Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Whatever happened to the Muslim Brotherhood?

As the nation braces itself for the commemoration of two years since the 25 January Revolution, fears are growing that Egypt’s new rulers might be copying the ancien régime, writes Omayma Abdel-Latif

Al-Ahram Weekly

A cartoon on the back page of the daily Al-Shorouk newspaper pretty much sums up a dominant perception of what has happened to the 25 January uprising two years on. The cartoon is of Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser, Anwar Al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.

Under a portrait of current President Mohamed Morsi the words “Mubarak the second” appear, the idea being that Egypt’s new ruler is walking in the footsteps of his predecessor whose three decades of dictatorship triggered the massive popular uprising that led to his downfall.

The liberal opposition, which is rallying people to turn out this Friday in large numbers, is hoping that Morsi will face the same fate. The slogan that the opposition is using is “say no to the Ikhwan state,” claiming that the Brotherhood is engaged in a systematic process of taking over the state apparatus through its political wing the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).

At the heart of the debate is the complicated relationship between the Islamists and the revolution two years on, the Brotherhood having emerged as the biggest winner in the post-revolution political setting. It is feared by some that a revolution that was meant to bring social justice, freedom and dignity to millions of Egyptians has instead boiled down to reproducing the same modes of operation and the same ways of running state affairs.

Such perceptions have been deepened by recent calls for reconciliation with the business elite of the former regime and by amendments introduced to a new elections law which opponents of the Brotherhood say simply copies the old electoral tricks of the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

The Muslim Brotherhood, like the rest of the political parties that operated during the Mubarak years, has remained a hostage of a certain approach to politics, opponents say. “If the political system was like a coin,” Ali Al-Raggal, a young activist and researcher, says, the Mubarak regime would be one side of the coin while the Muslim Brotherhood would be the other.

Al-Raggal, whose research is mainly concerned with the anatomy of the 25 January Revolution, elaborated this view in a recent article in which he considered President Morsi’s rule as the “the last phase of the Mubarak era”.

“The Muslim Brotherhood shares the former regime’s socio-economic vision, upholds the belief in the centrality of the state, and bestows legitimacy on a decaying political system. It, has, however, parted company on issues of corruption and political oppression,” Al-Raggal wrote.

However, the group has internalised some of the former regime’s mechanisms in terms of the domination of businessmen in the affairs of the 80-year-old group. Reading the Islamists’ electoral victories, and particularly those of the Brotherhood, in this light suggests that the “victory of the Brotherhood is a sign that the ancien régime has been playing its last card by pushing to the fore the second party in the famous dichotomy of the Mubarak regime versus the Muslim Brotherhood.”

“We are witnessing the swan’s last song,” Al-Raggal said. Such a view has been held not only by Brotherhood opponents, but also by the group’s former allies. One leading member of the Islamist Nour Party has accused the Brotherhood of “walking in the footsteps of the NDP” due to the group’s stand on a new elections law that has been passed by the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament, but is pending a ruling from the constitutional court.

The Brotherhood’s stand on the law has been criticised by proponents and opponents of the group, particularly with reference to Article 3 which allows newly elected MPs to change their party affiliations, something which serves as a vivid reminder of the practices of the dissolved NDP.

Some analysts, however, have begged to differ. “The Islamists in general, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, are not the NDP,” wrote Emadeddin Hussein, acting editor-in-chief of Al-Shorouk. “They have a strong and well-rooted organisational base, a loyal constituency, an ability to mobilise, and a socio-political project no matter how ambiguous it may be.”

Hussein shares the view that it is still premature to judge Morsi, who has been in office for just a little over six months, suggesting that the onus is on the liberal opposition. “Assuming that the Islamists decide to give up politics tomorrow, what will the liberal opposition do when they assume power? They too lack the political expertise to run state affairs,” Hussein said.

The revolution has had many unintended consequences, the most significant of which had been the massive transformation of the Islamist movement. Ending the Muslim Brotherhood’s monopoly over the representation of political Islam has also been a key characteristic of the post-revolutionary period.

While under Mubarak’s rule the Brotherhood was the voice of political Islam, post-revolutionary Egypt has witnessed a surge in the number of groups and movements which claim to be speaking in the name of religion.

New actors have emerged on the Islamist scene, each seeking to appropriate political Islam’s ideology into everyday life. These actors have sought to form political parties and participate in national elections. One example has been the mushrooming of Salafist-oriented parties that are now engaging in politics and making attempts to adjust their discourse to appeal to larger segments of society.

But as more and more groups embracing Islamism have joined the political fray, the key denominator that has brought them together had been giving up the ambition of establishing an Islamist polity.

Their most difficult challenge while in power is likely to be maintaining their popular and ideological appeal. While the lesson learnt from the two years of post-revolution political turmoil has been that while demonstrations and street action are one way of keeping up the momentum of the revolution , exercising pressure on the powers that be and reminding them of why the revolution happened in the first place, according to the editor of Al Shorouk, a parallel strategy would be is to form a democratic and united front that can reach out to voters nationwide and convince them that they are the better alternative to honor the revolution  credo  of social justice, freedom and dignity, which had been put on hold for the last two years.


add comment

  • follow us on