Two weeks ago Omar Hassan, a young Brotherhood activist living in Turkey, wrote on his Facebook page that families of Brotherhood detainees in Egypt had asked him to publicise their attempts to reach a deal to secure the release of their family members.
“The families have vowed that, if released, the detainees will not engage in politics and will relinquish all public work, including religious and charity-based activities. Security forces will be free to take whatever measures are necessary to guarantee that the released detainees do not violate the deal,” wrote Hassan.
One suggestion Hassan promoted is that families pay $5,000 each into the Long Live Egypt Fund, created by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in 2014, in return for a pardon.
“This would mean the government could collect more than $5 billion, a substantial sum that could be used to revive the economy,” said Hassan.
Another suggestion the families are making is that the cases of Brotherhood detainees be reviewed individually to see if there are grounds for a pardon.
“Security officials will have the final say on who is released and who remains in prison,” said Hassan. “All the families are asking is that the National Council for Human Rights and Al-Azhar supervise the implementation of these initiatives.”
Hassan’s intervention came barely a week after 1,350 young Muslim Brothers serving jail terms in Egypt asked the group’s leadership to either resign or take positive steps towards reaching an accommodation with the Egyptian authorities. The demand was immediately dismissed by the group’s leaders resident in either Turkey or the United Kingdom.
So to the latest raft of suggestions. Brotherhood leaders who fled Egypt say the initiatives are in reality the work of Egypt’s security establishment which is seeking to sow discord among rank and file members of the group. Ibrahim Mounir, the Brotherhood’s spokesperson and head of the group’s London office, told the Qatari channel Al-Jazeera that the initiatives are unrealistic.
“We did not compel them [the detained Brotherhood activists] to join the group in the first place and so are not under any kind of obligations to help them. The Muslim Brotherhood will never extend a hand of reconciliation to the ruling military in Egypt.”
Together with other leaders of the Brotherhood living abroad, Mounir has been accused by young members of the group of embezzling millions of dollars in funds to buy luxury property. Al-Jazeera, which is seen as the Brotherhood’s main media arm, also criticised Mounir, accusing him of living a life of luxury that has left him out of touch with the conditions group members face behind bars in Egypt.
Brotherhood lawyers deny the existence of reconciliation initiatives.
“If anyone wants to declare an initiative they should do so in public, in clear terms, not through Facebook pages and leaked letters,” said the group’s lawyer Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud.
Political analysts argue the latest round of suggestions on securing the release of detainees reveals that rifts within the group are deepening.
“There is growing divergence between the young Brothers who paid a heavy price for fighting the group’s battles and Brotherhood leaders who live in comfort in Turkey and the UK,” says Al-Ahram analyst Hassan Abu Taleb.
“The reaction of the group’s leaders suggests they are perfectly happy with their lives in Istanbul and London. They are content issuing incendiary statements against the regime in Egypt and giving interviews to Al-Jazeera and the BBC, inciting against President Al-Sisi and presenting themselves as victims of oppression and tyranny.”
Hamdi Rizk, an expert on Islamist movements, believes “these latest developments suggest young Brothers are serious about opening up a dialogue with the regime in Egypt and seeking a solution to their current plight.”
While there is no evidence of intervention by security forces, what the latest suggestions show is that the Muslim Brotherhood is awash with funds.
“What does it say when each detainee is ready to pay $5,000 in return for his release? It suggests the Brotherhood’s coffers are flush with cash, most of which originating from Qatar and the group’s investments in the UK.”
Rizk does not believe the government is sympathetic towards the initiatives.
“A regime which has fought a hard battle against Brotherhood-directed terrorism over four years will find it difficult to let convicted Brothers go free,” he says.
Abu Taleb argues the precedents set by the Brotherhood’s successful attempts to secure pardons under presidents Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Anwar Al-Sadat will alert the government to the dangers of accepting any similar deals.
“Everytime the Brothers were released they returned to their violent campaigns of terrorism and assassination,” says Abu Taleb. “It happened under Nasser in 1965, under Sadat in 1981 and under Mubarak in the mid-1990s.”
Ahmed Ismail, a member of parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters that the Brotherhood’s initiatives “reflect an internal crisis rather than a serious offer for reconciliation.
“These initiatives are not based on any serious review of the Brotherhood’s religious discourse. Past experiences show that, once released, the group’s detainees quickly return to the path of extremism and terrorism.”
The criteria that would allow a presidential pardon do not apply to Brotherhood prisoners, he says.
“President Al-Sisi has often repeated that there can be no accommodation with terrorism or terrorists. The state cannot forgive those whose hands are stained with the blood of policemen and soldiers.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 29 August, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly newpaper