Wednesday,21 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1174, (28 November - 4 December 2013)
Wednesday,21 November, 2018
Issue 1174, (28 November - 4 December 2013)

Ahram Weekly

The Brotherhood’s secret wing

Recent assassinations of top-level security officers suggest the Muslim Brotherhood, despite its denials, was always ready to revert to violence against political rivals, writes Azmi Ashour

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded by Sheikh Hassan Al-Banna in 1928, inaugurated the concept of political Islam as a movement opposed to the ruling authority, regardless of its stripe, which led it to clash with authorities on numerous occasions. However, the Islamist organisation set another precedent. It gave root to the idea of the swift and decisive elimination of political adversaries through the assassinations it carried out in the 1940s by the group’s underground paramilitary wing. This secret apparatus, as it has been called, assassinated prime minister Ahmed Maher Pasha in 1945 and judge Ahmed Al-Khazendar in 1948. President of the Court of Appeals, Al-Khazendar had sentenced several Muslim Brotherhood youths to prison for acts of violence. Their next victim was prime minister Mahmoud Al-Nuqrashi who had outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood following a wave of disturbances and attacks against various commercial facilities. Following the 1952 Revolution, the Muslim Brothers were also accused of the assassination attempt against president Gamal Abdel-Nasser in Alexandria in 1954.

The Muslim Brotherhood has denied responsibility for this failed attack. It also denied that it has a secret apparatus that carries out assassinations and the like. However, the recent assassination of National Security Agency officer Mohamed Mabrouk strongly suggests the Muslim Brothers have reverted to their old ways. Lieutenant Colonel Mabrouk had been in charge of the espionage case that is being brought against former president Mohamed Morsi and was to have been a key prosecution witness. He had also been responsible for the arrests of top Muslim Brotherhood leaders following Morsi’s dismissal, most notably Khairat Al-Shater and Essam Al-Arian.

The obvious motives behind this attack and the way it was carried out are reminiscent of earlier assassinations cited and indicate that the Muslim Brothers have reactivated their secret apparatus after a 60-year hiatus. This also explains many of the incidents of violence that have occurred during the past three years and, in particular, the spike in violence since Morsi’s ouster, to which testify the numerous attacks against public facilities and museums, an unprecedented peak in church burnings, innumerable physical assaults and politically motivated murders, and even the mutilation of corpses as occurred recently in the neighbourhood of Kerdasa.

The relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and violence functions on two levels. One is unthinking vengefulness, which drives the secret apparatus to actions such as those that occurred in the era of the group’s founder, who himself was assassinated. This form of behaviour inevitably incurred the wrath of political authorities that outlawed the organisation in the era of King Farouq and ordered it dissolved in the era of president Nasser. The assassination of Mabrouk stands out not only because it combines the modus operandi of the earlier incidents but also, and more importantly, because, as the threads of evidence converge ever more on the Muslim Brotherhood, it confirms that this course of action had always remained an option in their dealings with political authorities — one to which they would instinctively turn when driven to a state of despair.

The second level is ideological — specifically, the ideological bond that links the Muslim Brotherhood with extremist jihadist organisations and movements most of which it had spawned. Because of this bond, the Muslim Brotherhood sympathises with the ideas and approaches of those organisations, even if it never openly declared its support for their actions. Perhaps the case of the secret apparatus, the existence of which the Muslim Brothers continue to deny, best illustrates that characteristic for which they have acquired great repute: not everything they say is true. In all events, the Muslim Brotherhood has always benefited from the actions of jihadist groups without having to get its hands dirty. To a certain degree, that mode of behaviour is similar to the opportunism the Muslim Brotherhood displayed three days into the 25 January Revolution when they suddenly shifted tack and hopped aboard the revolution, not because they subscribed to its principles but because they decided that this would be the way to accomplish their own ends.

The question now is whether the intensive rise in terrorist attacks by jihadist groups targeting members of the police and Armed Forces following the fall of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood regime confirms more than an ideological link between the Muslim Brotherhood and these organisations and their supporters abroad. Does the death of Lieutenant Colonel Mabrouk and Mohamed Abu Shakra before him confirm that the Muslim Brothers have revived the secret apparatus they used early on as an instrument in their confrontation with political authorities?

If so, then post-revolutionary Egypt faces two sources of violence, both working towards the same end: jihadist groups and the Muslim Brotherhood’s secret apparatus. If, as appears likely, this apparatus is responsible for the assassinations of national security officers investigating the Muslim Brotherhood and the activities of its senior leaders, might these actions not ultimately be a form of political suicide for that group that had used the January Revolution to leverage itself into power last year? At the same time, does this add further weight to the factors that led to the 30 June Revolution — factors that, in sum, inform us that the Muslim Brotherhood is an exclusionist group, unable to accept any rivals in the political sphere and willing to turn to terrorism and assassination when it believes that these tactics serve its ends? These questions will find answers in developments on the ground in the coming days and weeks.

 

The writer is managing editor of the quarterly journal Al-Demoqrateya published by Al-Ahram.

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