Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1164, (12 - 18 September 2013)

Ahram Weekly

History repeats

Will the Muslim Brotherhood be banned? Amany Maged sifts through conflicting clues

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Hassan Al-Banna in 1928, was first banned 65 years ago. It has passed through numerous tug-of-war phases with the Egyptian state, reaching a zenith with Mohamed Morsi’s election to the presidency. Yet after this long climb to the top the Muslim Brotherhood once again faces the prospect of dissolution.  
The Muslim Brotherhood was first banned on 8 December 1948. Military order 63 of 1948 stated, “The society known as the Muslim Brotherhood, inclusive of all its branches throughout the Kingdom of Egypt, shall be immediately dissolved, the premises of its activities shall be closed, and all papers, documents, records, printed materials, moneys, assets and, in general, all possessions of the society shall be impounded. The members of its board of directors, branches and directors and others who belong to this society in any capacity shall be prohibited from pursuing the activities of the society, and specifically from convening, calling for, advertising, or participating in assemblies of the society or any of its branches, and from engaging in any activities of this sort. The assemblies banned in accordance with this provision consist of a meeting of five or more individuals who have been members of the aforementioned society.”
 The society resumed its activities in 1951 after the Council of State ruled in favour of a petition filed by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership declaring the decree banning the organisation and seizing its assets illegal. The military decree was accordingly revoked and the Egyptian government restored impounded assets. The relationship between the palace and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership subsequently experienced a thaw until the end of the monarchy in 1952.
The Muslim Brotherhood backed the 23 July 1952 Revolution spearheaded by the Free Officers’ Movement. When the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) issued a decree dissolving all political parties the Brotherhood, as a “religious society”, was not included. This immunity would not last long. On 4 December 1954 the RCC issued orders banning the group.
Muslim Brotherhood leaders have long questioned the legality of this ban. In 1977, former supreme guide Omar Al-Tilmisani and Mohamed Hamed Abul-Nasr filed a suit contesting the ban. According to Sobhi Saleh, a Brotherhood official currently under detention, the suit was never resolved. The furthest stage it reached was a decision by the Administrative Court on 6 February 1992 not to hear the case.
Although president Anwar Al-Sadat released Muslim Brotherhood members from prison in 1977 the organisation remained banned. This would continue to be its official status throughout the three decades of Mubarak’s rule. The organisation nevertheless built up a large charity network and Brotherhood members consistently fielded themselves as independents in parliamentary elections. The organisation won 88 seats in the 2005 People’s Assembly.
Following the revolution and the Brotherhood’s rise to power opposition to the group’s rule manifested itself in calls for the organisation to be dissolved on the grounds that it had never been officially registered. To counter such pressures in March 2012 the Muslim Brotherhood registered as a community organisation with the Ministry of Social Solidarity. After 30 June 2013, following incidents of violence and terrorism in which members of the group were involved, calls for the organisation to be dissolved have been growing.
There have been reports that a government decree banning the group could be issued in a matter of days. It has also been rumoured that Prime Minister Hazem Al-Beblawi has advised postponing such a decision. In a lightening of the official tone towards the Islamist organisation he is reported to have said that there was no need for Egypt to ban the Muslim Brotherhood or exclude them from the political process. This, in turn, has given rise to conjectures that the government is in the process of formulating a political settlement to the current crisis in Egypt.
Al-Beblawi has said it is preferable to monitor how existing parties and groups work within the political process than to dissolve them and force them underground. “The extent to which the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) or the Muslim Brotherhood and its youth and other members commit [to the legitimate political process] will be the criterion as to whether or not they should continue to exist,” he said, adding “the government will monitor the group and its political wing, the FJP, and the behaviour of their members is what will determine their fate.”
To some political analysts these remarks signal that the government is backtracking on a decision to dissolve the group. They point to conflicting reports regarding a Ministry of Social Solidarity decision to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood as a community organisation. A ministry spokesman recently stated that the decision had already been taken and would be made public soon. This was then denied by another source from the ministry who stated that it was reluctant to go ahead with such a decision for fear of leaving legal loopholes through which the Muslim Brotherhood could return.
Still, as the Islamic organisation and, perhaps later, its political wing, the FJP, face possible bans, many are asking whether such steps are truly advisable.
In the opinion of former State Council chairman Yehia Al-Gamal, the FJP should be dissolved on the grounds that it violates the prohibition on the creation of political parties with a religious frame of reference that is widely expected to be contained in the constitution. As for the Muslim Brotherhood itself, “they may revert to operating as an underground organisation in the event of a ruling to dissolve their group, which could give rise to more violence and terrorism,” he said. He pointed out that the organisation already has a secret wing and that only a third of the organisation’s members are publicly known.
Other analysts agree that the constitutional provision prohibiting political parties founded on a religious basis will necessitate the dissolution of the FJP. They note that a ruling to this effect would have to be independent of any ruling regarding the mother organisation and based solely on the party’s infringement of constitutional provisions.
A recent study by the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies predicts that the precipitous fall of the Muslim Brotherhood followed by blows sustained in the security clampdown and a possible ban will drive its members to flee to the Gulf in order to rally and recover their strength. According to the study the Brotherhood’s networks in the Gulf countries are closely linked and their aim is to impose their influence in these countries.
Amal Hamada, assistant professor at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University, believes that total exclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood is unfeasible given the number of its supporters. But nor does she believe full assimilation is possible. The solution, in her opinion, is to seek a political understanding with the group so that its members do not turn to underground paramilitary activities or strengthen their bonds with the international Muslim Brotherhood organisation and its chapters in Arab and Western countries.

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