, which seemed to compete with the people in January 2011.

Now, however, the US administration is adopting a more deliberate and patient attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood, while they continue in escalation that deepens the chasm they have created in Egypt, a situation that warned that violence would be committed and blood would be shed.

US President Barack Obama’s administration did not call what happened a “military coup,” but it emphasized “the importance of a quick and responsible return of full authority to a democratically elected civilian government.”

The previous US administration was clearer in its dealings with the Muslim Brotherhood: they considered it a radical group.

Former US president George W. Bush described Yousef Nada, the Muslim Brotherhood’s foreign minister (as he liked to describe himself) and one of the Brotherhood’s loyal doves, as “Al-Qaeda’s bank manager.”

Former presidential candidate and former speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gringrich also said in February 2011 that “the Muslim Brotherhood is a mortal enemy of our civilization.”

For decades, the US attitude towards the Muslim Brotherhood has changed frequently amid secret meetings; it has been through ebbs and flows. Yet with the abject failure of the Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt, Obama’s theory that handing power over to political Islamist groups was the way to eliminate violence and spread democracy was also a failure.

The events of the past year, in addition to Obama’s attitude towards the ousting of Mursi, are the best evidence of the failure of that theory.

In Egypt, despite the importance of the events, the general course has not changed considerably. Chaos is prevalent and forces continue to reposition themselves. Chaos is stronger than any political party. When chaos spreads and prevails, in the absence of stable, sensible principles that govern individuals as well as groups, and in the absence of civilized discourse, it can only lead to further destruction.

It is good to see the Brotherhood’s discourse and political Islam’s experience in rule collapsing in the Muslim Brotherhood’s backyard, within less than a year in power.

It is good to see the people and the army being united in their rejection of the Brotherhood’s monopolistic and scheming policies.

Their monopolistic policies were manifested in their attempts to dominate all the country’s organizations and institutions, whereas the scheming was apparent in the flagrant contradictions of the Brotherhood’s position towards Israel.

In their external stances, such contradictions were manifested in President Mursi’s letter to the Israeli president in which the Egyptian leader addressed his Israeli counterpart as “Dear friend.” It was also apparent in his stance on the Syrian crisis.

Domestically, the Brotherhood’s contradictions were seen in their manipulation of extremist Islamic groups, using them to serve its purposes.

It could be said that the Brotherhood have suffered a historic defeat, not only to the mother organization or its branches, but also to their ideology as a whole. They managed, in one single year, to make as many internal and external enemies as possible.

Internally, they antagonized different state institutions, such as the army and the police, which are supposed to be under their jurisdiction in the executive authority. They did the same with the judiciary and political adversaries, Al-Azhar, the Coptic church, and youth organizations.

Externally, they antagonized Arab states, especially Gulf states. They also showed antagonism towards the Syrian issue when they sided with the regime and Iran, only to turn suddenly and dramatically, in a manner that manifested a lack of strategic thinking.

Externally, too, they forgot the sectarian dimension. Their ideological leaning towards Iran and its political project, which they often praised, has done them great harm. Egypt, with its strategic weight in the region, did not stand to be transformed into a ring on Iran’s little finger.

The Brotherhood chose confrontation and escalation. The speech of its general guide, Mohammed Badie, to his supporters last Friday at Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque was littered with the Brotherhood’s traditional violent discourse. The vocabulary and the religious texts he selected and the slogans he used suggested preparation for a violent confrontation and a bloody escalation.

The Brotherhood’s stance emphasized the miscalculation of some intellectuals who believed that political Islam was a representation of an open and tolerant discourse, compared to that of Salafists, or that the “Muslim Brotherhood” had abandoned their historic discourse and had become more democratic than Western parties and nations.

It is important to be alert to the fact that the Brotherhood’s failure and the collapse of their state does not mean their end, or that they are excluded from the next phase. This is because they still have loyal popular support and are very organized and capable of mobilizing their supporters at any future elections, unless legal measures are taken to curb their eroding—although not vanishing—popularity. In fact, those who would suffer from such a scenario the most are the Brotherhood themselves, for being biased towards violence.

It is very easy for the Brotherhood and the Islamic groups that support them to return to their old bases and to their experiences in the industry of violence, bombings, assassinations and destruction in general. Old habits die hard, especially in a chaotic, inflammatory climate in which they feel oppressed and stir up their supporters’ hatred through their customary promotional and ideological mechanisms, which they tried for years. In fact, their success in this can only be rivalled by their failure in their political leadership of the state.

The image is yet to be completed, but the result of violence as of Saturday night (the time this article was written) was that the death toll had risen to 17, apart from hundreds injured, and the situation is likely to escalate further.

The Brotherhood have one of two options: return to their historic practice of working underground and commit violence and assassinations, taking into consideration their weak control over their followers after the recent emotional and ideological aggravation. The second option is a long-term one: for the Brotherhood to rebuild itself from scratch by removing the old guard, who have led them for over two decades, and then come back with a completely different look, which is a very hard mission.

Finally, description is very important in reading the present and predicting the future. Hence, it is important to remember that it was not the streets that overthrew the Brotherhood, it was the army. However, this is not to deny the amount of growing popular discontent with the Brotherhood. When taking into account the statistics regarding the number of anti-Brotherhood demonstrators on June 30, who were twice the number of those who took to streets in 2011, we must also remember the difference in temperature between the cold January and burning June in Egypt.