Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Trial balloons

Ahmed Eleiba assesses recent initiatives to encourage some form of reconciliation between the state and the Muslim Brotherhood

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week saw renewed discussion of reconciliation initiatives proposed by leaders of the International Muslim Brotherhood (IMB) organisation and aimed at paving the way for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to return to the political process.

The main initiative was aired by Youssef Nada, the IMB official responsible for international relations. Nada, whose assets were frozen after the US placed him on its list of individuals who fund terrorist organisations, is known to have acted as an intermediary with a number of regimes in the region.

The second initiative has been attributed to Rached Al-Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda Party in Tunisia. Although Al-Ghannouchi’s office denies he authored the proposal other Tunisian sources say otherwise, claiming Al-Ghannouchi presented it to Saudi officials while on pilgrimage. Al-Ghannouchi is known to have lobbied Riyadh to use its influence to persuade Egypt to change its policy towards the MB. His latest initiative proposes a ten year freeze on all MB activities and allows for the release of MB leaders once the group ceases all acts of violence.

Nada’s proposals, launched through Turkey’s Anatolia news agency, call for a dialogue with “those who want the best for Egypt”. Offering his own services as an intermediary, he said: “I am ready and willing to meet with those who want the best for Egypt and its people, and I am capable of this, God willing.”

Reliable sources say figures close to Egypt’s ruling circles appealed to Nada to spearhead a low-key, gradual process of reconciliation. The essence of the deal appears to be a halt in MB violence in exchange for a lightening of the security clampdown the group is facing.

Ahmed Ban, a researcher on Islamist movements, believes that whoever contacted Nada – be it an individual or agency – may have been acting apart from the regime. When Nada went public with the initiative it sowed confusion, not least because he directly addressed Egypt’s military establishment or, as he put it, “the loyal people in the Egyptian army.”

 “If we adhere to legitimacy,” said Nada, “it is to protect you, your offspring and all the people of Egypt from the fate to which we are dragged”.

“I am not claiming that the Egyptian army is unpatriotic or corrupt,” he stressed. “But I do say clearly that some of the commanders who control it are.”

Nada’s attempt to impugn Egypt’s military establishment failed. While his initiative precipitated considerable discussion in MB circles, it stirred very little debate in Egypt’s political circles. Some mid-level MB leaders now based abroad claim they had no knowledge of the initiative before Nada publicised it. Many of them criticised it, with some complaining it was too vague. It appears to have petered out into nothing.

Ban argues Nada’s proposal cannot be dignified as an initiative.

“It contained none of the features of a practical initiative. There was no working plan. Perhaps Nada was trying to flatter some group within the army by suggesting that it had an opinion contrary to the prevailing one. What it looked like was an attempt to incite some army leaders into staging a coup, or at least to test the appetite for such a possibility.”

Senior military sources dismiss such a scenario as impossible. “The military establishment stands together as one,” Alaa Ezzeddin, director of the Armed Forces Strategic Studies Centre, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Nada is generally viewed as a representative of the MB’s reformist wing. Though he criticised many of the group’s policies while it was in power in Egypt today he is keen to revive the MB.

Most of the MB’s senior leadership is behind bars, as are thousands of mid-level members. Meanwhile, its militants are in the streets, wreaking havoc with their allies from Ajnad Misr (Soldiers of Egypt) and Al-Iqab Al-Thawri (Revolutionary retaliation) who openly advocate violence against members of the armed forces.

MB influence has collapsed, a phenomenon compounded by recent shifts in the policies of several governments towards the group. Washington has begun to withdraw support from the MB, as was evidenced by the failure of an MB delegation led by Amr Darrag to meet with Obama administration officials.

Al-Ghannouchi’s initiative is less easily dismissed than Nada’s.

“According to the available information Al-Ghannouchi was not authorised by anyone connected with the Muslim Brotherhood to launch an initiative,” says Tunisian political researcher Salah Jarrouchi.

“He broached the subject during his meeting with the Saudi royal family and King Salman, urging the Saudis to act on the matter. And the kingdom appeared receptive to the idea.”

“Al-Ghannouchi realises the importance of delivering messages. If the Saudis approve or reject them it does not affect him. In the end the issue has been placed on the regional agenda.”

That Cairo and Riyadh do not see eye-to-eye over a number of regional issues since King Salman came to power is no secret. Both sides, however, remain determined to preserve good relations.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya ideologue Nageh Ibrahim has an interesting take on the subject.

“Saudi Arabia and Jordan are better placed than other international or regional powers to mediate between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian regime,” he told the Weekly.

“Riyadh is looking ahead. It realises that it will need the MB to bolster Sunni ranks in the confrontation against Iran. It also fears that the decline of the Muslim Brotherhood raises the possibility of Shia’s spreading in Egypt. This is why the kingdom, under Salman, has retreated from its former opposition to the Brotherhood.”

 “There is no way to resolve the crisis in Egypt except through reconciliation,” argues Ibrahim.

“The current polarisation is harmful to the nation. It is not sensible for there to be people in prison and others in power while bloodshed rages between them.”

Ibrahim claims to have “personally led the greatest process of reconciliation between the Islamist movement and the Mubarak regime”.

“We halted violence and, in exchange, the government had no grounds for counter violence. That is why it engaged in reconciliation with us.”

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