I am convinced that each country has its own special circumstances and that experiences cannot necessarily be translated from one country to the next, but Sudan and Egypt’s experience with the Muslim Brotherhood have a lot of similarities. There are convergences in the approach of Islamists in both countries regarding how to monopolize power, circumvent opposing political forces and break pledges. Even more, the Brotherhood originates from a single ideology, despite the differences in the names of their parties and their approaches to opposition and governance. The Brotherhood may also have based the idea of an “international” organization to bring together its different branches, engendering coordination and cooperation, on this precise logic.
Regarding the shared language used by these groups, there is always a reason to learn from the mistakes of others, particularly as the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood was the first Brotherhood group to come to power, and was also the first so-called Islamist group in the Arab world to reach and monopolize power.
In this case, there are lessons to be learned from their experience. Some have rushed to say that the Sudanese Brotherhood stole power by carrying out a military coup, while the Egyptian Brotherhood came to power via the ballot box, regardless of the controversy that has been raised about these elections and claims of electoral irregularities. Such talk is largely correct, even if the Sudanese Brotherhood had previous brushes with democracy on three separate occasions, including a considerable parliamentary presence following the elections that led to the popular ouster of the rule of General Gaafar Nimeiry in April 1986.
However, they failed to implement a democratic and peaceful transfer of power, conspiring against democracy and muddying the waters before carrying out a full-scale military coup. They hid their true identity from the people, promoting lies and deceit, before revealing this only after having gained complete control of the country. This is something that many people fear in terms of the emerging democratic experience in Egypt, particularly when looking at the practices of the Brotherhood there and their move to dominate the government and undermine some state institutions within the framework of gaining more and more control.
Since the January revolution, the Brotherhood in Egypt has failed to fulfill many of their pledges, and they have retreated from a number of public statements and commitments. They said that they would not put forward a presidential candidate, claiming that this would best serve Egypt, only to later break this pledge and put forward two presidential candidates. They did this in order not to miss this historic opportunity to gain power, and ultimately their alternative candidate—Mohamed Mursi—triumphed. At the same time, the original candidate, Khairat El-Shater, continues to wield widespread influence from his position within the organization, and this reportedly even includes influence over the presidential decisions.
They said that they did not want to control parliament or the parliamentary committee tasked with drafting Egypt’s new constitution, and then they broke their promise and sought to dominate both bodies. When they faced increasing anger from the people, they sought to absorb the resentment of the masses by announcing that they would not put the constitution up for referendum or go forward until after consensus had been reached. However, just weeks later, they went back on their word once more, ignoring the protesters, the opposition and those calling for further constitutional amendments.
The record of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Sudan has revealed that they are prepared to go back on any promise or commitment to the people for the sake of power. In fact, they are actively conspiring against and deceiving the public in order to implement their plans and secure power. Although the Brotherhood’s experience in power in Egypt is more recent than that of the Sudanese Brotherhood, there are many indications that they are pursuing a similar course in trying to exercise control over all aspects of life and power.
So in precisely the same way that the Sudanese Brotherhood sought to control the media, judiciary and economy following its military coup, the Egyptian Brotherhood sought to secure an early victory through the protests, demanding the “purification” of the judiciary. The Egyptian Brotherhood’s supporters besieged the Supreme Constitutional Court, attempting to intimidate the judiciary and paralyze its operations at a time when its decisions would have been crucial. The Brotherhood also drafted constitutional articles and legislation to forcibly retire the eldest judges and neutralize this institution whose strength and independence is supposed to guarantee the rule of law, the balance of power and the rights of the citizens.
While the battle with the judiciary continues, and we are seeing new twists and turns in this every day, the Brotherhood has also opened a second front with the media. The protesters prompted the move by calling for “purification.” The Brotherhood then rejected proposals made by the Journalism Syndicate regarding the new constitution, in addition to drafting constitutional articles and legislation aimed at weakening media freedoms and the power of the press. The Brotherhood, along with their allies, have also sought to infiltrate the media, appointing supporters and loyalists to the state-owned media and prosecuting their critics in the courts, as well as attempting to intimidate and silence them.
If the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood follows in the footsteps of their Sudanese counterparts, then their plans will include seeking to control the economy and restricting business in order to gain control of successful companies. In addition to this, infiltrating the military and security institutes will also be one of their primary goals.
In Sudan, Dr. Hassan Al-Turabi’s Islamist movement was able to infiltrate the military during its alliance with the Gaafar Nimiery regime—they were even able to convince him to open Islamic institutions within military centers. They also sought to recruit military cadres and place some of its members in the army. The objective, as was later revealed, was not just to neutralize the army, but to gain control of the military from within and use it to carry out a military coup that would destroy the dreams of Sudanese democracy once more.
In Egypt, from time to time, one notices Islamists and Salafists attacking the army, issuing statements warning the military leadership. This, in turn, has forced the military institute to come out and issue statements in response, warning the Brotherhood against the “anger of the army.” The other striking issue is the Brotherhood and its allies have also rushed to place a number of their supporters within the military service.
Do you suppose history will repeat itself and the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood’s experience will reoccur in Egypt, albeit with different features or more sophisticated methods?