The rejection followed a series of statements issued in recent days by a number of Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood officials living in Turkey and some European capitals.
The first statement came from Youssef Nada, a Muslim Brotherhood millionaire living in Switzerland. Nada said “the door of the Muslim Brotherhood group is open for dialogue with the regime in Egypt… We are ready for the possibility of dialogue with the Egyptian presidency and to forgive injustice without pre-conditions.”
Nada is a loyalist to the Muslim Brotherhood’s wing in London, led by the group’s de-facto supreme leader Ibrahim Mounir. In October 2021, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership split into two factions, one based in London and led by Mounir, the second based in Istanbul and led by the group’s secretary-general Mahmoud Hussein.
Political analyst Abdallah Al-Sennawi said in a recent TV interview that the Brotherhood’s London-based faction’s approval of the national dialogue shows that its leaders recognised the group has lost enormous amounts of ground and sees the dialogue as a way of regaining the spotlight. He argued that Nada’s statement was intended to test the waters and determined whether dialogue presents an opportunity for the Brotherhood to regain a toehold in Egypt’ political life.
Al-Sennawi concluded that any invitation to Brotherhood representatives to participate in the dialogue was at best improbable, and any hopes the Brotherhood has of reaching some kind of deal hopelessly misplaced.
Fattouh Heikal, a political consultant with the London-based Trend Centre for Research and Consultations, pointed out that “this is not the first time the Brotherhood’s London-based faction directs a message of reconciliation to the ruling regime in Egypt.”
The Istanbul-based faction issued its own statement welcoming the dialogue as “a good political tool” while noting “confidence-building measures are a pre-condition for the success of the dialogue.”
Heikal views both factions’ responses as symptomatic of the severe crisis affecting the Brotherhood. “Not only have they split into two warring factions, but they have been facing intense financial pressure over the last two years. Some of their leaders have been expelled from Turkey and their Istanbul-based TV channels have been closed, while Qatar, which used to be a safe haven for the Brotherhood in the past, has chosen to mend fences with Egypt,” says Heikal.
A third statement, from the Islamist party Building and Development, the political arm of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, saw the party’s former chairman Tarek Al-Zomor say he welcomed participation in the proposed dialogue “with the stipulation it should be serious and leads to tangible political reforms.”
Al-Zomor was a member of Islamic Jihad which carried out the assassination of president Anwar Al-Sadat in October 1981. Al-Zomor and his brother Abboud were sentenced to life in prison following the assassination of president Sadat only to be released after the 2011 January Revolution. In July 2013, when millions took to the streets to protest against the Brotherhood rule of Mohamed Morsi, he fled to Qatar.
A fourth statement came from secular politician and manager of the Istanbul-based Al-Sharq TV channel Ayman Nour. The 58-year-old, who has been living in Istanbul since 2013, said “all politicians should welcome the idea of a national dialogue but as chairman of the Union of Egyptian National Forces I should stipulate that pre-conditions are needed for the dialogue to be a success.”
Al-Sennawi revealed in his interview that “Ayman Nour has sent a secret message to officials in Egypt asking them to allow him to return from Turkey and participate in the dialogue” and that Nour “is a sympathiser and confidante of the Muslim Brotherhood and wants to act as the group’s front man” for them in the dialogue.
Nour dismissed any suggestion that he had engaged in secret contacts with Egyptian officials, though he added that he was “a friend of the Muslim Brotherhood and the elected chairman of the Egyptian National Forces which includes the Brotherhood as a major member”.
Groups across the political spectrum in Egypt have voiced their rejection of any participation in the dialogue by Islamist figures.
Farid Zahran, chairman of the Egyptian Socialist Democratic Party and an appointed senator, said that “when President Al-Sisi issued his call for the national dialogue and said that political forces would attend he meant civilian and secular opposition forces based in Egypt which have never been involved in violence or have blood on their hands.”
Tarek Radwan, chairman of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, agrees that President Al-Sisi’s call for dialogue was directed to political forces representing the left, the right, and the centre, but not to groups which have been designated as terrorist or involved in violence.
“When you call for dialogue, you are addressing forces which want to build the country, not those who want to disrupt it,” he said.
Sayed Abdel-Aal, chairman of the Tagammu Party, told Al-Ahram Weekly that he had been taken aback by Muslim Brotherhood leaders living in Istanbul and London issuing statements. “How can they square their descriptions of President Al-Sisi’s regime as dictatorial and the result of a military coup and at the same time welcome the dialogue,” he asked.
Abdel-Aal also argued secular figures like Nour who have chosen to live outside the country and obtain money from hostile forces in return for attacking the regime should be excluded.
Mohamed Abul-Ela, chairman of the Arab Nasserist Party, told the Weekly that the call for national dialogue should be limited to civilian forces that participated in the anti-Muslim Brotherhood 30 June Revolution in 2013.
“These forces revolted against political Islam in general and rejected any attempts to turn Egypt into a religious state,” he said.
Khaled Okasha, head of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies, told Abu Dhabi-based Al-Ain website that the Muslim Brotherhood has been heavily involved in terrorist activities via military offshoots like Hasm and Lewaa Al-Thawra, and is responsible for the murder of many soldiers and police personnel since 2013, a fact that “precludes the opening of political channels to the outlawed group”.
Okasha attributed the group’s welcoming of the dialogue to “internal crises and strife and the desire of its leaders to show Western media that it is a political force that rejects violence”.
At an event held to mark Eid Al-Fitr on 2 May, President Al-Sisi said that the Muslim Brotherhood had repeatedly threatened to target the army and sow chaos across Egypt. He mentioned that the Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide Khairat Al-Shater had threatened him personally when the group ruled the country.
Al-Shater is currently in prison after having been found guilty in several cases, including on charges of spying for foreign parties.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.