Where to, Muslim Brothers?
Controversy has been raging inside and outside Egypt over the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) especially since the group was recently outlawed.
Ever since they fell from power last July when the Islamist President Muhammad Mursi was ousted, the MB have been defiant and insistent that Mursi should be returned to power otherwise they would wage a war of terror against Egypt. True to their word, they have plagued Egyptians with terrorist acts that appear to have no end in sight, yet Egyptians—the wide majority of whom are Muslims—have vowed they would have no more Islamist rule. Colonel General Sisi aptly expressed the opinion of mainstream Egyptians when he said, addressing the MB: “Are you determined that you should either rule over us or kill us?” Several individuals or groups who wished to see an end to the violence and terrorism attempted to work a conciliation between the MB and the secular Egyptian streams, but the MB has been adamant they would not reconcile unless Mursi was reinstated and Islamist rule was back again—conditions that are a no-no to mainstream Egyptians.
History of terrorism
The Brotherhood was founded as a religious, anti-Western organisation in 1928. It grew to assume a political role, engaging in terrorist operations and a series of political assassinations during the 1940s. The MB supported the 1952 Revolution that ended the monarchy and British colonial influence in Egypt, but was outlawed in 1954, following an attempt on the life of President Gamal Abdel-Nasser who would not allow them an active political role. The group leaders and members were imprisoned.
In the 1970s, Egypt’s President Anwar al-Sadat, in an attempt to counter his leftist opponents, pardoned the MB leaders and allowed them freedom to operate. But they went back to their coercive, terrorist practices, and assassinated Sadat in 1981 for having made peace with Israel.
The group was gradually allowed a degree of freedom to operate under President Hosni Mubarak on condition that it renounced violence. Although never formally legalised till 2012, its members established a significant bloc in parliament in elections in 2005 by standing as independents. It finally emerged from the shadows after the 2011 revolution. It won a majority in Parliament and, in June 2012, one of the members of its Guidance Office, Muhammad Mursi, became Egypt’s president. After one year in office it became obvious to Egyptians the group had priorities other than Egypt; Mursi was overthrown by massive public protest and military intervention, for having curtailed freedoms and imposed an Islamist hegemony.
Watani talked to Ammar Ali Hassan, the writer and researcher in Islamic affairs, on what chances await the MB within the civic State Egyptians now envisage.
In your opinion, how long will the violence and chaos propagated by supporters of the deposed President Mursi last?
The history of revolutions around the world indicates that the road to stability is tough. Our own experience with the 1919 revolution shows that conditions in Egypt remained unstable for four years, until 1923. Hence instability is expected to last for a while, especially when we are facing an organisation based on ideology. This organisation must adapt to the new situation, rethink its ideas and roles in the new political system and understand that its current behaviour is suicidal. Should it fail to take such steps, it will definitely create havoc and exhaust the State for the longest possible period of time. Anyhow, the curve of street violence is now decreasing and the MB’s capacity for organising mass protests is receding. The probability that they achieve a strategic shift to turn the course of events to the pre-30 June State or overthrow the current regime is almost nonexistent because the people of Egypt are no longer on their side. However, the possibility of specific terrorist attacks is imminent and bound to happen.
How do you see the MB scenario of “setting Egypt on fire” when the Islamist sit-ins in Cairo were disbanded by the security forces last August?
This was a part of the bloody scenario the MB had prepared to face the breakup of their sit-ins. The suicidal, provocative aggression of the MB brought on a security crackdown, and they cast themselves before the world as victims of excessive police violence. But the people understood this very well and took the side of the army against the MB, thus preventing the MB scenario from yielding its expected fruit. The rift between the Brotherhood and the Egyptians widened, and revealed their lack of concern about national interests and their deviation from the moderate, mainstream Islam of Egypt.
But they attempted to ignite sectarian strife by setting churches ablaze?
This scenario was also anticipated. We had already warned that such tactics would be used, especially in Upper Egypt. The MB would stir up Muslim feelings by claiming that it was the Christians who had turned against Mursi, and this would result in sectarian confrontation and chaos. The army would then be accused of being unable to restore stability or protect the Copts, and foreign intervention would therefore be justified to the MB’s advantage.
However, the reaction of the Egyptian Church and Christians was very smart and disciplined. Because they understood the nature of this plot, they chose to put the best interest of Egypt first. They ruined the MB scenario and, consequently, Egypt emerged stronger and more united.
So you don’t think it was collective punishment for the Copts for their participation in the 30 June Revolution?
It was partly punishment and partly a well-set plan. The evidence is the slogans that were immediately chanted in the streets of Upper Egypt, among which were: “What shame, what disgrace! The Christians have become revolutionaries!” in an attempt to turn Muslims against Christians and make Egyptians believe that the only ones who took to the streets against Mursi were Christians. To refute these allegations we say that the participants on 30 June were estimated at almost 33 million. If the Islamists set the number of Christians in Egypt between four and five million, how can their claim be true?
How should the arrest of the MB leaders affect the current local organisation?
The MB leaders unfortunately slipped from political work to terrorism. This has made it easier for the State to issue orders from the prosecutor’s office based on specific solid evidence against them. The MB is an organisation that trains its members on obedience and makes them completely dependent on commands of their leaders and unable to think independently or creatively. Arresting middle leaders and some of the upper ones broke the chain of command and paralysed the organisation reducing its ability to hassle the State and the society. But it continues with terrorist plots.
The arrested MB leaders have denied all the charges against them, while some others denied that they even belonged to the MB. What do you think about that?
The investigations with Dr Saad al-Katatni were hilarious! He claimed he was not a member of the MB despite him being the head of the Freedom and Justice Party [FJP, the political arm of the MB]. It is no secret that once a MB always a MB; the only exceptions over the long years were Tharwat al-Kherbawy and Ahmed Ban who broke with the Brotherhood. Members diverge on administration policies, others fight over benefits, some object to the performance of the group; but the powerful web of interests and secret connections that surrounds the MB makes the thought of leaving it next to impossible. So the MB leaders’ denial that they belong to the MB is pathetic because people who take allegiance to such groups are supposed to cling to their ideology and become tougher under duress. What happened with the current MB proved the contrary. Those who made pompous speeches calling for steadfastness and martyrdom were the first to flee the scene and denied they even belonged to the group. It definitely betrayed the reality of their bravery, heroism and martyrdom.
Which MB leaders were most influential in Egypt?
Khairat al-Shater for economics and financing and Mahmoud Ezzat for planning and organising. Their men on the ground were Muhammad al-Beltagui and Osama Yassin.
There is a certain vagueness surrounding the Supreme Guide of the MB after the arrest of Muhammad Badie. What is the purpose of this?
On many occasions the position of Supreme Guide remained vacant for some time: when Hassan al-Banna was imprisoned for a short time, when the second Supreme Guide Hassan al-Hudaibi was arrested during the 1950s and when Omar al-Telmissany was imprisoned in 1981 they were not immediately replaced. Hence, it is possible for the position of Supreme Guide to remain vacant until Badie is sentenced. News has spread that the MB chose Mahmoud Ezzat as Supreme Guide shortly after Badie’s arrest and then replaced him with another leader whose name is still undisclosed. This confusion may indicate that either someone has indeed been chosen as acting Supreme Guide or a name has already been chosen but will only be revealed in case Badie is put in prison for a long time. In any case, Badie was just a façade and was never the real leader in the MB; his absence from the scene will not decrease the power of the MB, if there is still any left.
Some voices are calling for reconciliation and dialogue. Is it possible to reconcile with the MB?
It is not possible to reconcile with the institution called the MB because it is an illegitimate body; it bred an NGO that was illegitimately licensed overnight during the Islamist Mursi rule and has now been dissolved, also because it violated the NGO law by harbouring arms in their headquarters. It had become a parallel State or a State within a State, with all its financing, planning and meetings not subject to any State supervision and not accountable to any official authority. This situation is unacceptable and not inductive to reconciliation.
As for the MB members, we have to draw a clear line between violent and peaceful protestors. Anyone who incited or committed violence, conspired with foreign bodies or cooperated with terrorists must stand trial. And anyone who still belongs to the MB after it has been dissolved by a court order will be committing a crime. They can contribute to political life in Egypt either as independents or through any of the legitimate political parties. The new constitution, currently in the phase of being finalised, has banned religious-based political parties.
How will the MB proceed now that it has been banned?
According to my knowledge of the MB, they will not give up their ideology because they believe it is sacred. They will consider that what happened is no more than a new obstacle which they must overcome; however, it is now the role of the Egyptian society to resist this game.
18 October 2013
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