The Brotherhood's "deep state"
Whatever it says in public as it seeks alliances, the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to take over the Egyptian state, invading it at all levels, writes Eman Ragab
The Muslim Brotherhood's assimilation into political life following the removal of Hosni Mubarak was far from smooth. The once officially banned Islamist organisation has locked horns with all other political forces, regardless of their ideological affiliation. The origins of this conflict reside in a crisis of confidence that was born with the revolution and has increased ever since, in stark contrast with the Muslim Brothers' record of coordinating with other groups during the Mubarak period on the basis of a shared opposition to the regime.
What sparked this crisis was what appeared to be the Muslim Brotherhood's determination to capitalise on the advantages it had as the largest and best organised political force to assert its control over the key instruments of power. At times, the Brotherhood coordinated closely with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in its capacity as the ruling authority in the transitional phase; at others times it clashed with SCAF, when that was more expedient. In both cases, it paid little more than lip service to working together with other political forces and to guarantees for their participation in government. This strategy triggered alarm bells among political forces across the spectrum in the face of the spectre of a reproduction of the tentacled political machine of the Mubarak regime but beneath a Brotherhood mantle and its claims to religious legitimacy.
The crisis of confidence mounted over recent months as people discerned a particular pattern in the Muslim Brotherhood's behaviour: they make promises only to break them, and what they say they will do is the opposite of what they actually do. This trait, which has even stirred the concern of some US officials in light of possible ramifications, manifested itself at important junctures over the past year. Initially, Muslim Brotherhood leaders announced that they would not contest more than 30 per cent of the seats of parliament. This figure then climbed to 40 per cent, and by the time of the People's Assembly elections it climbed further yet. Also, even before Mubarak stepped down, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagui vowed that the Muslim Brothers would not field a candidate for president. The pledge was repeated several times by key Brotherhood leaders, only for them to take the Egyptian people by surprise by fielding two candidates, Khairat El-Shater and Mohamed Mursi, in rapid succession.
The process of forming a new cabinet continues the trend. In a meeting with national political forces in the Fairmont Hotel on 22 June, which is to say before the official results of the presidential elections were announced, Mursi vowed that if he won he would form a national unity government headed by an independent figure drawn from outside the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Last week we find that he plumped for Hisham Qandil who worked as director of the office of the minister of irrigation from 1999-2005 under the Ahmed Nazif government, after which he served as minister of irrigation under the Essam Sharaf and Kamal El-Ganzouri governments. A number of questions hover over Qandil's credentials as an independent. At the very least, some argue, he lacks the necessary experience and political acumen to manage the government at this phase and to assert his prime ministerial powers, which effectively means that he will be under the thumb of the president and, hence, the Muslim Brotherhood, even if he is not an active Muslim Brotherhood member. Others suspect that while not a Muslim Brotherhood member he has strong pro-Muslim Brotherhood sympathies. Whether or not this is the case, the choice of Qandil was made without consulting any of the other political parties and forces, which explains the angry reactions on the part of these forces who now suspect that this is only the first step in Mursi's departure from what has been called the Fairmont agreement.
The climate of mistrust between the Muslim Brotherhood and other political forces generated a range of problems that contributed to prolonging and compounding the complexities of the transitional phase. It also helps explains why the FJP has had such difficulties forming new alliances following the Mursi victory. Many of the revolutionary and national forces had voted for Mursi out of their opposition to his rival, Ahmed Shafik. Many were also influenced by Mursi campaign propaganda that ranked the Muslim Brothers as part of the greater front of "national forces" and "forces of the revolution" that opposed the "remnants" of the old regime, namely Shafik. However, once victory was in hand, Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood quickly let that "solidarity" slide. This is more than apparent in the formation of the new Cabinet, 11 seats of which belong to Islamist groups -- nine members of the FJP and the others from small parties, such as the Hadara (Civilisation Party), that formed what was called the Democratic Alliance during the parliamentary elections.
It is little wonder that the FJP has been unable to broaden its alliances to include other parties, such as the Wafd and the Free Egyptians Party, since the presidential elections.
To compound the crisis, the FJP remains the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mursi is incapable of shedding this affiliation and representing other interest groups that are not affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, Mursi lacks a truly national project that addresses the whole panoply of social and political groups that make up Egyptian society. Moreover, even his new prime minister has announced that one of his duties would be to implement the Nahda (renaissance) project, which is essentially the FJP platform and with regard to which many other political forces have a number of reservations.
What this situation suggests is that there is a very influential current within the Muslim Brotherhood that is treating the Mursi victory as a platform for "ikhwanising" (ikhwan, Arabic for brotherhood) the government and the state. The chief avenue towards this end will be to fill the hierarchies of government agencies and bodies with Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters, regardless of the regulations that have been governing how they have operated for decades and regardless of how this will impact on their performance. The point is to eliminate anyone who does not belong to or owe allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood in order to attain the ultimate objective of replacing the "deep state" that was revealed following the January revolution with another "deep state" with the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the FJP at its core. In order to accomplish this end, the Muslim Brotherhood and its FJP will have to assume control over the key institutions of government, which will inherently put them on a collision course not just with these institutions but also with a large range of other interest groups in society. As clashes intensify, the seething tensions between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF will burst into the open and broaden to polarise and engulf the whole of society.
The process has already begun. The Muslim Brothers' demonstrations in protest against the Supreme Constitutional Court's ruling to dissolve the People's Assembly must be seen in this context, as their purpose was to preserve their parliamentary majority. The same applies to their determination to press ahead with the drafting of the new constitution in spite of the legal challenge to the constitutionality of the current Constituent Assembly. The Ministry of Interior may soon become another front, for already there have been indications of a design by the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists to create pockets of supporters in that institution, testimony of which is the case of the security officers who insisted on growing their beards in spite of explicit regulations prohibiting beards in that agency.
Equally, if not more worrisome, are the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood majority in the Shura Council. In spite of the fact that the constitutionality of this legislative body is also being challenged, on 3-9 July, the Shura Council accepted nominations for the posts of editor-in-chief of national newspapers. Moreover, it sidestepped the role that the Supreme Press Council plays in this process. The implications of this action extend beyond the press, for clearly it was a trial balloon. If it succeeds, Egypt will soon see similar initiatives spearheaded by the Muslim Brothers and the forces of political Islam aimed at asserting their hegemony over all other institutions of the state. The degree to which the Muslim Brothers succeed in this is contingent, at least in part, upon the ability of these institutions to sustain their political neutrality, regardless of the ideological orientation of the political party in power.