Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1140, 21 - 27 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Political quarantine

As Egypt’s political crisis continues the Muslim Brotherhood appears ever more isolated, writes Dina Ezzat
 

Al-Ahram Weekly

As sunset approaches large numbers of anti-riot police head towards Muqattam’s Road 9. “They are on their way to the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the evening shift. There are more people than on other shifts though the building seems deserted anyway,” says Ahmed, a grocer working not far from the zoned-off three-storey building.
Ahmed, like other people working and living in Muqattam who spoke to Al-Ahram Weekly on Tuesday, says he is “hoping the offices are moved elsewhere”.
“We don’t know how things start but it takes a minute and suddenly people come to demonstrate against them and as they start to shout ‘down, down with the rule of the supreme guide’ people emerge from the empty-seeming building and the fighting starts,” he said.
According to Muslim Brotherhood and security sources speaking on condition of anonymity, leading members of the group seldom enter the building.
“The local authorities turn off street lights around the headquarters in an attempt to dissuade people from frequenting the road, but people do not need an incentive to stay away. The road is almost always deserted, either because people are sick and tired of anything that has to do with these people or they want to avoid being caught up in clashes,” says Zeinab, a resident of Muqattam whose house is only five minutes away.
The security measures around the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood are not as tough as those imposed around the presidential palace, Al-Ittihadiya, at the outset of the political crisis that began on 22 November when Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, granted himself extra-judicial powers in a move that solicited wide criticism from across the political spectrum, including Islamist groups such as Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh’s Strong Egypt Party.
“The political crisis today is much worse than on 22 November, a result of the Brotherhood’s miscalculations and the way the ruling party [the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing] is determined to ignore growing socio-economic problems,” says Nasserist opposition figure Amin Iskandar. “Back in November it was the president who was isolated in the presidential palace. Today it is not just Morsi but the Muslim Brotherhood and the FJP that are being forced into quarantine.”
In recent months the Muslim Brotherhood, which has often ridiculed the National Salvation Front (NSF) for being out of touch, has alienated an impressive swathe of opposition groups, including fellow Islamists of the Salafist Nour Party whose leaders now openly criticise Morsi and the Brotherhood for political and executive incompetence.
In the last few days citizens of Port Said and Ismailia — two Canal cities recently subjected to emergency rule by Morsi — have reported empty FJP offices. Muslim Brotherhood families, they say, have been leaving their houses out of fear of being attacked.
“In Port Said it has become impossible for anyone to acknowledge any association with the Muslim Brotherhood. It is a now a Muslim Brotherhood-free city,” said Saber, a teacher, during a recent visit to Cairo. It is almost impossible, he added, “to think that in the near future the FJP or Muslim Brotherhood offices can resume business as usual”.
Shahenda Maklad, who was physically attacked during an anti-Morsi demonstration next to Al-Ittihadiya palace, says the decline in the once seemingly unassailable popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood can “easily be sensed across the nation”.
“When I visit rural areas I find unmasked dislike of, and anger against, the Muslim Brotherhood. People, especially farmers, are frustrated with the failure of the Muslim Brotherhood and of the president to live up to the promises they made to improve living standards and working conditions.”
“Not so long ago members of the Muslim Brotherhood could expect a warm welcome in villages. This is no longer the case,” says Maklad. She anticipates further deterioration in the group’s popularity as inflation continues to erode family budgets.
Iskandar and Maklad, who both work at grassroots level, believe it will take enormous efforts on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood to deflect the growing tide of dislike.
“The big question is whether the Muslim Brotherhood or Morsi is willing to do what it takes to reverse this trend. Neither the group nor the president seems willing. I’m not sure they can still do anything even if they wanted to,” says Iskandar.
“What we are seeing today is not just the growing isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood but the beginning of the end of the legacy of a group that for years commanded a positive image in the minds of many people, if only because of the charity work it was doing,” argues Maklad.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s decline is not just a function of Morsi’s perceived executive incompetence, or even of the Muslim Brotherhood/FJP’s propensity to make enemies rather than keep friends, says political scientist Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed. Rather it is a result of “the surprising conviction of the Brotherhood’s leaders that the group is strong and popular enough to impose its will on everyone”.
In the analysis of one leading Muslim Brotherhood figure who spoke on condition of anonymity, the erosion of the group’s popularity is not as bad as that of the president. “There is a distinction somehow,” he says.
Members of the Muslim Brotherhood outside Cairo say it is the NSF that is really “unpopular”. Some liberal activists concur that the opposition umbrella grouping has a major image problem. People are not impressed with the performance of the NSF, they say, but then neither are they impressed with the Muslim Brotherhood’s performance. And because they are the ones wielding power it is the Brotherhood that is being blamed for deteriorating conditions across the country.
Activist Wael Khalil accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of confusing the limited appeal of the NSF with FJP/Morsi popularity.
“Even worse, they forget a very basic fact, that they are no longer in opposition, they are not just any political power but the ruling political power.” This amnesia, he says, “continues as they fail to address the acute problems that the nation faces as well as the credit deficit undermining their own reputation”.
Not that Khalil predicts the curtains are about to come down on the Muslim Brotherhood’s last act. “We are getting close to reaching that point but I would still argue that they can reverse course if they choose to first recognise the extent of the problems Egypt faces and then reach out to other political forces in order to find a consensual solution.”
Khalil is convinced that there are “at least some” within the Muslim Brotherhood, including members of the Guidance Bureau, who now see a major change in policy as essential. “The big question is whether their voices are strong enough to influence the otherwise misguided decision-making process within the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Decision-making within the Guidance Bureau, say sources, is not only based on domestic developments. It also takes foreign factors into consideration and till now, they say, the Brotherhood’s leadership is convinced that Western capitals see no other alternative to their rule in the short term.
It is an assessment many Western diplomats in Cairo support. “The secular opposition is too divided,” said one. According to another, “the other Islamist option is more to the religious right than the Muslim Brotherhood”.
Yet should public frustration continue growing, says Khalil, then the issue moves beyond finding an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood because a point will be reached where a Morsi presidency is no longer tenable.
“This is precisely why talk of early presidential elections is picking up. From what I hear it is even finding an echo within the Muslim Brotherhood where there are at least some who think it preferable to give up on Morsi rather than compromise any possible future for the Muslim Brotherhood,” he says.
The possibility of early presidential elections, along with other features of an increasingly confused political scene, are due to be discussed today during a meeting between the NSF, the Strong Egypt and Nour parties. Tomorrow, a massive demonstration is expected to take place before the Brotherhood’s Muqattam headquarters.

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