Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

‘No hope for integration’

A court verdict has closed the last legal political channel for the Muslim Brotherhood’s followers. Amira Howeidy reports


Al-Ahram Weekly

There were neither gasps nor applause in the courtroom when Justice Fareed Tanago, seated before a dozen TV microphones, announced the high administrative court’s decision to dissolve the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm. FJP figures or their representatives were nowhere to be seen in the courtroom at the State Council building in Giza this Saturday. Like many Muslim Brotherhood members, they are either in prison or on the run.

On paper, the FJP lasted just 37 months. But for all practical purposes the party ceased functioning following the military’s ouster of Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, well before this week’s court ruling sounded the final death knell.

The government designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in December. That decision was given a legal basis two months later when a court verdict concurred with the government’s designation. The authorities accuse the Brotherhood of complicity in acts of violence and collaborating with Sinai jihadists in acts of terrorism, charges the group denies.

That the organisation’s political arm had until now been left out of the anti-Brotherhood clampdown was widely interpreted as a deliberate government strategy to allow for the political reintegration of the group’s vast support base at some future date. That was certainly the argument made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy during his official trip to the US in April. He defended the government’s policy towards the Brotherhood by underlining that the FJP’s continued existence provided a vehicle for inclusive political participation.

But Fahmy was replaced in a cabinet reshuffle in June, putting an end to such official discourse.

Dissolving the vestiges of the FJP “means there is no longer any hope for reconciliation [with the Brotherhood] or reintegration in the political process,” says Ahmed Abd-Rabou, a political scientist at Cairo University.

The fact that it has taken the authorities nine months since Morsi’s ouster to ban the party could be a reflection of confusion within the establishment over how to deal with the Brotherhood.

“There was a debate among the powers that be: should they or shouldn’t they contain some sectors of the Brotherhood through the party?” says Abd-Rabou. “There is also a general state of chaos in the decision-making process.”

The FJP was formed in April 2011, two months after the popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak. The party won every subsequent election, forming a majority in both the upper and lower houses of parliament and winning the presidency in June 2012. But despite efforts by the Brotherhood to dispel the notion that its political arm was a dependent extension of the group itself, the boundaries between the two remained blurred throughout the three years of FJP’s existence.

This week’s ban means that FJP members will be unable to contest the parliamentary elections expected later this year unless they stand as independents or as members of other parties’ lists. But given that the Brotherhood refuses to recognise the post-July political order and has boycotted every vote since Morsi was removed, it is unlikely any FJP members will make it to parliament.

Among the reasons given for dissolving the party, the high administrative court cited sectarianism, connection with violence — by virtue of being the “terrorist” Brotherhood’s political arm — and connections with the international Muslim Brotherhood. The court also referred to the party’s refusal to acknowledge the extent of demonstrations in June last year against Morsi and its insistence on referring to Morsi’s removal by the military as a coup.

“These don’t seem convincing legal grounds,” says Ashraf El-Sherif, an expert on political Islam. “The ruling looks more like a political assessment.”

In a statement issued in response to the verdict, the National Coalition to Support Legitimacy, an alliance of Islamist parties formed after Morsi’s ouster, said that the FJP was effectively dissolved before Morsi’s ouster when many of its branch offices were attacked, ransacked and set ablaze. The statement condemned the ruling, describing it as an attempt to push peaceful dissent towards violence.

Under Mubarak, the Brotherhood was banned but tolerated by the authorities. During elections, Brotherhood candidates were fielded and elected, though strictly there was no legal framework within which they could stand. That is not going to happen this time round.

“Today even the name of the Brotherhood has been criminalised,” says El-Sherif. It has become impossible for the group to return to the Mubarak-era dispensation, even if it wanted to.

Dissolving the FJP, he adds, “means the authorities are against any Brotherhood political participation, leaving the group’s followers with little choice but escalation and street protests.”

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