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Opinion: The Muslim Brotherhood on the Precipice | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi pray during a protest near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, Egypt, 04 August 2013. (EPA/KHALED ELFIQI.)

The Muslim Brotherhood has left the political arena in Egypt, and it appears that the other branches of the group in the countries that witnessed the Arab Spring will suffer major rifts. The public resentment felt by several religious and non-politicized segments of the Egyptian society against the Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt is increasing in a manner that outstrips the stances of other factions opposed to the Islamist group.

The political outrage is what often comes under the media spotlight. However, the public outrage—which is an expression of the love of country that is deeply rooted in the public conscience in a manner that borders on chauvinism—should serve as a lesson to the Al-Nour Party and other independent Salafists in Egypt.

Threatening external intervention and to set the country on fire, steps which former president Hosni Mubarak did not have the courage to take, will only stimulate grudges against the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is a significant group compared to other Islamist organizations. This is also true compared to other secular parties, such as the Wafd Party and the parties that have been founded after the January 25 revolution. According to the most optimistic of estimates, there are no more than two million members in the Brotherhood. Although it is a huge number compared to other parties, it remains small compared to Egypt’s population.

Insisting on disbanding the group by force and imprisoning and prosecuting its figures will not be useful. To the contrary, such measures will give the group a chance to use this ill-treatment in an attempt to reconstruct itself. The Brotherhood is not a new political faction that only emerged following the January 25 revolution: it is a political movement that has been well-established in several countries over the last eight decades. This explains the amount of panic among the group’s supporters during the recent events which they rushed to depict as a pogrom against Islamists. Of course, the members of this group fail to recall the stance of the Salafists and Al-Azhar, as well as the other Islamist factions that deserted the Brotherhood.

Isolating the group by force will also justify its return to violence as well as breed sentiments of being isolated, prompting its members to operate in secret. The situation in Egypt does not allow for such things to happen, particularly as the country is currently being targeted by small jihadist groups in Sinai.

Without doubt, the Brotherhood has lost its religious legitimacy. However, it would be more significant if they lost their political legitimacy. This cannot be achieved through forced exclusion, only through law.

The mere participation of Islamist parties in the political process was a mistake that should not have been accepted or justified. All individuals wanting to participate in politics should have to operate within purely political parties that do not use Friday prayer, mosques or charity aid to woo voters.

In fact, most of the initiatives aimed at defusing the pending crisis are only short-term ones, seeking to negotiate a settlement with the new regime in order to secure a safe exit for the leadership, as well as their wealth and property.

The temporary initiative should not be preclude seeking radical solutions aimed at banning authoritarian religious parties from offering themselves as political movements which in fact only present the appearance of being democratic. This issue is being neglected due to the crisis, pushing the political players to enter into alliances with other politico-religious parties opposing the Brotherhood.

The party formation law should be reviewed in a comprehensive way, whether in terms of the process of elections or setting political programs. Such amendment should not be made on the basis of Islamist–secularist division. Rather, such changes should be based on the concept of citizenship and that Egypt is for all Egyptians.

Definitely, the view of the military as a national security “safety valve” by the majority of the non-politicized Egyptians has changed the rule of the game, and has preceded the participation of the military along with the government and the opposition. To maintain this situation, the military is required to let the government construct itself without direct interference, as well as ensure the right to protest peacefully. The concept of peaceful protests should be legally defined in order to exclude some public acts such as erecting checkpoints, setting facilities on fire and blocking roads.

It can be said that Islamism, whether Sunni or Shi’ite, has managed over the last decades to form a state inside a state. This phenomenon will apparently be the source of conflict in the future. Clearly Egypt, as usual, will bear the cost of the major transformations taking place in the region. Thus, the solution is not the extra-judicial execution of Islamism, but rather euthanizing it within the law.