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The decline and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood
On Wednesday night the Muslim Brotherhood had completed a complex process of transforming into its ugliest caricature: a gang of fascist thugs
Hani Shukrallah , Thursday 6 Dec 2012
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To chants of “Command, command oh Badei, you command and we obey,” the Muslim Brotherhood in power was fast mutating into the very caricature of itself as painted by its bitterest enemies. Its easily mobilized, effortlessly bussed loyalists, happy to throng in their thousands in typically malevolent and horrifyingly brutal defense of policies and decisions they knew nothing about, now stood in stark contrast to the “new Egyptians” born of the revolution they made – a brave, free and rebellious people who bow to no one, and for whom the very notion of “obedience” is anathema.

Edward Gibbon, from whose seminal 18th century “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” I borrowed the title of this piece, attributed the descent of the Roman Empire to the loss of “civic virtue”. Be that as it may, the Roman Empire and its ultimately dismal fate are far from being our concern here, but having borrowed the title, I find it difficult to resist the temptation of appropriating Gibbon's notion to the case of - what I now strongly believe to be - the equally dismal, yet hundreds of times swifter fate of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Nearly two years after the Egyptian revolution, and five months after seizing the nation’s supreme political office, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer able to see Egypt as such, and post-revolutionary Egypt in particular. It no longer seems able to perceive itself, and its Salafist and erstwhile Jihadist allies, as members of a nation whose people – through revolution – transformed themselves from subjects to the self-entitled, self-empowering, self-emancipating citizens of a highly diverse and most profoundly pluralistic nation, in terms of its politics, culture, life-style preferences, social locations and interests, ideological and religious persuasions.

Rather, the Brotherhood and its allies, gradually, yet certainly and swiftly, became no longer able to see themselves as part of, let alone partners in, this very specific, living and vibrant Egyptian nation being reborn, but as an advance battalion of a mythical Islamic Umma, for which post-revolution Egypt is little more than spoils ripe for the picking, its people hapless subjects to be conquered and subjugated. All of which, incidentally, might be described in Gibbons’ terms, as entailing the “loss of civic virtue”.

It needn’t have been so.

The Brotherhood, as I and many others in the democratic camp have argued for years, was not easily reducible to the caricature image its bitterest foes tried to paint it as – more often than not, as a way of justifying their implicit or explicit, subtle or flagrant collaboration with the Mubarak regime (to ward off the Brotherhood’s “fascist threat”), with all the commensurate privileges such collaboration provided.

Pity then, that the seductive kiss of power in post-revolution Egypt should have transformed them, vampire like, to that very caricature. We might identify several crucial moments in that transformation:

The first such moment predated the Egyptian revolution and has been most insightfully traced and analyzed by the late Hossam Tammam, a brilliant young scholar and a wonderful human being who hailed from the Brotherhood and who saw himself, until his untimely passing of cancer last year, as an Islamist, albeit of a genuinely and profoundly democratic and humanist variety.

Tammam showed that by 2008 the organisational wing of the Gamaa had seized full control of the group, effectively pushing out and/or rendering ineffectual the main representatives of “the political wing” – most prominently, then deputy supreme guide Mohamed Habib, and Abdel-Monem Abul-Fotouh, who has since split from the group and formed the unfortunately named yet highly significant Strong Egypt Party.

As Tammam shows, the organizational wing, with many of its chief representatives hailing from the group’s highly secretive and iron-disciplined “special organization”, has been the most regressive, conservative and close-minded section of the Gamaa. Made up as they are of “Qutbis” (in reference to the militant doctrine of Sayed Qutob) and Salafis, this powerful branch of the group had viewed their “political” counterparts as little more than window dressing, useful in jazzing up the image of the group before the outside world, but unrepresentative and irrelevant where its internal reality and deeply held beliefs were concerned.

In charge of an organization that most uniquely takes over virtually every aspect of its members’ lives (you marry into the Brotherhood, are employed by one of its many businesses, and your social, cultural and needless to say, spiritual life, are almost wholly enclosed by the group), the organizational wing easily emasculated the “political” wing by 2008, giving the group its current Supreme Guide, Mohamed Badei, in 2010.

The second crucial moment in the Brotherhood’s descent took place very soon after the overthrow of Mubarak on 11 February 2011. The military, which took over the reins of power, fell on the Brotherhood as the one sure ally that might help them stave off the dismantling of Mubarak’s authoritarian power structure and bring an end to the revolutionary upsurge of the people.

Unlike the revolutionary youth, the Brotherhood’s leadership was a known quantity, which had maintained (constantly, and through thick and thin) open lines of communication with the regime’s “deep state”. The group’s leadership had been hesitant to join the revolution, and in stark contrast to the revolutionary youth, oversaw a highly disciplined organization whose huge membership was bound by obedience.

On the other hand, having come on the heels of nearly three decades of the most thorough eradication of political space in the country, the Egyptian revolution proved remarkable in its ability to deliver a fell blow to the Mubarak regime, even while its architects were wholly unprepared, organizationally and in terms of political experience, to seize even a partial share in power and put into effect – however gradually - that revolution’s aims.  

For both the military and their Muslim Brotherhood allies, the revolution had not so much given rise to a new political and social order as it had created a power vacuum which needed to be filled. For the Brotherhood specifically, the moment of “Tamkin”, or empowerment had arrived. A power-sharing arrangement between the twin inheritors of the Mubarak regime seemed written in the stars.

Yet the revolutionary energy unleashed in January/February 2011 would not dissipate. Over and over again, that vibrancy – which meanwhile had recreated the nation’s political space in dramatic and unprecedented ways – would make itself felt in putting tens, even hundreds of thousands of Egyptians back on the streets.

Commensurate with the above, yet another process was swiftly kicking in. And this is what I have described before as the “profaning” of the Muslim Brotherhood. Legality, accession to the avenues of political power, no less than the rebirth of “the political”, had wrested the Brotherhood from the hitherto rarified realm of “the sacred”, and brought it rudely down to earth.  

As I’ve pointed out before, that “realm of the sacred” had been made up of an amalgamation of elements, including the preeminence of ideology (indeed, the reduction of the political contest into ideological, doctrinal, and hence ultimately religious terms), victimization and repression, effective disenfranchisement of the group, no less than its ability to create and expand an elaborate, doctrinally based and highly-financed patronage network well able to compete with the Mubarak state’s progressively crumbling and corruption-ridden patronage.

Both processes: continuing revolutionary energy on the one hand, and the profaning of the Brotherhood, on the other, were to make themselves felt in a remarkably swift loss of popularity for the nation’s preeminent Islamist group.

In the space of a few months, between the parliamentary elections (28 November 2011 - 11 January 2012) and the first round of the presidential elections (23 - 24 May 2012), the Brotherhood had managed to lose over half its electoral base – nearly seven million votes.

This was to peak with the Brotherhood’s accession to the summit of the political order, to become within President Morsi’s 5 months in power, not only profaned, but damned in the eyes of previously unimaginable section of the people.

A Brotherhood in power that is happy to collaborate with the US and Israel in fighting terrorism in Sinai; speaks of strategic ties with Washington; signs a typically stringent loan deal with the IMF; shows astonishing ineptitude and lack of vision; fails to deliver on any of its own promises, let alone the promises of the revolution; and is hailed by the US and Europe for its role in “containing” Hamas and safeguarding Israel’s security is a Brotherhood that has lost whatever mystique it once had.

Under these conditions the leadership of the Brotherhood seemed driven by two opposite compulsions, which combined not to pull it in different directions, as one might expect, but to push it almost irrevocably hurtling headlong along a single, ultimately suicidal path.

The first of these was arrogance. The domestic power vacuum, underlined further by the pathetic demise of the SCAF, strong Western, particularly American backing, regional support from oil-rich Qatar and a willingness to accommodation by the other Gulf states, no less than the growingly Islamist stamp on the Arab Spring – all of which seemed to give credence to what Western pundits had begun parroting repeatedly: the Islamist moment had arrived finally in the Arab world.

For an international movement – which sees the Muslim-majority world from Morocco to Indonesia as its ultimate constituency – the seductive force of such a compulsion cannot be overestimated.

Yet at one and the same time, the Brotherhood’s leadership, however self-delusional, could not fail to be aware that its claim to political preeminence in Egypt (supported by 90% of the population, as President Morsi claimed recently) was so much stuff and nonsense.

At a 51% majority, Morsi had come to the presidency by the skin of his teeth; the Brotherhood’s loss of popularity grew almost exponentially during his first months in office, and the Brotherhood’s boundless political ambitions were being increasingly challenged by the very revolutionaries who had helped put Morsi in office.

Such awareness however did not make for a willingness to open up to a growingly politicized, and pluralistic Egyptian society and its reemerging political landscape, but rather to create a frenzied sense of urgency that if they don’t seize the full reins of power today, they will have lost what is possibly their single chance to do so in the 84 years of the group’s life.

It all came to a head.

Thus, we witnessed the feverish attempt to “seize the day” by pushing through a ramshackle, profoundly authoritarian post-revolution constitution drawn up exclusively by the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salfist and Jihadist allies. It was thus that we saw the concerted attempt to trounce the judiciary, arm the president with nearly absolute powers, and put into shape the requisite means and conditions by which the revolutionary energy and political awareness of the people might be crushed.

And it was thus that we witnessed as well the unprecedented resistance by the people of Egypt. On Tuesday an estimated three quarters of a million people marched on the presidential palace, even while tens of thousands were gathered in the revolution’s iconic heart, Tahrir. And even while thousands of protesters were demonstrating in cities across the country, often laying siege, and occasionally storming the regional offices of Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

On Wednesday, thousands of Muslim Brotherhood thugs, armed with rifles, shotguns, knives, chains, bludgeons and remarkably, tear-gas were bussed into the vicinity of the presidential palace to attack the few hundred peaceful protesters that had staged a symbolic sit-in before the palace following Tuesday march.

As the footage and testimonies of protesters, bystanders and journalists kept coming onto the airwaves and the social media, we seemed to have been hurled back in time and space, to the rise of Nazism in Germany, Fascism in Italy, Francism in Spain.

The mutation of the Muslim Brotherhood into its ugliest caricature: a gang of fascist thugs was complete.

No pasaran!

They shall not pass!

 

 

 

 

 





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17



deen
19-12-2012 03:26am
1-
2+
nonsense
in five years time god wish we will see another AKP in egypt that is FJP they will succeed their political career with egypt whole majority
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16



Sobia
13-12-2012 07:41am
9-
27+
Frustrated Seculars
All the dictators that ruled in these countries from Nasser, Sadat, Mubrak, Qadaffi,Assed,Ben Ali, to other Monarchs represent the secular elites and privileged segment of the society while the majority under-privileged, deprived are pro-Islamic, conservative or Islamist what so ever you call them. This Secularist, privileged elite class of the society ruled over the majority through controlling the Judiciary and media and against the will of majority for many decades. Wherever n whenever people provided a fair opportunity to elect their leadership, the minority elite n corrupt class, whipped out from the political scene. Turkey, Iran, Palestine, Tunisia and Egypt,Algiria are the examples. This elite class knows very well that they are in minority ,they can only rule and enjoy their privileges under a dictatorship not through democratic process. They are only comfortable under a dictatorship rule as they had been for last many decades. They never can win a free and fair ballot co
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300
13-12-2012 12:33pm
7-
19+
Very True
After democratic elections all they can do is burn down buildings and complain, they can complain all they want it doesn't change the fact that they are against a democratically elected government.
15



300
12-12-2012 08:25am
13-
33+
wishful thinking
If they have lost so much support you secularists should welcome a vote on the referendum, what are you so scared of? You secularists are the biggest sore losers I've every seen.
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14



Sophie
11-12-2012 11:37pm
19-
19+
Very good
This is a very good analyses of what is taking place.The Egyptian people have at last waken up to demand their rights and they will have the victory God said Blessed be Egypt my people
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13



Aladdin, Egypt
10-12-2012 05:53pm
25-
7+
BH of Kazabeen
It is balsmophy to lie. BH false claims and acts are exposed. Down with BH cult members who are destroying Egypt. Tahya Misr.
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12



Steve Gregg
08-12-2012 11:19pm
25-
23+
Steve Gregg
Unfortunately, the Muslim Brotherhood's ascent to power in Egypt repeats the history of liberal revolutions in that the revolutionaries are more violent and authoritarian than the despots they overthrow. The French revolutionaries who overthrew King Louis XVI instituted the Reign of Terror. The Russian revolutionaries who overthrew Nicholas II instituted a regime which killed twenty million Russians. When the Kymer Rouge overthrew King Sihanouk, they instituted a regime which executed two million Cambodians. The Muslim Brotherhood is likely to make Egyptians pine for the despotism of Mubarak. I fear the worst is yet to come as they consolidate their rule. Then, Egypt will be lost for generations before it can find its way back to freedom and self-rule.
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11



ahmed
08-12-2012 08:19pm
4-
7+
Decline and fall mean the same thing
You mean rise and fall?
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Chris K
12-12-2012 10:06am
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7+
Ahmed, decline and fall are not the same
What the author is saying is that the Brotherhood started going down slowly, before falling straight down the chute at a 90 degree angle.
10



Marja Bijleveld
07-12-2012 02:23pm
22-
16+
No paseran!
I was very glad to read the analysis as it expresses reality as I perceive it. And wat a sad state of affairs. For me, who was a teenager in the sixties, hope sprang when the Egytian people started their revolt.
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9



TutAnkhAmon
07-12-2012 10:33am
29-
29+
Excellent
Excellent piece, the MB will NEVER learn from their mistakes for the simple reason that they think that their actions are justified and it will lead them to « heaven », this fanaticism will always lead to a disaster as it did in Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, Lebanon and Algeria
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8



Nicholai
07-12-2012 09:48am
20-
17+
A wishful thinking
Being in full agreement with the author of this passionate writing, I cannot persuade myself that such a position is nothing more than a wishful thinking. Unfortunately, the Arab Spring turned out to be a joint venture, of the liberals/non-Mubarak secularists and the Islamists/Salfists. The latter have won. They were supposed to win. They are too sophisticated in the politics and manipulation of mass consciousness, and well-maintained by money. They have easily outmaneuvered the liberals/secularists. Nevertheless, the fight is not over. But not the fight on the streets. But the one for the hearts and the souls of the Egyptian people. For the real unity if all anti-MB political forces. There is a chance, I believe, for Egypt, which may be taken. No pasaran!
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