Supporters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have recently called on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood on Twitter to restore “rule by the “sword.” A Twitter account under the name of Shabab Dawlat Al-Islam (Youth of the Islamic State) posted a photo of the leader of ISIS, the alleged Caliph Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, with the caption: “This is what we earned from jihad.” The tweet also included a picture of the ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Mursi behind bars, with the caption: “This is what we earned from democracy.”
The Brotherhood and its supporters will say that ISIS’s remarks do not concern the organization because it is committed to a peaceful opposition approach which condemns violence and terror. On the other hand, the group might argue that its arrival to power in Egypt was through the ballot box not the “sword,” and that it has fallen victim to a military coup rather than a popular uprising. The problem is that such discourse is highly selective and does not reflect the true picture. The Brotherhood has never been an innocent victim, and its actions have been largely responsible for the destruction of the dreams of Egypt’s January 25 revolution.
I wish the Brotherhood—and its offshoots—would commit itself to true democracy in deeds, not just words. It should have chosen either to be a political movement that believed in the peaceful transfer of power, or to be a religious group, committed to Islamic da’wa (proselytization) activities, instead of occupying a grey position that has brought many calamities and horrors to the region and the group itself. The Brothers were not always committed to a peaceful approach, as they claim. Rather, as is well known, in the past they practiced violence and attempted political assassinations. Even after they announced their renunciation of violence during the 1960s in Egypt, some of their supporters and the radical groups that came out of the Brotherhood returned to violence later.
Examples of the group’s undemocratic approach are too many to list. Modern history testifies that the Islamist group only believes in democracy when it leads to power. Once it achieves its ends through democracy, it does not commit to the principle of peaceful transfer of power afterwards. In some countries, the Brotherhood plotted to undermine democracy—as in Sudan when “Islamists” led a military coup that toppled a democratic regime of which they were part. At the time, the Islamist putschists received support and aid from the Brotherhood that claims to believe in democracy.
ISIS may not represent the Brotherhood. But its call for the supporters of the Islamist group to restore power come at a time when many question marks are hanging over whether some of the Brotherhood supporters are heading towards the use of violence in their battle for power. The violence and attacks on police and military bases have been escalating recently across Egypt. Coinciding with the anniversary of the clearing of the Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in, a movement threatening to take up arms against the so-called military rulers of Egypt has emerged.
A few days ago, pro-Brotherhood activists circulated a video online showing masked figures calling themselves “Helwan battalions” declaring armed resistance against the Egyptian police and military. Before the commotion about the identity of the group died down, another video appeared showing the so-called People’s Resistance Movement, a group that announced it would fight against “the military regime with all means available”—a veiled, if not stated, threat that does not rule out the military option.
As was expected, the Brotherhood rushed to declare that it had nothing to do with these groups. At the same time, it used these groups to say it had managed to restrain its supporters ever since Mursi was ousted. However, it said it was beginning to worry things could get out of its hands now that armed movements continue to emerge in the light of the ongoing detention of the group’s leadership.
This veiled rhetoric is typical of the Brotherhood and lies at the heart of its political approach. It used this method before the outcome of the presidential elections that brought Mursi to power was announced. At the time, it urged its supporters to take to public squares, making clear they would not leave and would rather die than see Mursi lose the elections. It played the same tune when anti-Brotherhood protests escalated.
The recent moves also coincided with the formation of the so-called Egyptian Revolutionary Council following a series of meetings in Istanbul. The council is meant to act as an umbrella under which the Brotherhood can cooperate with foreign powers to achieve its stated objective of “supporting people’s resistance against the military rule.” As for its veiled objective, it is only to cause tensions in Egypt. This strategy will not bring the Brotherhood back to power as the Islamist group wishes but will isolate it further, particularly if violence in Egypt escalates. This raises the question: Has the Brotherhood learned anything from its experience in which it circumvented the revolution in order to assume power and maneuvered in the name of democracy in order to monopolize power? In fact it lost both power and the Egyptian street. Or is it still keen to come to power at any costs— even if the entire country pays the price?