Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)
Tuesday,21 November, 2017
Issue 1157, (18 - 24 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

A ‘tough adversary’

How long do Muslim Brotherhood supporters intend to continue their sit-ins in support of the deposed former president, asks Amany Maged

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Though there have been numerous appeals for negotiation and national reconciliation in the hope of resolving the dilemmas that have arisen following the ousting of former president Mohamed Morsi earlier this month and the appointment of an interim president, Morsi’s supporters have been continuing their protests in Cairo and other cities, raising questions as to on what basis the negotiations could be conducted.

There are points of negotiation between the Muslim Brothers and those now running the country, but for the time being the situation still looks as if the results of the negotiations between the two adversarial camps will ultimately be settled by the street, on which the Muslim Brotherhood relies heavily for its support.

On Monday, violent clashes erupted between Morsi’s supporters and security forces at Ramses Square, Al-Nahda Square and Al-Bahr Al-Azam Street, causing the death of seven people and the injury of over 260, according to a statement by the Health Ministry on Tuesday. Violence which started on Monday evening lasted until the early hours of Tuesday.

It all started when the police attempted to disperse protests by pro-Morsi demonstrators over the 6 Ocotober flyover. The protesters blocked the bridge for several hours and hurled stones at cars and buses causing many injuries.

Security forces fired tear gas to disperse the crowds who were demanding Morsi’s reinstatement.

Moving to Rabaa Al-Adaweya, supporters of the former president, led by the Muslim Brotherhood of which Morsi was a senior leader and the group’s candidate for the presidency, seem determined to continue their sit-ins until their demands are met. They have now entered a third week of demonstrations, sustaining their Ramadan fast beneath the scorching sun during the day, performing their prayers at the appointed times, and resuming their chanting at night.

Meanwhile, a number of Brotherhood leaders and other Islamist figures have been negotiating via intermediaries with the new authorities. While the points being discussed have been kept secret, Islamist leaders have leaked some of them, and all revolve around the Brotherhood’s central demand, which is that Morsi be allowed to return to power.

Brotherhood official Mohamed Al-Beltagui said that “our group’s message is that if the dismissed president Mohamed Morsi is returned to his post and the Shura Council and constitution are reinstated, the Muslim Brotherhood will agree to hold early presidential elections and will grant a general amnesty to all those responsible for the coup,” a reference to Morsi’s removal from power earlier this month.

According to various sources, negotiations were held last week between a Brotherhood member who is a former member of the group’s guidance bureau and a representative of the reformist wing inside the organisation and a representative of the state authorities in a bid to find a solution that would spare further bloodshed and bring the protests to an end.

The aim is that this solution would also ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood would be part of the national reconciliation project.

The negotiations were initiated in order to try to keep the situation from spiralling out of control should the Brotherhood attempt to precipitate a clash between Morsi supporters in Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square in eastern Cairo and the army. At one point, negotiators focussed on a proposal to the effect that if the sit-ins in this and other squares were called off and demonstrators told to go home, Brotherhood leaders would be spared from prosecution.

According to various sources, this round of talks collapsed because the government rejected the Brotherhood’s conditions. The sources said that many Brotherhood leaders have now been accused of incitement to violence and that charges of this nature have been filed with the prosecutor-general’s office and cannot be withdrawn.

On the morning of 5 July, talks between a government negotiator and a Brotherhood official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, resulted in an agreement to maintain calm and to allow the two sides “to catch their breaths.”

According to this agreement, the Brotherhood’s supreme guide would call upon pro-Morsi protesters to keep the sit-ins peaceful and preparations would be made for a meeting between Brotherhood and Armed Forces leaders in order to strike an agreement over ways to end the sit-ins and halt the escalation in exchange for a safe exit for most Brotherhood leaders.

For a time, it seemed that the negotiations had succeeded, and people sat hopefully before their television screens in anticipation of a speech by the Brotherhood’s guide that would lead to peace. Unfortunately, however, this was not to be, and contrary to what had been agreed to Mohamed Badie delivered a fiery address that fuelled the passions of those gathered in the Rabaa Al-Adawiya Square and set in motion the events that led to the Republican Guard incident and to dozens of deaths.

However, the reform-minded Brotherhood member who had led the negotiations did not despair, instead contacting army leaders with whom he was on good terms due to his position as a former member of the Brotherhood’s guidance bureau and the former holder of a post in the government in order to propose a direct meeting.

The proposal was warmly received, and a series of meetings was held with army leaders during which it was agreed that the Brotherhood would end all forms of protest and escalatory actions, recognise the new government’s roadmap, and participate in the national reconciliation process.

At the same time, the Muslim Brotherhood as an organisation would not be harmed, but would instead see its status legalised as a community association dedicated to charitable and religious work, with political activities being the preserve of the Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). 

There were also a number of outstanding points, prime among them the withdrawal of the arrest warrants against Brotherhood leaders, an assurance of the safety of Morsi, and the settlement of any disputes between Brotherhood leaders and the state through the appropriate legal channels and on the basis of the Islamic jurisprudential principle of “no harm done and no harm caused.”

However, contrary to expectations agreement over these outstanding points had not been reached by 12 July, and on that Friday Morsi supporters staged massive demonstrations and Brotherhood officials announced that the group had plans to spread their protests to other places, such as Tahrir Square in Cairo. In spite of these escalatory steps, the UK newspaper the Guardian and other sources reported that Brotherhood leaders were engaged in behind-the-scenes talks with senior army leaders.

This has been confirmed by Mohamed Bishr, a former minister of local development under Morsi’s presidency, who said that he had met with senior military officials to sound out how prepared they would be to offer concessions. However, he also added that it was unlikely that the negotiations would continue because the Brotherhood had made Morsi’s restoration to the presidency a precondition for any further talks, whereas this was clearly a red line for the army.

Bishr, also a former member of the Brotherhood guidance bureau, said that he had personally spoken on the phone with the assistant minister of defence, General Mohamed Al-Assar, and that various army leaders had tried to contact him and to dispatch mediators via the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb and other political and army leaders.

In his last communication with Al-Assar, Bishr said, the general had conveyed a message from Armed Forces commander and Minister of Defence General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi urging the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in the national dialogue in order to put an end to the political crisis that had escalated since the removal of Morsi. However, the Brotherhood refused, insisting upon the restoration of “legitimacy” and the release of Morsi and his return to the presidency before any national dialogue took place.

The Brotherhood has said that it will not engage in national dialogue unless Morsi is returned to office, the Shura Council is reinstated, and the constitution that had been approved by a national referendum is put back into effect. Until these conditions are met, or “legitimacy restored”, as it puts it, the group is refusing to meet with the supreme command of the Armed Forces.

Brotherhood leaders promise to do so once “legitimacy is restored” and when the national dialogue, to be presided over by Morsi, will be in a position to tackle all demands. They have further promised that a new government will be formed, new elections, “whether presidential or not,” held “within the framework of legitimacy, rather than the framework of a coup”, and consultations held between the president, all the country’s political parties and forces and the army to formulate a new roadmap.

Brotherhood spokesmen have said that the army command “has received this message, but has not commented on it.”

“We are a tough adversary,” said Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref. The group has thus shown itself to be a force to be reckoned with, backed as it is by more than 80 years of experience in surviving numerous tests and crises, and armed as it is by a doctrinal and ideological glue that has kept it institutionally cohesive, in spite of differences among its members.

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