Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1291, (14 - 20 April 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Dealing with the Brotherhood?

The release of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood from prison this week has given rise to speculation about a deal between the state and the outlawed group, writes Amany Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

In what some experts are describing as an ordinary legal measure, and others as a sign of a deal between Islamists and the state, 23 supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group were released from prison this week.

Figuring among them are Nasr Abdel-Salam, former head of the Brotherhood Construction and Development Party, Mohamed Mahmoud Al-Taher, a leading member of the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group, Magdi Ahmed Hussein and Magid Qarqar, both prominent members of the Istiqlal Party, Mahmoud Ali Abu Samra, head of the Islamic Party, Hossam Abdel-Latif, Salafist sheikh Fawzi Al-Said, Hossam Mohamed Eid, and Hossam Khalaf, a leading member of the Wasat (Centre) Party headed by Abul-Ela Madi.

According to judicial sources, the court ordered the release of the men because their precautionary detainment periods had expired in two cases in which they had been implicated, one concerning the coalition formed to support Muslim Brotherhood member and ousted former president Mohamed Morsi.

The sources said the defendants were released in accordance with an article in the Egyptian penal code that stipulates that they must not leave their homes without police permission, must remain under police surveillance, and must report to the criminal court every 45 days to determine whether their release should continue.

The court ruling triggered considerable controversy in Islamist circles, with the Muslim Brotherhood lashing out at the defendants and accusing them of “making concessions,” “submitting to the state” and relinquishing their support for the Brotherhood.

Karim Zahdi, an official from the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group, said in a statement that the release of the members of the pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL) indicated that they had “discovered they had taken a wrong path” and now sought to change.

He added that the released men are contemplating establishing a legitimate entity in order to exercise a political role based on the principle of dialogue between the government and citizens affiliated with the Islamist trend.

The NASL defence team said that during their time in jail the NASL members undertook various “ideological revisions” and criticised the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they said had brought about the “lamentable” fate of the Islamist movement in Egypt.

A spokesman for the defence team added that the Brotherhood was itself divided and that its allies would necessarily be disappointed by its performance.

Salafist preacher Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud was among the critics of the men, assailing both the released NASL members and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya for having revised their positions and “made concessions in order to pursue their own interests”. They had secured their own survival at the expense of other segments of the Islamist trend, he said.

The decision to release the leaders would “incite strife and drive a wedge” between the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, chief among which was Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, Abdel-Maqsoud said.

A number of experts believe that a deal has indeed been struck, pointing to statements made by Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader Mohamed Abu Samra following his release in which he spoke of a “seven-point working paper” signed by 10 Islamist leaders in jail, among them Magdi Qarqar, Magdi Hussein and Omar Azam.

Among the points mentioned in the paper are that Egypt is a single and indivisible political entity, that the army, police and judiciary have a status and prestige that should be respected, that it is essential to develop a rapid solution to Egypt’s economic problems, and that the main enemy of Egypt is Israel.

According to Abu Samra, the meetings that led to the document were held over a period of around four months. A copy was sent to Abul-Ela Madi, head of the Wasat (Centre) Party, he said, although Madi has denied receiving the document.

Abu Samra said the document has not been shown to anyone from the Muslim Brotherhood because it calls for the honourable release of Morsi whereas the Brotherhood still clings to its demand for the reinstatement of Morsi as president and another interim phase. The leadership of the other Islamist parties do not agree with this, he said.

Another sign of a deal is the appointment of Egyptian Jihad organisation leader Abu Samra as assistant to a leader of the Alexandria local government. This appointment was later cancelled following a public outcry.

However, other commentators do not believe that the release of the Islamist figures is linked to a deal. “The release of these individuals has nothing to do with a deal or ideological revisions made in prison. Court orders were carried out, and that is all,” said Munir Ahmed, a researcher specialising in Islamist movements.

He continued, “We will probably now see the release of a number of other Islamist leaders, such as Safwat Abdel-Ghani and others who have spent more than two years in prison.” Under the Egyptian penal code, the maximum term for precautionary confinement is two years.

Ahmed said it is important not to confuse the releases with the major changes affecting the Muslim Brotherhood throughout the region, including Hamas in Gaza.

“There is no connection whatsoever between the court rulings in Egypt and the wider Muslim Brotherhood, which is currently active in Yemen, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria, Libya and Morocco and performs important roles for others while serving only itself,” he said

“In playing different roles in these countries, the Brotherhood seeks to win various gains, among them to forestall the use of the Egyptian approach to dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, to pressure for change in the Egyptian position so as to better the organisation’s circumstances in Egypt and ultimately bring its crisis with the regime to an end through pressure from the Gulf, to promote regional consolation with Turkey, and to furnish support to Hamas after reducing its Iranian connections.”

 Ahmed continued, “The reconciliation that some are speaking of will not happen the way they imagine, which is to say the old way through ideological revisions followed by a series of releases from jail. I believe the Muslim Brotherhood has not yet figured out what road to take, though for the state this can only be one — an apology by the organisation for everything it has done, after which possibilities will be open.”

Ahmed said that the Brotherhood inside Egypt needs to demonstrate flexibility in light of the new political context in the country and political developments in the region as a whole. It cannot remain rooted in the old scene and continue to harp on the idea of reinstating Morsi and the like, he said.

Instead, it must turn its thoughts to how to return to political life and form a new political party, which would entail a political settlement with the authorities. A sign that the authorities would be prepared to consider this would be the release of Brotherhood “doves”, he said, who could then act as mediators for any potential reconciliation.

Another Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the release of dozens of Islamists from prison had come in the wake of procedures related to their individual cases and had nothing to do with any deals, understandings or reconciliation initiatives.

He also discounted the conventional scenario of settlements or accommodations with the Brotherhood. “The pro-Brotherhood coalition is not ready for any settlement or reconciliation at this time, due to the sharp divisions between its component elements and the divisions and conflicts within the Brotherhood itself,” he said.

“It is difficult to trust a leadership that is incapable of keeping things under control and that cannot commit all its members to an understanding with the government.”

The Brotherhood has been riddled with divisions for some time. In one of the most recent manifestations of these, revealed to the press, a group of Brotherhood young people started a petition drive to found what it called a “Third Muslim Brotherhood Entity”. The initiative has been adamantly opposed by the current acting supreme guide of the Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ezzat, who has warned of attempts to fragment the group.

Mohamed Kemal, a member of the Brotherhood Shura Council, welcomed what he termed the “escalation” in the youth’s drive against the organisation’s elderly leadership.

According to informed sources, Brotherhood youth currently residing in Istanbul have begun to collect signatures from group members who have fled Egypt to create the “Third Entity” of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The sources said that the new entity would be headed by individuals who have launched other Brotherhood breakaway groups, including “The Muslim Brotherhood Conscience” movement, in a bid to compel the leadership to listen to the demands of the young people.

Portions of the Brotherhood in Egypt and abroad, and in the International Muslim Brotherhood Organisation, are undergoing processes of introspection and ideological revision. These are among the rifts that began among the first tier of the Brotherhood hierarchy in prison, and then spread throughout the second tier abroad and the Brotherhood youth wing in the third tier.

It appears that the conflict between the group’s elders and youth will now escalate and perhaps precipitate an unprecedented schism in the Muslim Brotherhood.

As for the question of “deals”, whether between components of the Islamist movement itself, or between Islamists and the state, it is impossible to determine their existence with any degree of certainty. The coming days may furnish more concrete evidence.

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