Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

Change on the way?

The ruling Muslim Brotherhood has emerged considerably chastened by the recent clashes over Egypt’s draft constitution, writes Amany Maged

Al-Ahram Weekly

From the 25 January 2011 Revolution to the first post-revolutionary legislative elections earlier this year, the Muslim Brotherhood enjoyed considerable popularity, enabling its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), to win 40 per cent of the popular vote in those elections. However, over the following months the party’s and its mother organisation’ popularity dwindled, largely as a result of widespread disappointment in the party’s parliamentary performance. The People’s Assembly was then dissolved by a judicial ruling.
The Brotherhood’s popularity continued to fluctuate until the end of the presidential elections, which brought, for the first time in history, a Muslim Brotherhood leader to power in the shape of Mohamed Morsi, head of the FJP. The victory ushered in a new phase in the life of the Brotherhood, which a large number of observers have described as the de facto ruling party that is currently steering the FJP, the government and the state in whatever direction it wants to.
Since the presidential elections, attitudes towards the FJP, and, by extension, the Brotherhood, have risen and fallen in response to the new president’s policies. Their popularity peaked in response to Morsi’s removal of the SCAF from the political leadership on 11 August and then plummeted again in response to his decrees to reinstate the dissolved People’s Assembly and to dismiss the prosecutor-general. Finally, with the constitutional declaration of 22 November, subsequently rescinded by another declaration on 8 December, the Brotherhood’s popularity took a nosedive, and the attacks against numerous FJP and Brotherhood offices throughout the country testify to this.
Whether or not these attacks were carried out by thugs, as some claim, observers agree that the sharp decline in the Brotherhood’s popularity is a direct consequence of the president’s policies. Morsi is a senior Brotherhood official, and he is now perceived by many as a president who takes his directions from the bureau of the organisation’s supreme guide.
Against this backdrop, the press conference held by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership on 8 December, the simultaneous meeting of Islamist forces which was attended by the Brotherhood’s number two, Khairat Al-Shater, and the simultaneous occurrence of the president’s dialogue with the patriotic forces are individual instalments of what appears to be a single episode. Perhaps the statements attributed to Brotherhood leaders regarding a “conspiracy to overthrow legitimacy” can serve as the binding theme.
The stated purpose of the press conference was to inform the public about the attacks that took place against 28 Brotherhood offices in various governorates, as well as the assault against the organisation’s headquarters in Muqattam and the attempted arson attack on the offices of the FJP’s mouthpiece, the Freedom and Justice newspaper.
However, the speakers at the conference, who included Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, FJP leader Saad Al-Katatni and Brotherhood Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein, dwelt on the notion of a “conspiracy,” a theory that has been mooted by various Brotherhood leaders, other Islamist forces and the president himself. The speakers also lashed out at demands to topple the president and stressed that change had to take place through the ballot box. They claimed that such demands were being promoted and paid for by certain groups and special interests at home and abroad that did not have Egypt’s best interests in mind.
On the same day, Khairat Al-Shater, in his capacity as the representative of the Islamist forces, held a press conference in which he also warned of a “coup against legitimacy”. Fulul (remnants) of the former regime in London and some Gulf countries were scheming to cause President Morsi to fail, he said, by pushing for the dissolution of the Shura Council, the upper house of Egypt’s parliament, and the Constituent Assembly, along with the already dissolved People’s Assembly, in order to force the president to work in the absence of political institutions. Al-Shater described all this as a “great plot”.
In addition to these coordinated press conferences, the Minister of Information Salah Abdel-Maksoud, a Brotherhood member, issued statements to the effect that he possessed actual proof of such a conspiracy.
Finally, the demonstrations held a few days ago beneath the banner of “safeguarding legitimacy” at a time when Morsi had wanted to open a dialogue with other political forces, a step he took before Badie and Al-Shater made their announcements, round out the “attack against legitimacy” scenario that the Islamists and some other political forces have constructed.
Meanwhile, some other politicians see the latest mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square, in front of the presidential palace and elsewhere in the country as a genuine revolution or a new wave in the real revolution. The purpose, they say, is to unseat the Muslim Brotherhood regime and its FJP, in much the same way that the 25 January Revolution overthrew the Mubarak regime and the former ruling National Democratic Party in order to clear the way for a truly pluralistic democratic system. According to this body of opinion, the Muslim Brothers have not been working towards the realisation of this central goal of the 25 January Revolution.
A number of analysts have observed that the mass demonstrations in protest against Morsi’s constitutional declaration escalated from the demand to repeal the declaration (which has since occurred) and/or delay the referendum on the draft constitution to the demand that Morsi hand over the keys to the presidential palace.
However one stands on this question, the Brotherhood has now undoubtedly sustained a huge blow to its image and standing, not just in Egypt, but also abroad, and this in spite of the fact that members of its group have died in the recent events, not to mention the destruction that was inflicted on its various premises.
Clearly, the organisation and its party face a critical dilemma. Obviously, they are keen to stand by the president, who they see as one of their own, and they also want to safeguard legitimacy, which they claim is being threatened even if they have been reticent about revealing the evidence of a “conspiracy” on the grounds that this is not the right moment. At the same time, the Brotherhood and the FJP must address the formidable challenge of repairing and improving their image, especially in view of the forthcoming People’s Assembly elections that should be held two months after the constitution is approved, if it passes the referendum.
One Brotherhood official told the Weekly recently that “we must take a fresh look at Egyptian society, with which we have interacted primarily within the framework of social services, while our interaction with other political forces under the former regime was very limited. We must also take a good look at the mistakes we have made, the most important of which have been our distance from the man in the street and the frequently irresponsible statements that have been made, especially those pertaining to the president of the republic.”
The Brotherhood leader stressed that the organisation’s officials would henceforth be more careful in their statements and that they would strive to improve their communications with the media. At the same time, they would begin to scrutinise the sources of funding of the satellite television stations and privately owned newspapers that “stir up crises” and that may be linked to some countries in the Gulf.
In the short term, the Muslim Brothers plan to focus their attention on the referendum on the constitution, which, they predict, will come out in favour of the draft constitution by a significant majority.
Thousands of the group’s members demonstrated at Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque and Al-Rashdan mosque, both in Nasr City, on Tuesday to voice their support for “legitimacy”.
The protest included the Egyptian Board of Trustees of the Revolution, a group led by Salafist preacher Safwat Hegazy, and the Islamist Coalition, which is formed of 10 parties and forces affiliated with political Islam.
Simultaneously, they will work to keep the Brotherhood’s youth in order. Many of these had objected to being prevented from protecting Brotherhood premises while Ministry of Interior forces stood on the sidelines during the clashes.
In sum, we can expect a marked change in Brotherhood rhetoric, if only for the purposes of the forthcoming electoral campaign.

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