Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1159, (1 - 7 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Islamist diaspora or resurrection?

The end of Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt has been bringing political Islam face to face with old and new realities, writes Dina Ezzat

Al-Ahram Weekly

With a pale face and sad look, Maher, a medical doctor, lowered his head and sighed to say “I am afraid it is all over. It is unfair that this military coup happened, but at any event it is over. We have a very tough time ahead of us.”
Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from the heart of the Al-Nahda Square sit-in that has been staged for about a month by supporters of ousted former president Mohamed Morsi, Maher insisted that the military intervention that occurred in the wake of the nationwide demonstrations on 30 June was “a military coup”.
“You cannot compare the intervention of the army to remove [ousted former president Hosni] Mubarak back in 2011 to the removal of Morsi, because Morsi was elected in democratic elections while Mubarak was a dictator who ruled the country for 30 years and who was planning to pass power to his son,” Maher said.
He added that “the removal of Mubarak was just about Mubarak: they removed the head but kept the regime. One way or another, the removal of Morsi was about the elimination of Islamist rule. It was about forcing coercion onto the Islamists.”
Throughout its nearly nine decades of history, the Muslim Brotherhood has been subject to short, flirtatious relations with the ruling regimes, which often ended on unfortunate notes due to political disagreements followed by angry, and at times violent, reactions by the Islamist group and eventually the massive arrests of its leadership and members.
Following the 25 January Revolution, in which the Muslim Brotherhood took part only after a moment of hesitation, the Brotherhood stepped firmly onto the political scene, first to join in deciding the pace and path of the transitional phase that followed the ouster of Mubarak on 11 February 2011 and then to take part in the parliamentary elections, this time without the rigging to which they were subjected under Mubarak. It then took part in the presidential elections contrary to original statements that suggested otherwise.
With Islamist — Muslim Brotherhood and Salafist — control of two-thirds of the first post-25 January parliament, Morsi, the leader of the political arm of the Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), was inaugurated on 30 June 2012 as Egypt’s first civilian and for that matter Islamist president.
A year later, millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand an end to what could have been the four-year rule of the man who was elected with a little over 51 per cent of the vote amid confused claims of Brotherhood rigging to exclude Morsi’s adversary Ahmed Shafik. The later was an ex-military man, a long-term confidant of Mubarak, and the latter’s prime minister during the 25 January Revolution.
For Maher, “it is all very clear today. The military who ran the country through the interim phase wanted Shafik to win. They supported him, and they thought that if the people had to choose between him and a Muslim Brotherhood candidate, they would choose Shafik. However, the people had a big surprise for them, and as a result they had to pass power over to Morsi. But they did so with the intention of making it hard for him to survive. And they were not alone because they had the ‘deep state’ on board with them, along with the police and businessmen.”
The story of a president whose hands were tied and who was fought against and never supported by the state institutions that never bowed to him is a narrative that is endlessly made much of by Morsi supporters, especially in the sit-ins at Al-Nahda Square in Giza next to Cairo University and Rabaa Al-Adaweya Square in Nasr City, about a 15-minute drive from the presidential palace.
In these two sit-ins, as in other gatherings and marches by pro-Morsi demonstrators, the call has been made for about a month: Morsi is the legitimate president and he should be re-instated. This week, however, as the state seemed to be moving beyond the ouster of Morsi to a political roadmap for the future, the energy for resistance has been receding at the sit-ins, notably among the Salafis and jihadis.
The fiery statements and promises made by the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood from the podiums at the two sit-ins have been less affirmative in promising the return of Morsi as “the legitimate president” of the state. And the call among the ranks has now become more focussed on preserving the influence of political Islam and the physical wellbeing of its followers.
“I am aware that president Morsi has been ousted. But for me he is the legitimate president no matter what, and I don’t recognise any other authority. However, this is not my prime concern now,” said Fatemah, a university student at the sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya. Fatemah’s worst fear was that her father, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, would be arrested. He had been arrested before under the rule of Mubarak and she feared that the path to renewed imprisonment was already set.
Muslim Brotherhood figure Hamdi Hassan argued that “without the imprisonment and the persecution of the Islamists, the full purpose of the military coup would not be served. This coup is designed to eliminate the Islamist trend once and for all, so we know our destiny and we prefer to die on the streets and in the squares than to be sent to jail where we will be tortured and eventually die.”
Throughout the four weeks that followed the ouster of Morsi, over 150 supporters of the ousted president did die on the streets. Some died about three weeks ago while trying to break into a military residence on the assumption, fed by the leadership, that their president was being held hostage and “awaiting freedom inside”, while others died in the early hours of Saturday while trying to forcibly extend the sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya further south to block a main road in the Nasr City-Heliopolis zone of Cairo and the exit from the 6 October flyover.
The second act of confrontation happened hours after millions of Egyptians took to the streets at the call of the minister of defence to grant firm support to the army and police “to launch a firm war on terror”. Other pro-Morsi supporters fell victim to other incidents in the Delta and Upper Egypt.
The association between terror and the Muslim Brotherhood has been emphasised in large parts of the state-run and private media in relation to the bloody attacks targeting civilians, especially Copts and military personnel in Sinai, in the wake of overt threats that these terror attacks, started in the wake of the 25 January Revolution and suspended in the early weeks of Morsi’s presidency, would be resumed.
This image of terror has been complemented with accounts of journalists attacked while trying to cover or take pictures of the sit-ins and of open threats of violence and “rivers of blood” made from the podiums at the sit-ins.
“They are terrorists. They would not mind turning Egypt into hell if they could rule it again. They just want to rule and to turn Egypt into another Afghanistan. They don’t care about Egypt or the Egyptians, and they don’t want to admit that their administration was catastrophic in every respect,” said Amina, a retired banker, who spoke to the Weekly last Friday as she joined the crowds that poured in the direction of the presidential palace in Heliopolis in order to announce their support for the army and police crackdown.
Speaking hours before the Saturday clashes, Amina said she had “no sympathy at all” for the supporters of Morsi who had died during the days following his ouster. “It is their fault and that of their leadership. They need to accept that the people don’t want them anymore. We don’t want to see them or hear about them,” she said.
Speaking hours after the Saturday killings, Siham, a housewife, said that she also had no sympathy for the Morsi supporters. “I don’t understand why I should sympathise with people who are blocking the roads to avenge their own political failure. The road they were trying to block leads to the airport. Do they care how many people had to miss their flights while they were blocking this or that road? Do they care about the ambulances that have failed to take seriously ill people to hospitals? The answer is no — they just care about ruling. I think they should all be sent to jail,” Siham said.
The social profile of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators, and for that matter of the anti-Islamist anger, is diverse. Men and women of different religious and socio-economic backgrounds speak openly of their hope for firmness by the state against the Muslim Brotherhood. And while some have specific grievances, especially the residents of Rabaa Al-Adaweya who have been expressing endless security and hygiene concerns, others have just been pitching into the anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment.
“It is collective hysteria: this is what I call it. It is an unhealthy demonisation of an entire group of people that goes beyond the reasonable limits of criticising the failure of the rule of president Mohamed Morsi and the incitement of some of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders,” said political scientist and former MP Amr Hamzawy.
Himself a liberal and a member of the anti-Morsi political opposition grouping created last autumn under the banner of the National Salvation Front (NSF) in the wake of a controversial presidential decree that granted the president extra-judicial prerogatives, Hamzawy is determined to face the insults he has attracted as a result of his call to stop the “demonisation” of a political trend that is also part of society.
“We should not be doing this; we should not be acting to exclude a whole trend from political and societal participation; we should bring those who made mistakes to justice through a very clear and transparent mechanism of transitional justice and we should move on,” Hamzawy stressed.
However, Hamzawy’s call has been far from popular amid a public opinion that seems to be perfectly tolerant of the persecution of the Islamists who in the eyes of many failed to show efficient governance and led the country into a security and economic decline.
“We have made mistakes. We have to admit this. Things were not run properly, and president Morsi made mistakes. He admitted it himself in one of the speeches he made before the coup, and it is true that we don’t have the kind of wide sympathy that we used to have before. Our neighbours and colleagues look down on us, and even if they don’t say anything the disdain is all over their faces,” Maher said.
“But it is unfair to blame us for the mistakes that have been happening since the 25 January Revolution. It is unfair to decide that the Muslim Brotherhood is the root of all evil.”
Towards the end of Morsi’s year in office and beyond, commentators and journalists shared views and information suggesting Muslim Brotherhood involvement in many of the criminal acts that had earlier targeted demonstrators. The fact that under the rule of Morsi some demonstrators were attacked and killed for their opposition to the president — these attacks included some of those who lobbied to support Morsi during the second round of the presidential elections last year — has given credit to these otherwise unproven charges.
“It is all the doing of the media and the state security police,” said Hussein from the sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adaweya. “Night and day, the TV anchors who are associated with the remnants of the Mubarak regime have been pouring out their poisonous accounts into the minds of the people,” he added.
Hussein is not one of the Muslim Brotherhood members who is willing to acknowledge the involvement of his leaders in direct and at times broadcast incitements against the opposition to Morsi. He sees “nothing wrong” with the openly inciting speeches that some of the clergy supporting Morsi made at a couple of events attended by the president himself.
“Whatever the mistakes we could have made, you don’t rectify them with a military coup. The military coup is not just against the Muslim Brotherhood, but it is against the democratic process that started with the 25 January Revolution,” Hassan said.
In the days following the ouster of Morsi, the Brotherhood tried repeatedly to stress that the removal of the president was “a coup” that should be reversed. It failed, essentially due to the continuous demonstrations of millions of Egyptians who kept taking to the streets to express their support for the ouster.
Former presidential frontrunner and NSF leader Amr Moussa is firm in disputing the idea of a “coup”. “With so many millions on the streets across the nation, it does not make sense to speak of a coup,” Moussa stated. He has also been supportive of “a tough stance against any attempt to terrorise Egyptians.”
However, Moussa also insisted this week that none of the above should allow for either the exclusion of the Islamists, “the mass of the youth who have not been involved in any legal violations”, from the political process.
It is not clear whether such concerns can be entirely averted, however, given the reluctance of Brotherhood leaders to join the new post-Morsi political process and the re-introduction of Mubarak-era security methods, as was announced by the minister of interior himself as the Brotherhood was collecting the body bags of those killed in the early hours of Saturday.
The bloodshed and political alienation has prompted calls for mediation attempts in a bid to put an end not just to the demonisation of the Islamists but also of their alleged victimisation — the latter nevertheless being squarely blamed by security officials on “the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood”.
“They are hiding behind the members of the group. They are sacrificing the lives of group members in the hope of getting concessions from the state to allow themselves and their families a safe exit from the country. But this will not happen,” one said.
An informed political source told the Weekly that all mediation attempts aiming to grant the ousted president and Brotherhood leaders a safe exit from the country had been flatly turned down by the state. In a public statement, Interim President Adli Mansour said that anyone facing charges would have to defend himself before a court of law.
Speaking in Cairo this week with European Union foreign policy envoy Catherine Ashton, Mansour expressed his commitment to a fair and transparent process for all those accused but did not go much beyond that.
Initiatives made this week by Morsi’s former prime minister Hisham Kandil and Islamist intellectual Selim Al-Awwa that would have involved a safe-exit scenario for the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood were turned down in the confidence that they did not have public support.
Ashton was told by her interlocutors, including political activists and officials, that if the Islamists wished to join the political process and to take part in the next round of legislative elections, likely to be subject to international monitoring, they would be welcome, but they would first have to abide by the rule of law and end the sit-ins.
In her talks with the Islamist leadership, including a session with Morsi and other imprisoned Brotherhood leaders, Ashton, in Cairo on behalf of the EU and the US, expressed her sympathy but urged realism and integration into the political process on a more conciliatory basis than that designed during the rule of Morsi.
“I am not sure if this will work. I think the momentum is set to defeat the Islamist trend, and if we join the so-called political process we will be subject to the same kind of rigging that we used to face under the rule of Mubarak,” Hassan said.
Maher was also sceptical about the chances of any near resurrection of political Islam. Instead, he was hoping for an end to the “anti-Islamist incitement that has brought so much anger upon us and that goes way beyond any mistakes we made. We are now being perceived as worse than the remnants of the Mubarak regime, which is extremely unfair,” he said.

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