Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

The anniversary of revolution

In the three years since the 30 June Revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood has lost most of its historic gains, writes Amany Maged

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Al-Ahram Weekly

As Egypt marks the third anniversary of the 30 June Revolution, at the very least it can be said that the Muslim Brotherhood has lost many of the gains it had achieved since it was founded by Hassan Al-Banna over eight decades ago.

Looking back over the past three years, there flashes before the mind’s eye scenes of the unprecedented mass marches that shook every corner of the country on 30 June. There are memories of the chants that filled the country’s main city squares calling for the ouster of Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi and the downfall of Muslim Brotherhood rule.

After two tense days came the evening of 2 July and the historic speech in which Morsi not only rejected the popular demand for him to hold early presidential elections but also vowed to cling to “legitimacy”, coupled with the threat to shed blood in Egypt. The popular dismay was great and the threat of civil strife loomed.

The following morning, on 3 July, millions of Egyptians waited with bated breath for a statement from the Armed Forces. Banners fluttered proclaiming “Down with the rule of the Supreme Guide,” reflecting the common perception that Morsi’s decisions were handed down to him through the hierarchy of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A meeting convened by the Armed Forces to resolve the crisis began. Brotherhood leaders, most notably Mohamed Saad Al-Katatni, head of the group’s political wing the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), refused to attend. However, representatives of all the other political forces in the country were present, including the head of the Constitution Party, Mohamed ElBaradei, Tamarod (Rebel) Movement founder Mahmoud Badr, prominent journalist Sakina Fouad, and the secretary-general of the Al-Nour Party, Galal Murra.

Also present were the grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayeb, and the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, as well as representatives of the Armed Forces led by then minister of defence, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

Several hours later, on the evening of 3 July, the meeting concluded with an address delivered by Al-Sisi to “the great people of Egypt”. The Armed Forces could not shut their ears or close their eyes to the call of the people who had appealed to them to assume their patriotic role, he said.

The Armed Forces were the first to declare that they were not involved in politics. But they had the perspicacity to sense that the people who were appealing to them for aid were doing so not because they wanted to see the Armed Forces assume power or take control of the government, but rather because they wanted to see them perform a public service and to protect the revolution.

This is the message the Armed Forces received from every city, town and village in Egypt. They had grasped the full meaning of this call, appreciated its necessity and approached the political realm willingly and with a commitment to duty, responsibility and trust, Al-Sisi said.

Since November 2012, the Armed Forces had made every effort, directly and indirectly, to contain the domestic situation and promote national reconciliation between all the political forces in the country. These efforts had begun with a call for national dialogue that all national political forces responded to, but that had been rejected by the presidency at the last moment.

Al-Sisi went on to unveil the roadmap agreed upon at the meeting that would usher in a new era for Egypt. Cheers resounded from Tahrir Square and Ittihadiya Square, where millions had congregated. In other streets and squares throughout the country people celebrated the end of the Muslim Brotherhood attempt to assert its hegemony over the institutions of the state.

The Brotherhood was determined to sustain the pressure against the people and the state by means of sit-ins in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in Nasr City and Al-Nahda Square in Giza, however. The group believed that from these bases it could gain new ground whereas in fact it only lost more. The Egyptian people had held out hopes at the beginning of the Morsi presidency, but their optimism quickly faded as the country plunged from one crisis to the next due to government incompetence and the drive to “Brotherhoodise” the state.

In August 2013, after numerous appeals had fallen on deaf ears and people had wearied of the intransigence of Brotherhood leaders, the authorities moved to break up the sit-ins. Numerous disturbances and outbreaks of violence followed. Brotherhood leaders were arrested and charged with crimes such as incitement to violence.

The ousted president was arrested and faced a long list of charges including spying for Qatar, incitement to violence, and attempting to break out of prison. He has now been sentenced to a total of 85 years in prison and execution.

The arrest of its leaders and other members delivered a debilitating blow to the Brotherhood. The next blow was the declaration of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation and the ordering of the freezing of its assets and the confiscation of its schools, organisations and companies. Some of the group’s members tried to sabotage the economy, among them businessman Hassan Malek, who was arrested several months ago.

On top of its losses at home, efforts on the part of the Egyptian government combined with a range of other developments led to the erosion of Brotherhood relations with the foreign powers that had supported it, including the US, various European governments and the African Union. These powers eventually recognised the new situation in Egypt, the need to work with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and the need to resume investment and help to Egypt.

 Qatar and Turkey, the Muslim Brotherhood’s two main backers, remained exceptions to the general rule, but even their support has since become limited now that the channels of material and organisational support have been interrupted.

Over the past few years, and beginning as early as the summer of 2013, many Egyptian political and social leaders have tried to help resolve the problems between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian state. However, the Brotherhood has consistently rejected these initiatives, imagining that the state was in a weak position.

It has thus added another miscalculation to its long list of poor judgements and forfeited opportunities that might have enabled it to recover strength and return to the fold of the Egyptian people.

 

RECONCILIATION INITIATIVES: One of the most important initiatives was proposed by Judge Tareq Al-Bishri in March 2015.

His announcement coincided with the visits of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to Saudi Arabia, which triggered speculation regarding the future of the relationship between the Brotherhood and the regime. Al-Bishri appealed to Saudi Arabia to back his initiative and help alleviate the tensions in Egypt.

However, Mustafa Bakri, a journalist with extensive connections to the army leadership, held that it was unlikely that Riyadh would respond to the appeal to intervene because, as Bakri said, the Muslim Brotherhood “is banned in Saudi Arabia itself”.

 Other reconciliation initiatives followed from Brotherhood supporters or sympathisers, such as Mohamed Salim al-Awa, the Wasat (Centre) Party and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader Aboud Al-Zomar. All these failed after running up against a Brotherhood wall that claimed that it was “impossible to reconcile over spilled blood”.

In April 2016, 23 supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood were released. Among them were Nasr Abdel-Salam, former head of the Construction and Development Party, Mohamed Mahmoud Al-Taher, a leader of the Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, Magdi Hussein and Magdi Qarqar, officials in the Independence Party, Mohamed Ali Abu Samra, chairman of the Islamic Party, Hossam Abdel-Latif, Salafist sheikh Fawzi Said, Hussam Mohamed Eid, and Hossam Khalaf, head of the Wasat Party before Aboulela Madi.

Sources in the judiciary said their release had been ordered because they had completed their terms of detention in connection with two cases, one involving taking part in the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL), which was formed shortly before 30 June. The men were released on the condition that they not leave their homes without police permission, that they remain under surveillance by local police departments, and that they report to the criminal court every 45 days for a review of their status.

Despite these conditions, the releases precipitated angry reactions among Islamist and Brotherhood circles, some of whom lashed out against the individuals for “caving in” to the regime and “abandoning support” of the Brotherhood.

But in a statement to the press, Karam Zohdi, a leading figure in the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, said the release of the figures signified that they had seen they had taken a wrong direction and had decided to correct their mistakes. The releases also triggered rumours of a deal between the released figures and the government, but these proved to be unfounded.

A more recent reconciliation initiative has come directly from Brotherhood quarters. Acting Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat announced that the Brotherhood would recognise the 30 June Revolution, offer an apology for actions taken by the group and some of its members against the people, and cease support for Brotherhood members being tried on cases involving acts of violence while sustaining support for prisoners of conscience.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood youth organisation has opposed the Ezzat initiative on the grounds that it “comes at the expense of the blood” that Brotherhood youth have sacrificed in the streets. The proposal does not call for the release of all detainees, it says, and there is a “complicity to ignore” those being prosecuted on charges involving violence or more than half the prisoners.

This is only one of many disputes that have generated mounting tensions between the Brotherhood’s young people and the group’s old guard. Against the backdrop of the generational divide in the organisation, there have been demands for new internal elections to bring in fresh blood. They want to replace leaders who have long held on to the seats of power and, in the eyes of the youth, have mismanaged the situation since 30 June 2013.

The internal conflict revolves around two central issues. One is the stance on violence, with regard to which the old guard stands opposed on the grounds that departing from the “peaceful” path would jeopardise the future of the group and render it vulnerable to disintegration.

The “new guard” argues that violence has been “imposed” on the group and has become essential to safeguard its presence on the political scene and strengthen its hand in any future negotiations that might take place with the regime.

The second issue concerns the ideological and organisational rigidity of the Muslim Brotherhood which, in the opinion of the youth, is one of the major causes of the crisis that has afflicted it since 30 June 2013. They argue that there has never been a serious review of the ideological framework of the organisation with an eye to bringing it into line with the needs of contemporary realities as well as the original spirit of the ideological framework laid down by founder Hassan Al-Banna.

 The Brotherhood youth feel that after more than 80 years with no significant changes, the organisational framework of the group has long outlived its sell-by date. In addition to being clumsy and ineffective, it excludes any effective say on the part of younger members and hampers the generational transition.

 

THREE YEARS LATER: Three years after the 30 June Revolution, the gravest threat to the Brotherhood’s existence may now come from within.

The mounting rift over leadership between the new generation and the older generation could lead to a major schism, if not a total collapse of the group, that could have a number of repercussions, among them its splintering into smaller entities with all the potential dangers this holds due to the difficulties of predicting their ideological and organisational orientations. They might, for example, drift towards jihadist and/or takfiri modes of operation.

 The more intransigent the old guard, the more likely this scenario becomes. The current leadership’s rigidity could drive many young people to part ways with the Brotherhood. Many of them are nearing the end of their patience after many years of having to bear the brunt of decisions taken at higher echelons of the group without consulting them.

A second possible repercussion from the group’s fragmentation or collapse could be a rise in acts of violence undertaken by individuals. The majority of the Brotherhood’s young people have come to believe that they are in an existential battle with the regime, which they see as a battle between right and wrong or good and evil. The splintering of the Brotherhood might give further rein to the type of mentality that sees an attack against a government or public facility as an act of “holy war”.

The internal conflict in the Muslim Brotherhood could also lead to the spread of the Salafist trend. The collapse of the Brotherhood would automatically lead to the disappearance of the more radical Salafist trends that had allied themselves with it and linked their political futures to the Muslim Brotherhood.

This would leave the proselytising sphere open to the Salafist Calling, which might seize the opportunity to expand. The Alexandria-based Salafist Calling is the only Salafist force that is still relatively cohesive today, and recent setbacks in the political and parliamentary spheres could inspire it to resume its proselytising activity in order to compensate for its losses.

Ultimately, the prognosis after three years is that the Muslim Brotherhood is reeling beneath the succession of blows it has received and that it is unlikely to be able to weather the internal divisions that threaten to fracture it into an array of potentially dangerous splinter groups.

On the third anniversary of the 30 June Revolution, it can be said that the Muslim Brotherhood has emerged as the main if not the only loser.

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