It has been speculated, but this week it went from the assumed into the effectively announced: small factions of younger members of the Muslim Brotherhood are finding their way to join the most recent and harshest version of political Islamic militant groups: Islamic State (IS).
The frontpage story of the Cairo daily Al-Shorouk by Muslim Brotherhood expert-journalist Mohamed Khayyal quoted informed sources within the oldest political Islam group of a limited but significant split of a small group of younger Muslim Brotherhood members from the mother organisation after having lost hope that their organisation would be spared the 'systematic security persecution' that has been unabated since the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood from power on 3 July 2013, following 30 June nationwide demonstrations calling for President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the group, to step down one year after having assumed his position.
On several Twitter and Facebook accounts, members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are now settling away from Egypt in several Arab, Middle Eastern and African states, lamented the development and blamed it fully on what they qualified as harsh oppression by the security forces in Egypt of its members, irrespective of the degree of their political activism or lack thereof.
“It was coming round the corner for a few months,” said a source close to the Brotherhood group. “There has been recently voices within the group suggesting that the Muslim Brotherhood is being treated from state and society as a terrorist group when it is not, and that if the members of the group know they are designated militant anyway, then they might as well pursue the militant path,” he added.
Researcher in the affairs of political Islamic groups Ahmed Ban concurs that the aggressive security approach, which has been targeting members of the Muslim Brotherhood, “has been only a catalyst for this recent wave of radicalisation.”
However, Ban insists that “it is only a catalyst and not the prime mover there — the prime locomotive for this transformation is the very base of the Muslim Brotherhood religious-political creed, that is not at all opposed to the accommodation of militant choices.”
“In fact, this is the prime choice of the Muslim Brotherhood and it was only put aside when the group felt it was either too costly from the security perspective, or un-needed from the political perspective; but this is what they believe in anyway,” Ban argued.
Background of radicalisation
The story behind this recent development, in the minds of some members of the group and also in the minds of some of those close to Muslim Brotherhood circles, started on the eve of the ouster of Morsi from office.
“At the time, there were young members who were openly saying if the Muslim Brotherhood was feared, things would not have taken the path of 30 June — what they thought was an orchestrated attempt to remove Morsi by state institutions that were still faithful to the pre-25 January rule,” said a political activist who used to meet with members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its now defunct political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
According to this activist, this was not the predominant tone within the Muslim Brotherhood because “many were still hopeful that the armed forces would not allow the ouster, or that if the ouster was to happen the international community would not allow it to happen.”
“And actually, there was a considerable group within the Muslim Brotherhood at the time that was completely disappointed with the performance not just of Morsi but of the entire leadership; they found that the leadership was involved in a very unfortunate mix of political arrogance and political immaturity,” the same activist added.
Another activist, who is also close to Muslim Brotherhood quarters, argued that up until the day of the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins on 14 August two years ago — with subsequent bloodshed — there was a trend in the Muslim Brotherhood that was pressuring the group leadership to pursue compromise.
“But it was not happening and it was not going to happen and today we can all see that it was not going to happen,” said a European diplomat who was party to a large working European Union mediation mission that aimed to find a peaceful exit from the political crisis of summer of 2013.
“It was clear that [the strongest man of the group] Khairat [El-Shater] was not going to budge and that also [the then minister of defence and now President Abdel-Fattah] El-Sisi was not going to budge,” he added.
Political scientist Ahmed Abd Rabou agrees that the militant confrontation between the state and the group, which climaxed on the day of the dispersal, with previous confrontations in the weeks leading to the dispersal, offered a perfect setting for a sense of true victimisation — “despite the many issues that one could take against the performance of the Muslim Brotherhood, and in fact against their very political choices” — in wide circles of the group.
What followed, said political figure Amin Iskandar, was a consistent process of throwing salt on the wound.
“The security choices of the state against the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ouster from power was the people’s will and not just the scheme of the state establishments, as they may wish to think, were disastrous to say the least, with incredibly unchecked roundups and harsh imprisonment conditions of many of the members of the group, from the leadership down,” Iskandar said.
According to Abdrabou, the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood was being subjected to unfairness is only one part of a set up that produced the mood for radicalisation within the group, which had always taken pride in being the one Islamist group with the least tendency to resort to violence throughout its history.
“The other and perhaps more disturbing part was the full galvanisation of politics that the state imposed on all political trends, Islamists or not, under the banner of the war on terror,” he said.
Lawyer and human rights activist Mahmoud Kandil is exhaustive in his qualification of how the war on terror “is in fact prompting terror.”
“Any serious attempt to combat terror should not allow for such a ferocious attack on public and political freedoms; nor should it allow for the disturbing violations of human rights of Islamists in detention, in prison and those who are running to escape the security roundups,” Kandil said.
“Historically speaking, the Muslim Brotherhood had shown tendencies to fully embrace violence and instead of taking them away from that path, the state painted them exactly into this corner,” Kandil said.
Informed legal sources with direct inroads into the Muslim Brotherhood speak of a mass exodus of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt to many countries.
“Some left without having enough money and without having said goodbye to their family members,” said one.
“And of course we have the accounts of the very disturbing imprisonment conditions of the Islamists that have been surfacing during the past few weeks,” Kandil said.
“This is a very disturbing situation that is having a negative impact on the whole Islamist movement and not just those of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Ashraf Thabet, a leading figure of the Salafist Al-Nour Party that sided with the ouster of Morsi and has been close to the ruling regime since.
There is much speculation about what to expect in the coming weeks and months. Iskandar fears further radicalisation across the Islamist camp that could prompt violence "against all those perceived by the angry youth as having been party, one way or another, to their current plight." "And this might include the Christians, but it might also include members of the liberal camp and key figures of the 30 June Revolution.”
“I am afraid we are to relive the 1990s. I am actually concerned that things might be much worse than that,” Iskandar said.
Abdrabou agrees that while the Muslim Brotherhood seems set to embrace a long and slow process of radicalisation that would take the currently fragmented group to abandon the path of political engagement that it adopted after its confrontations with Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1960s and through subsequent decades until the election of Morsi in June 2012.
“We are not going to see the Muslim Brotherhood dissolved or dead, as some may wish, but we are going to see a group that reformulates its structure and its doctrine upon a highly radical concept,” he said.
Political scientist Hassan Nafaa, who had upon the ouster of Morsi and prior to the dispersal of the sit-ins proposed an initiative for a democratic path, fears the elimination of any chances left for picking up the pieces of a democratisation process.
“I think we will need more time to carefully examine what is really going on inside the Muslim Brotherhood and how far and fast the radicalisation process would go, and if this process would eat at the strength of the organisation itself,” Nafaa said.
However, he added, it would be hard to think that the process of radicalisation is insignificant, or that the Muslim Brotherhood are in any position today to find their cohesion and opt for any initiative on dialogue with the state.
During the past few weeks, informed diplomatic and political sources spoke of several attempts by Qatar to host consolidation sessions for the Muslim Brotherhood, or Saudi proposals for a limited reintegration of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as part of a wider role that Riyadh is planning for the oldest political Islam group, in its Sunni capacity, across the Arab world in the face of what the House of Saud fear is the growing influence of Iran and the Shias.
Regional dynamics aside, Nafaa argued, “I think we missed the moment of dialogue; I don’t even think that the state at any point saw the significance of dialogue.”
Abdrabou agreed. He argued that the continued radicalization of the Islamists will easily keep them away from the voters' favor. Unfortunately, Nafiaa argued , this would prolong the current state of political polarization- especially in the absence of an efficient liberal political force. And this would only serve the interests of the forces opposed to the call of democratization, Abdrabou and Nafiaa agreed