Brotherhood may limit itself to political party: Analysts

Osman El Sharnoubi, Wednesday 21 Aug 2013

As a widening crackdown limits options for the Muslim Brotherhood, the group may be forced to organisationally transform, if it is to survive, analysts say

A looter stands near a broken window at the Muslim Brotherhood's Cairo headquarters after it was burned down by anti-Morsi protesters on July 1, (Photo: Reuters).
As the Egyptian government announces it is waging a "war on terror" led by an offensive on the Muslim Brotherhood, who are being arrested by the hundreds after a year in power, the group may have to accept transforming itself into a political party under a legal framework monitored by the state.
The spectre of going underground is haunting the group as hundreds of its members are being rounded up by police after a breakdown in negotiations earlier this month between the group and the government.
The group's sit-ins at Rabaa Al-Adawiya in Nasr City, Cairo, and Al-Nahda Square, Giza, demanding the reinstatement of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the group, were violently dispersed last Wednesday leading to hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries.
The group's supporters reacted angrily to the dispersals. Police stations, government buildings and churches were attacked and torched across the country.
The government reacted to the violence by accusing the Islamist organisation of leading a terrorist plot against the state and its citizens, grounding widespread speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood would be disbanded and declared illegal, as it was for the greater part of its 85-year history.
As the group's supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, was arrested Tuesday and charged with running an armed faction, the possibility of prohibiting the Muslim Brotherhood inches closer.
"The most realistic scenario is that the Brotherhood would accept negotiations with the interim government and return to public life under the law as a politically legitimate entity," political analyst and expert on Islamic movements Ammar Ali Hassan told Ahram Online.
A move described by Hassan as "going backwards" — resorting to violence against the state, particularly the military, whom the Brotherhood accuse of carrying out a "coup" against a democratically elected president — is farfetched Hassan believes.
"Terrorising the state and society to exhaust the state's strength, forcing it to make large concessions, is difficult since it is impossible to defeat the people and destabilise an entrenched state like Egypt," Hassan said, adding that Egypt already has experience in defeating terrorism.
Adding to this analysis, Hassan believes the Brotherhood acutely remembers the difficult times it went through when it confronted the state, as well as the experiences of other groups such as the Islamist Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya.
The latter, Hassan said, were defeated after armed conflict with the Mubarak regime. They had to revise their thinking and denounce violence in order to be released from prison.
The Brotherhood, for its part, has repeatedly said it has no relation to acts of violence committed since Morsi was deposed by the military after mass protests against him.
Nevertheless, armed protesters — sometimes carrying and firing automatic guns — walked among pro-Morsi crowds at demonstrations and attacks on churches and Copts since Morsi's ouster were attributed to Islamists.
Meanwhile, the main stage at Rabaa Al-Adawiya sit-in, which lasted for a month and a half, was constantly hosting speakers that used sectarian rhetoric as they spoke against Morsi's ouster.
The Egyptian prosecution has charged many Brotherhood leaders, including its hawkish deputy guide Khairat El-Shater, and the head of its political wing, Saad El-Katatny, with inciting violence.
"Historically speaking, violence was never divorced from the Muslim Brotherhood," political science professor and analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies Hala Mustafa told Ahram Online.
When the Brotherhood was disbanded in 1948, shortly after the government cracked down on its "secret organisation," charging it with carrying out violent operations, including assassination attempts.
Mustafa argues that despite the Brotherhood scrapping of its secret apparatus, after a decision by then Supreme Guide Hassan El-Hodeiby, many in the group still adopted the idea that having an armed wing was necessary.
While the "secret apparatus" never returned officially, Mustafa believes that recent violence was perpetrated by the Brotherhood but in a clandestine way, enabling it to attribute the violence to other radical elements.
Agreeing with Hassan, Mustafa believes the Brotherhood may have to accept a political solution forcing it to be incorporated into a political party, shedding the duality of a movement led by a supreme guide with a political wing, or face an all-out war by the state and society.
"What happened so far transcends the possibility of Mubarak-era parliamentary deals between the government and the Brotherhood. The group will have to adjust itself under a legal and transparent framework if it is to continue," she asserted.
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