In an interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Shahed on 13 October, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi rejected the possibility of the Muslim Brotherhood staging a return in Egypt, reports Gamal Essam El-Din.
Asked about the future of the group in Egypt, Al-Sisi said “the Ikhwan [the Brotherhood] will never have a role to play as long as I am in power.”
“The Egyptian people will never accept that the Brotherhood returns to power. The public now knows the ideology of this group is at odds with moderate Islam and with daily life.”
“The ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and its perverted interpretation of Quranic texts place the group in conflict with life,” said Al-Sisi. He urged Islamic clerics to do more “to reform religious discourse and contain extremist thought”.
Al-Sisi accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders of riding a wave of chaos that swept the Arab world in 2011. “This wave brought devastation to several Arab countries,” he said, blaming the Brotherhood for ongoing conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen.
He expressed concern about the 36,000 terrorists leaving Syria now the war there is drawing to a close.
“Where will these terrorists who came from all over the world go? I am afraid that some intelligence agencies, bent on destabilising the region, will try and use them to achieve their goals.”
Political analysts say that while Al-Sisi’s anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment is not new it sends a warning to countries like Qatar and Turkey which are involved in funding the group, and states like the UK and Germany which tolerate its activities.
Abdel-Rehim Ali, expert on political Islam and an independent MP, told Al-Ahram Weekly that President Al-Sisi’s interview was a reconfirmation of the position he first espoused when running for president in 2014.
During the presidential campaign he said on a number of occasions there was no future for the Brotherhood in Egypt’s political life.
“Many, particularly in the West, wrongly believe that some Arab leaders oppose the Muslim Brotherhood for political reasons,” says Ali. “They portray the Brotherhood as a moderate group which seeks to challenge autocratic rulers in the Arab world.”
“This is completely wrong. The group has never been moderate. It is antagonistic to democracy and seeks to create a theocratic autocracy, as we saw in Egypt in 2012 and as are now seeing in Turkey.”
Ali argues Al-Sisi’s consistent rejection of the Brotherhood marks him out from Egypt’s previous rulers.
“Whether under the monarchy before 1952, or the republic after 1953, attempts were made to strike deals with the Brotherhood, all of which backfired.”
“The Brotherhood conspired against King Farouk in 1952, tried to kill president [Gamal Abdel-] Nasser in 1954, assassinated president [Anwar Al-] Sadat in 1981, and cooperated with Hamas to topple Hosni Mubarak in 2011.”
Abdallah Al-Sinawi disagrees with Ali. He sees a number of similarities in the way President Al-Sisi and late president Nasser dealt with the group.
Both initially accepted the Brotherhood, moving against it only when it became clear the group was seeking to monopolise power and impose a religious autocracy.
“It was Sadat who used the Brotherhood to shore up his position against his Nasserist and leftist opponents. This led to the spread of militant Islam as the Brotherhood infiltrated all aspects of life in Egypt, spreading its poisonous ideology and moving to kill Sadat when he signed a peace treaty with Israel.”
Mubarak thought he could contain the Brotherhood by allowing its members to join parliament,” says Al-Sinawi. “As under Sadat, they used the relative tolerance of the Mubarak regime to spread their perverted version of Islam.”
Al-Ahram analyst Hassan Abu Taleb says President Al-Sisi’s rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood reflects the opinion of the majority of Egyptians.
He, nonetheless, warns that “while it is true the Muslim Brotherhood will have no role under Al-Sisi’s regime, the threat of the group recovering its influential position in Egypt is still big.”
“The group has a lot of cash, and is present in at least 50 countries. Its leaders continue to insist they will return to Egypt and spare no effort in trying to make their dream of creating a religious state come true,” says Abu Taleb.
“Under Al-Sisi Egypt might have been able to contain the Brotherhood but this does not mean that the threat is over.”
“This is why reforming religious discourse must now take priority. The Brotherhood has been able to survive since 1928 partly because it made opportunistic deals with rulers, but mainly because it portrayed itself as an organisation that works day and night to recover the glory of Islam.”
“To ensure the group never again poses a threat a wide-ranging programme of religious reform is needed, one that exposes how the Brotherhood’s ideology is inimical to Egypt’s future, progress and national unity. Only then will the group face extinction, and cease to be a menace whether or not Al-Sisi is in power,” Abu Taleb said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 October, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: No future for the Brotherhood