Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Manoeuvre or matter of principle?

Are dissident young Muslim Brothers all they profess or actors in a charade scripted by their leaders? It’s too early to tell, writes Amany Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Muslim Brotherhood appears curiously determined to escalate its campaign in the streets of Cairo and other urban centres for the reinstatement of Mohamed Morsi. On Monday it called for demonstrations in front of strategic government buildings, including the Supreme Court and the Ministry of Defence, as well as foreign embassies.
Yet cracks are beginning to show. Dozens of Muslim Brotherhood members are defying their leadership and openly voicing opposition to the group’s publicly stated strategy leading some to question how long the Muslim Brotherhood can sustain its protests and contemplate how mounting divisions might affect the Brotherhood’s political future.
Dissident Muslim Brotherhood members recently established the Free Brothers Front, a group that has disassociated itself from all incidents of violence resulting from the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership’s tactics. In a statement issued last week the front announced that its members refused to participate in the “martyr millioniya” demonstration that Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Al-Beltagui had called. The front described itself as “a group of young leaders from the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party [FJP], who oppose all incidents of violence that could result from [the Muslim Brotherhood leadership’s] constant fomenting of anger in the hearts of Egyptians”. The statement affirmed the front’s determination to purge the Muslim Brotherhood of current leaders “who regard the [Muslim Brotherhood youth] as fuel to stoke the fire with which they sought to ignite the nation”.
Given the Brotherhood’s rigid hierarchy and zero tolerance for insubordination it takes a deal of courage for young Brotherhood members to break the established order. Some observers believe the emergence of the front signals the beginning of a schism in which many younger Brothers will break free of the ideological and organisational puppet strings that the group’s leaders pull. Others have proposed a more conspiratorial scenario. The front, they say, is a fabrication: faced with the arrest of Brotherhood leaders and religious figures accused of incitement to hatred and violence and, in some cases, of grand treason, the Brotherhood’s high command has feigned the division in the hope the Free Brothers Front can secure a foothold in the political arena and prepare the ground for the Muslim Brotherhood’s eventual return.
The history of the Muslim Brotherhood is replete with rifts. Anyone who has followed recent conflicting statements made by members of the group, including the Guidance Bureau, cannot but be aware of the fierce conflicts that have been taking place behind the scenes since the Muslim Brotherhood took power.
Among the leading figures who departed the Muslim Brotherhood before it came to power are Mokhtar Nouh, Tharwat Al-Kherbawi, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, Abdel-Sattar Al-Meligui, Abul-Ela Madi — who went on to found the Wasat Party — Essam Sultan, Ibrahim Al-Zaafarani — who questioned the integrity of the last elections of the supreme guide and eventually resigned in April 2011 after 45 years with the organisation — Haitham Abu Khalil — the Muslim Brotherhood leader from Alexandria who left the organisation in protest against secret meetings between members of the Guidance Bureau and General Omar Suleiman — and Kamal Al-Helbawi who severed his ties with the Muslim Brotherhood when second-in-command Khairat Al-Shater decided to run for president despite the Brotherhood’s earlier promise not to field a candidate.
If a rift is taking place, it would not be the first time that Brotherhood youth have broken away from the group. Shortly after the 25 January Revolution, dozens of young Brotherhood members split off to form the Egyptian Current. Among the party’s founders were Abdel-Rahman Khalil and Islam Lutfi. More recently, Gamal Nassar, a young FJP leader and former media adviser to the supreme guide, resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood in protest against the group’s much vaunted but ultimately illusory Nahda (Renaissance) Project.
While some observers cling to the notion that any publicised rift in the Muslim Brotherhood is a charade played out by young cadres who never question orders, even ones that send them to their deaths, other analysts suggest that the entire organisation could fracture. The Muslim Brotherhood, they say, is not devoid of sensible people who do not want to see the country disintegrate into bloody street wars and constant confrontations against the people and the Armed Forces. Muslim Brotherhood moderates marginalised under the current leadership, men such as Al-Meligui, Mohamed Habib, and Khaled Dawoud, might be able to reassert their influence and spearhead conciliatory initiatives, suggest some commentators.
Many argue that excluding the Muslim Brothers from the political process is a non-starter. Egypt’s future must be built on reconciliation and not recrimination, they say. Since excluding any group from politics can only breed suspicion and hatred they are urging the Muslim Brothers to re-engage with the rest of society within either the framework of a Muslim Brotherhood association that remains apolitical, dedicated exclusively to religious and philanthropic work, or of a political party that will be subject to the same laws and principles as all other political parties and that will not strive to alter the identity or nature of the state.
Essam Shiha, political adviser to the Wafd Party, believes that the terrorist groups that are now launching attacks have the Egyptian state in their sights. These groups, he says, are using Muslim Brotherhood youth as fuel to ignite the conflict they desire and it is a welcome sign that young brothers are dissenting after realising they have been deceived and exploited by the Brotherhood command.
Islamist writer Kamal Habib, who argues that it is not in the interests of the country to exclude a political faction of the size and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, nonetheless expects some splintering in the organisation, though nothing that would amount to a schism. The Muslim Brothers, he says, are under intense pressure, and though the strains might force some rifts at the same time they will promote a tightening of ranks. Signs of dissent among the ranks, he says, are a sign that the Muslim Brothers are reassessing their options, and doing so at a time when the group is being accused of sowing unrest and inciting hatred and violence.
Habib believes that the most immediate reaction of the Muslim Brotherhood will be to unify ranks and lash out against what it perceives to be a drive to banish the group not only from politics but from society. He adds: “Violence is the Brotherhood’s only means to attain the goals it believes in and for which members have made such great sacrifices.”
Amr Al-Shobaki, political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, urges the Muslim Brotherhood to reconsider its current policies and take the steps necessary to mend fences with the rest of society. The Islamist organisation should take initiatives that show it is peaceful in intent and capable of reforming itself and re-integrating with society in a manner consistent with the spirit and demands of the times. The Muslim Brotherhood needs to show that it can come to terms with a political environment in which it was ejected from power by the people and that it can interact constructively with the new revolution. If the Muslim Brotherhood can do this, says Al-Shobaki, it will contribute not only to the development of a new order but prolong its own life. If, however, it persists in its recourse to violence and in soliciting support from foreign powers in order to further its ambitions, the people will never allow it to re-enter the political process.

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