Reconciliation with the Brotherhood: Between truth and rumour

Zeinab El-Gundy, Monday 8 Sep 2014

The release of two Muslim Brotherhood moderates from jail has sparked debate that the group could reconcile with the government - and change its ways

Mohammed Saad el-Katatni
Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Saad el-Katatni (Photo: AP)
Following the recent release of two leading Muslim Brotherhood figures from prison, Egyptian and pan-Arab newspapers have discussed the possibility of a reconciliation between Egypt's government and the now outlawed Islamic movement.
The London based newspaper Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, known for its pro-Brotherhood bias, published an article last week with two claims.
First, that Saad El-Katatany, a leader in the Brotherhood's political arm the Freedom and Justice Party and a former parliament speaker, will soon propose a new reconciliation plan.
Second, that Mohamed Ali Bishr – a Brotherhood reformist figure – will create a new moderate Islamist party.
These claims were also made several times in recent weeks in Al-Masry Al-Youm, an independent Cairo based newspaper.
However, Bishr denied the claims on the Freedom and Justice Party's news website, saying he won't create a new party.
In a lengthy interview published this week on Masr Al-Arabia news website, the Brotherhood's secretary-general in London, Ibrahim Mounir, said there were no talks or reconciliations with the current government.
Still that did not stop speculation – even among Brotherhood members online.
Interestingly the speculations were fueled by the release from prison of Halmi El-Gazar, a prominent Brotherhood member who is highly respected among other politicians and regarded as "moderate" compared to other "hard-liners".
El-Gazar, along with Brotherhood moderates El-Katatany and Bishr, was among the Brotherhood team that negotiated with the EU delegation and Egyptian government following the ouster of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013 – before they were arrested in the same month on charges of inciting violence.
Nageh Ibrahim, a former member of the ultraconservative group Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya and a researcher on Islamist movements, told Ahram Online that moderates like El-Gazar and El-Katatany "can lead a reconciliation process or even calm things down between the Brotherhood and the government."
Ibrahim says he thinks El-Gazar's release was for the purpose of kicking off the reconciliation process – or for him and El-Katatany to guide the Brotherhood into a more moderate phase.
Ahmed El-Ban, a former member of the Freedom and Justice Party and himself also a researcher in Islamist movements, also thinks El-Gazar's release could be linked to a possible truce.
"Or simply it is related to the fact that the charges against El-Gazar are not that grave," El-Ban told Ahram Online.
El-Gazar was arrested and accused along with a number of leading Brotherhood members of inciting violence during clashes in Giza's Bein Al-Sarayat district after Morsi's ouster that left at least 16 people dead.
He was released after a year in jail pending a trial with other prominent Islamist figures like the Brotherhood's lawyer Mohamed Abdel-Maksoud.
Nevertheless not all Islamist analysts share the same views over El-Gazar's release.
"Speaking about initiatives and deals behind releasing Halmi El-Gazar is an insult to the Egyptian judiciary because this would mean our judiciary is politicised and the judges take orders from the executive authorities, which is untrue," Ammar Ali Hassan, a researcher in Islamist movements, told Ahram Online.
Hassan also believes that any reconciliation initiatives from El-Gazar are unrealistic, arguing that the former MP is not a "decision maker" within the Brotherhood but rather was "marginalised" within the group for his moderate, reformist stance.
El-Gazar was released along with former Islamist MP Mohamed El-Omda, who proposed a reconciliation initiative between Islamists and the government three days after his release.
The initiative proposed seven points, most importantly lifting the ban on the Brotherhood, which was declared a terrorist organisation by the government in December. It also proposed to allow President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to complete his four year presidential term as a transitional period wherein the Brotherhood and the army could reach some sort of understanding.
Despite the former MP denying that the Brotherhood had anything to with the initiative – and the group rejecting it along with other political parties – some analysts also thought El-Omda's release was related to reconciliation.
El-Ban suggests that El-Omda could also lead a reformist movement or start a new political party to represent the Brotherhood's reformist branch.
Ibrahim, the former Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya member, thinks otherwise, though.
"I think El-Omda’s initiative was truly an individual act," Ibrahim said. "El-Omda is an outsider, not a Brotherhood member and the Brotherhood won't accept any initiative proposed from an outsider."
Too early?

Despite the speculation, El-Ban thinks it's still early for the Brotherhood to propose a reconciliation initiative – or accept one in Egypt.
"How are they going to market such a reconciliation plan to their members and supporters after a whole year of insisting that what happened was a coup and that Mohamed Morsi is only legitimate president of Egypt?" he asked.
All official statements of the Brotherhood on its websites and social media accounts still only recognise Morsi as Egypt's president.
Ibrahim says the group needs to reach out to its base and change its discourse if any initiative is to succeed.
"The dilemma now is how to market any sort of deal or initiative between the Brotherhood and the government to those angry supporters after a whole year of incitement," Ibrahim said.
"We all remember the level of incitement and hatred reflected in the speeches at the Rabaa sit-in's main stage and how it paved the way for the sit-in's massacre. How to turn down the tone to accept the new political situation in Egypt – this will be difficult."
The Brotherhood has remained defiant since Morsi's ouster and has been criticised for failing to attract non-Islamist and revolutionary political forces. It also failed to maintain its allies, with the Al-Wasat Party, formerly a leading member of the Brotherhood's National Alliance in Support of Legitimacy (NASL), deciding to leave the alliance last month.
For Hassan, though, the Brotherhood needs to focus more on regional and international allies rather than its local base.
"The Brotherhood’s leading figures and decision makers are now bounded to regional and international powers that restrict their movement, making it hard for them to reach an agreement with the [Egyptian] regime," he said. "The Brotherhood in Egypt won't take a decision opposite to what the United States, Qatar and Turkey want."
Writing on Al-Masry Al-Youm's website this week, analyst Mohamed Hany said that Egypt has to first secure its domestic front – and reach reconciliation with the Brotherhood – before it can join the international coalition formed to fight the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria.
He said the war on IS may actually accelerate the process of reconciliation, even temporarily, despite the fact both the Brotherhood and Egyptian government have failed to reach any understanding in the past year.
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