Co-founder and former leading member of ultra-conservative Islamist group Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya Nageh Ibrahim believes that “reconciliation” is the only solution to the current crisis in Egypt, he has told Ahram Online.
“Polarisation harms the country," said Ibrahim. "It cannot be that one political group lies in prison, while the other, against them, is in power... This cycle has to stop”.
Since the July 2013 ouster of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian authorities have banned the Islamist organisation, detained thousands of its alleged supporters, and sentenced hundreds to death or life in jail. In retaliation, militant attacks against police and army forces have spiked, especially in the North Sinai.
Ibrahim believes in the need for reconciliation between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian authorities based on the “historic experience of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya with [deposed President Hosni] Mubarak”, he said.
Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya carried out several attacks against the Egyptian state in the 1970s, most significantly assassinating former president Anwar Sadat in 1981, following the Camp David Accords which he had signed with Israel.
Ibrahim calls what followed the "biggest reconciliation” in the history of the Islamic movement with Mubarak: “We stopped violence and, in return, the state did not find justification for counter-violence,” he explained.
The experience can be repeated, said Ibrahim.
There will be barriers, including the cycle of violence and revenge in which the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's police and army forces have become embroiled since Morsi's ouster, he said. As for Egypt's media, who have largely stood against the Brotherhood, and the group's Islamist political rivals, whose power is considerably weakened by a strong Brotherhood, they may not support the initiative.
Most importantly, a hero will be needed to take the "brave decision” to work for reconciliation, because “we don't have a reconciliation culture in Egypt”, he said.
'A hero' to push for reconciliation
Ibrahim spoke after members of the international Muslim Brotherhood, including Youssef Nada, long-time head of its foreign affairs' bureau, and Rached Al-Ghannuchi, head of the Islamist party Al-Nahda in Tunisia, recently took initiatives towards a possible reconciliation between state and Brotherhood in Egypt.
"I'm ready to meet anybody who wants good for Egypt and its people," Nada told the Turkish Anadolu news agency.
“Our commitment to legitimacy is to protect you and your descendants, and Egypt’s people,” he said, addressing the military establishment and “the Egyptian army's honest sons”.
"I am not saying that the army lacks patriotism or is corrupt, but that clearly some of its leadership is,” he said.
When he spoke to Ahram Online, Ibrahim did not consider Nada’s message to be reconciliatory, and doubted that the Brotherhood had real will for reconciliation.
But, he said, as a leading figure, Nada would be able convince the Brotherhood to support reconciliation, alongside decision-makers inside the group like Ibrahim Mounir, currently in London, and Khairat El-Shater, who is in prison.
Meanwhile, the Brotherhood's supporters are divided, he said. Some call for peace, while others call for violence. Armed groups like Kataeb Helwan, Ajnad Misr and Al-Eqab Al-Thawri have claimed attacks targeting infrastructure such as electricity pylons and railways.
“Violence breads violence,” said Ibrahim, who fears that the rift between state and Islamists may worsen if more Brotherhood supporters join extremist groups.
If the Brotherhood returns to the political sphere, the group will adopt an attitude of revenge and “repeat the disaster”, he said.
The decision for reconciliation should come from abroad, and with a "different tactic" to current initiatives, he said.
A foreign mediator
In a visit to Saudi Arabia last week, Tunisian Islamist Al-Ghannuchi suggested that Riyadh oversee a reconciliation in Egypt.
Al-Ghannuchi, a leading figure in the international Brotherhood, suggested to top Saudi officials a personal idea for reconciliation according to which the Brotherhood would freeze its activity for 10 years, in return for the Egyptian state releasing its members and leaders from prison and putting an end to the crackdown against them, Tunisian sources confirmed to Ahram Online, even though Al-Ghannuchi's office denied this.
Al-Ghannuchi knows the importance of delivering the message to Riyadh himself, Tunisian analyst Salah Gerouchi told Ahram Online. Whether or not Saudi Arabia accepts, the idea will have been suggested at regional level.
Saudi Arabia and Jordan would be good candidates to oversee reconciliation talks, said Ibrahim, as the Egyptian authorities would not accept Qatar or Turkey, who have shown their support to the Brotherhood.
The Saudis are prepared for such a move, he said, albeit “cautious”, because they discovered "secret" Brotherhood groups had been set up in Saudi Arabia after 2011, despite a previous promise not to do so in the kingdom. This was not a smart move on the Brotherhood's part, he said, but they soon realised its consequences after their crisis.
Saudi Arabia still has an interest in overseeing a reconciliation, he said, as Riyadh will not want to exclude the Brotherhood in many Arab countries from any Sunni alliance against Iran.