Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)
Tuesday,25 September, 2018
Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

No way forward

Amany Maged assesses the state of the Muslim Brotherhood one year after the dispersal of the Rabaasit-in

Al-Ahram Weekly

A year ago today, at 6.00 am, the area in front of Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo’s Nasr City district was the focus of national and international attention. Security forces had been given the signal to proceed with the dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins that had begun over a month and a half earlier, on 26 June.

The voice of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagui rang out over a microphone, calling on protestors to stand their ground. In the background of the live broadcasts recitations of the Koranic verse “God is great and prevails over the aggressor’s wiles” could be heard. It took 12 hours for the police to clear the protest camp at Rabaa. It took only a few hours to break up the smaller sit-in in Nahda Square in Giza.

In the immediate wake of the clearances anarchy spread throughout the country. Dozens of churches were set on fire and there were attempts to storm police stations. A curfew was put in place. Then each side began to announce casualty figures. The Muslim Brotherhood claimed thousands had been killed. Government authorities placed the casualties in the hundreds. Video clips of protestors being shot in Rabaa circulated on social networking sites. The Interior Ministry broadcast images of machine guns found in Rabaa Al-Adawiya mosque.

A year later the confrontation continues. The Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders have either been arrested or fled the country. The government has moved steadily towards completing the roadmap announced by Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi last year when he was serving as defence minister. A new constitution has been drafted and approved by public referendum. Presidential elections were held and Al-Sisi won the country’s highest office. Preparations are now under way for parliamentary elections, expected to be held before the end of the year.

There were attempts to broker a reconciliation before the breakup of the sit-ins. Three Muslim Brotherhood figures — former minister for local development Mohammed Ali Bishr, former minister for international cooperation Amr Darrag, and former presidential spokesman Yasser Ali — were involved in the negotiations. The EU also tried to mediate between the Brotherhood and the government.

Mustafa Hegazi, an adviser to interim President Adli Mansour, revealed that the meetings between European envoys and the Muslim Brotherhood were generally held in one of Cairo’s major hotels. According to Hegazi, western parties to the talks advised Muslim Brotherhood leaders to look to the future, call off the sit-ins, re-engage with society and become a part of the political process again.

 The Muslim Brotherhood was also offered representation in any mechanism for transitional justice but refused.

“I spoke to them myself,” says Hegazi. “I made many attempts to communicate with them, not always directly but through parties who understood the nature of the moment and who wanted to help them avoid any senseless obstinacy. But they were obsessed with the idea of turning back the clock.” Negotiations failed as the Muslim Brotherhood dug in its heels, demanding the reinstatement of Morsi and refusing to recognise the post-3 July roadmap.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s belief that it could turn back the clock was one mistake. Its alliance with groups from the ultra-right, specifically Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, was another.

Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya was active in igniting clashes in the governorates where it had the highest concentration of supporters. Minya topped the list. Gamaa Islamiya leader Essam Abdel-Maged was in the governorate to orchestrate the violence in the immediate aftermath of Morsi’s ouster. Forty-one people were killed and hundreds wounded. Churches were attacked and four police stations were set on fire. Abdel Maged is reported to have used mosques to mobilise his supporters. He has since fled the country.

Fayoum was another hotspot. At least 53 people died when pro-Morsi rioters fired indiscriminately on crowds and set fire to governorate buildings and security facilities. There were also outbreaks of violence in Beni Soueif, Assiout, Baheira, Marsa Matrouh, North Sinai and Suez.

In other parts of the country fighting occurred between Morsi supporters and local residents. Some of the worst violence occurred in Alexandria when pro-Morsi rioters attempted to storm the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, block highways and attack police stations.

Over the past year the violence has been compounded by terrorist operations carried out by jihadist Salafist groups in Sinai.

The Muslim Brotherhood moved quickly to exploit their losses during the breakup of the Rabaa and Nahda Square sit-ins and gain sympathy abroad. It organised demonstrations in front of Egyptian embassies in the US, Europe and Asia, convened international conferences — most often in Turkey — and worked to push its version of events in the media, publishing opinion pieces in western newspapers such as the Washington Post, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, and founding the new satellite TV channels Rabaa and Mukammelin.

The Muslim Brotherhood also attempted to pursue legal action, filing suits with the International Criminal Court against officials responsible for the breakup of the Rabaa and Nahda Square sit-ins. These include then-defence minister Al-Sisi, President Adli Mansour and the Hazem El-Bablawy government.

Perhaps the most significant political development during the violence at Rabaa Square was the resignation of Mohammed El-Baradei as interim vice-president. He gave up his post in protest against the use of the use of excessive force and human rights violations.

Concern over the infringement of human rights would eventually lead Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) to call for a comprehensive judicial investigation. The council accused gunmen inside the camp at Rabaa of opening fire on the police who, in turn, were found to have responded with force that was “disproportionate to the extent of the threat.”

The NCHR estimated that 632 people were killed during the breakup of Rabaa and a further 668 in the subsequent violence. Its report noted that eight policemen were killed during the action and that most of the victims were peaceful demonstrators caught in the crossfire. The NCHR released video clips of gunmen among the demonstrators opening fire on the police, and other videos of abuses inflicted by the police against arrested demonstrators.

Morsi supporters blame the army and police for the deaths and arson that occurred. The interim government formed a fact-finding committee to investigate what has been described as the bloodiest event in Egypt’s contemporary history. Figures used in the committee’s report have been questioned by NCHR Director Mohamed Faeq. Another NCHR member, Hafez Abu Saada, described the fact-finding committee’s report as “unprofessional and incomplete.”

On 4 November deposed president Mohamed Morsi made his first appearance in court. The charges he faces include espionage and conspiring with the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, to engineer the Wadi Natroun prison break, during which he was freed.

Many other Muslim Brother leaders have been arrested and are facing trial. The group’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, has already received death sentences — currently being appealed — for inciting violence. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members are in detention.

Reconciliation initiatives proposed by Mohamed Salim Al-Awa, Hassan Nafaa and Ahmed Kemal Abul-Magd, among others, have failed to gain momentum. They have all called for the release of detainees, the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to the political process, the creation of an impartial fact-finding commission and the release of Mohamed Morsi.

On the fringes of these initiatives Muslim Brotherhood supporters have made their own proposals, contained in documents such as the Brussels Paper and the Cairo Declaration. The most recent development is the creation of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council, headed by opponents of the 30 June Revolution.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters may have been bust over the last year but they have singularly failed to improve the outlook for the group. The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy (NASL), formed before the 30 June Revolution, not only failed to achieve any one of its aims but is in the process of disintegration. The latest blow to the Brotherhood is the recent court rulingdissolving the group’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, and sequestrating its headquarters and offices throughout the country.

What has the year since the break-up of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins yielded? The answer can be summed up in ten points:

Plummeting popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s departure from the political process.

Feeble turnouts for protest demonstrations.

Decline in terrorist operations designed to pressure the state.

The inability of the Muslim Brotherhood to enter the new parliament.

Decline in the popularity of the Salafists,

Decline in the popularity of non-Islamist parties.

The reemergence of figures from the Mubarak-era National Democratic Party

Expectations of violence on the anniversary of the breakup of the Rabaa and Nahda Square demonstrations.

Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood families facing hardship and uncertainty.

What is the forecast for the coming phase?

Many analysts expect the gradual release of Muslim Brotherhood officials found not guilty of the charges they are facing, followed by their reintegration into the political process. But first, they argue, state and society must attain a greater degree of stability.

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