The latest statement issued by the Freedom and Justice Party
(FJP), the political party founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, concerning the latest series of clashes, has triggered a fresh wave of criticism against the Islamists, who once again appear to critics to be in agreement with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
In the early hours of 16 December the military staged a crackdown on a three-week sit-in front of the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo. Several shocking human rights violations at the hands of military personnel towards demonstrators over the past few days were documented in videos and photographs that were broadly circulated on the internet, causing both local and international criticism of soldiers’ brutal treatment of Egyptian citizens.
The revolutionary political forces, including the Revolution Youth Coalition, called on the ruling SCAF to immediately step down and hand over power to a civilian administration. According to these forces, civilian rule is necessary in order to stop the bloodshed and push towards the transition to a full-scale democratic system, an aim that seems increasingly out of reach under military rule.
In the statement, published on 21 December on the Muslim Brotherhood’s English website, the FJP, in common with many parties and politicians, demanded an instant end to the violence and compensation for the families of martyrs and the injured. Additionally, the FJP calls on the SCAF to “identify the ‘hands’ that disrupt Egypt’s security and fuel crises,” referred to by Deputy Defence Minister Adel Emara during a press conference held on Monday.
In the same statement, however, the Brotherhood party also rejected outright the widespread suggestions for the speaker-elect of the People’s Assembly to temporarily assume the role of president, or to bring forward the presidential elections to 25 January.
The FJP statement points out that the eruption of protest coincides with the voting stages of the ongoing parliamentary elections, insinuating that there is intentional disruption of the electoral process. The statement makes it clear that there should be no disruption of the electoral process and that demands to bring foward presidential elections will not only fail to solve the current crisis, but also contravene “the requirements approved by all parties in the Constitutional Declaration – which provides for elections of the People’s Assembly, then the Shura Council [the upper house of parliament], drafting the new constitution, and finally the presidential elections.”
In a flurry of activity on social networking sites, particularly Facebook and Twitter, some observers pointed out that the Constitutional Declaration actually stipulates the presidential elections should take place before drafting the constitution. Others reiterated the view that the Brotherhood are selfishly concerned about the ongoing parliamentary elections, in which they have amassed the largest amount of votes so far.
Mohamed Salah, an expert on Islamist movements and head of Al-Hayat newspaper’s office in Egypt, said the FJP’s critics are indeed numerous, and yet, they are outnumbered by the Brotherhood’s followers, a fact from which the party derives sufficient power to declare its views without fear of significant rebuke.
Salah told Ahram Online, “Of course the Freedom and Justice Party is eager to see the roadmap implemented, that would be in their best interest. From my perspective, a lot of people want that too, especially those whom we call the ‘couch party.’”
The “couch party” is a term used to refer to those who are not politically active. Salah elaborates, “These couch party people are not necessarily supporters of SCAF, but they just want tensions to cool down and would love to see a little bit of stability. They believe what the Brotherhood is after and they do have faith in them.”
With regard to the FJP’s electoral success so far, Salah says, “it was clear from the results of the [first two rounds of the] parliamentary elections that the Brotherhood’s popularity is vast. I would say they knew they would be slated by the anti-SCAF people for their statements, but many others trust them and would back them up.”
Since March of this year, the Brotherhood and the SCAF appear to have had a behind-the-scenes deal or accommodation, from which both sides would benefit. That, at least, has been the conclusion drawn by many critics in the liberal and pro-democracy camp.
The Salafist Al-Nour Party, the second biggest winners in the first two rounds of the parliamentary elections, has also been facing harsh criticism from the same political liberal current for some of their comments on the ongoing turmoil.
Several scenes over the past few days, during which at least 14 have been killed and several hundred injured, would in theory be particularly provocative for Al-Nour Party. Among these incidents are the obscene assault that saw three military policemen part strip an unknown veiled young woman. They dragged her through the street and continued to kick and beat her viciously as her upper body was stripped to her undergarments.
Other incidents that might be expected to inflame the Salafists include reports that medium-sized metal frames with verses of Quran emblazoned on them were among the furniture, rocks and missiles that military soldiers and other plain-clothed people were hurling from the top of the Cabinet buildings onto protesters below.
Moreover, Emad Effat, a prominent Azhar cleric who had been supportive of the Cabinet sit-in, was shot dead at the protests on 16 December. There were allegations that he was shot from point blank, but Forensics Chief Ehsan Kamil Georgi announced on Wednesday the medical reports suggest that the bullets that had penetrated his body had been shot from distance by a “sophisticated” firearm.
These incidents have not, however, elicited an enraged response from the Nour Party.
In general, the reactions of the Nour Party towards the clashes have been relatively contradictory, with some cautiously condemning the SCAF for the violence, while others have directed their criticism towards the protesters, women in particular.
“Those in Tahrir Square are not protesters, but a group of thugs who increase strife in the country, and the military council has to come down hard on them,” Abdel Karim Abou Gadida, one of the Salafist leaders in Marsa Matrouh Governorate, said in a press conference on Wednesday. “And how come some decent girl accepts to stay 20 days in the streets and sleep under tents around male youth?”
On the same day, Nader Bakar, a prominent Nour Party spokesperson, told Al-Hayat TV during a live interview: “We deplore the beating and dragging of the protesters, these brutal excesses are disgraceful for sure.”
Salah cites lack of experience as the main reason behind these contradictions. He suggests that because “Al-Nour Party is newly founded, its members do not have a lot of experience as politicians. That is why not all their statements are similar, unlike the Brotherhood whose spokespersons usually give the same stance every time, even without coordination.” He added, “and let’s not forget the media usually focus on the negative comments of the Salafists.”
In the women’s protest march on Tuesday when thousands denounced military brutality against female demonstrators, many hit out at “those who pretend to be real Muslims and showed no sympathy for the female victims,” mainly referring to the Nour Party and the FJP.