Egypt's Moussa-Shater tête-à-tête: Reactions and implications

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 6 Jun 2013

Opposition leader Amr Moussa will likely pay a heavy political price for his Wednesday meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood's Khairat El-Shater, according to analysts

Khairat El-Shater (L), Amr Moussa, (Photos:Reuters and AP).

A communiqué issued Thursday by former presidential candidate and opposition figure Amr Moussa on his controversial, initially secret meeting with the strongest man in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood seemed to be designed to accommodate the furore prompted by leaks about the meeting and to dissociate Moussa – the host of the meeting – from Ayman Nour, a politician whose choices allow for confusion.

In the communiqué, Moussa insisted that his participation in the meeting was designed to address crucial matters of "national security," without offering an itemised list of the meeting's agenda. He expressed astonishment at the choice of Nour to leak the news to the press, despite prior agreements to the contrary.

But the key line that Moussa – a former foreign minister and Arab League secretary-general to whom negotiations are second nature – was offering to disappointed supporters, sceptical followers and harsh and determined critics was the continued disagreement with the Muslim Brotherhood. "The gap that was dividing us was bigger as the meeting ended before it began," he told television host Amr Adib on Wednesday night as news of the meeting had just broke.

For some, the communiqué and the statements whereby Moussa shared with the public the story of this controversial meeting are far from sufficient to dispel anger and dismay at the choice of this founding member of the anti-Muslim Brotherhood National Salvation Front (NSF) to confer with the canniest of the organisation, El-Shater, about three weeks ahead of expected massive demonstrations to protest the continued rule of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood president.

A 'Shocking' development

"I am shocked that he does this; national forces are coming together to tell Morsi that he has to go, and then Moussa – who had just told us that he now supports the call for early presidential elections – goes and talks to them when we are treating them like outcasts," said Ramy, a Heliopolis resident.

He added: "I was thinking that maybe we were wrong to have voted for Ahmed Shafiq [a former presidential candidate who was the last prime minister of the Mubarak regime] in the first round, and we should have supported Moussa as a milder choice. But after yesterday’s meeting, I thought I was right to have voted for Shafiq because Moussa does not seem to mind the Muslim Brotherhood – despite what he says."

In an interview accorded to Al-Qahera Wal-Nas' flagship programme 'Hona Al-Qahira,' Moussa revealed that the Muslim Brotherhood had dissuaded the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) during the interim period to appoint him as prime minister after he was made an official offer that he eventually declined, and that the group launched a character assassination campaign to undermine his chances during the presidential elections last year.

Still, in his communiqué issued Thursday morning, Moussa insisted that, when all is said and done, the Muslim Brotherhood are Egyptians and they will remain so no matter the disagreements.

Still, for Moussa, the loss is not just those who had wished him to be more radical in his rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood. Moussa also angered of some of his supporters who had not minded his meeting with El-Shater had it not been ahead of the 30 June demonstrations. He prompted the apprehension of some of his closest associates over his acceptance to conduct the meeting at the house of Nour, whose public favourability is hard to assess.

Above all, he offended fellow members at the leadership of the NSF, with some suggesting that it was a mistake to have him on board in the first place, even if the call for the coalition was originally his initiative.

Sources at the NSF said that a meeting scheduled for Saturday would mull a reaction to Moussa’s decision to meet with El-Shater, even if it was a personal initiative that he took away from the NSF. Of those, some had suggested a motion to ask Moussa to consider a more independent political march away from the NSF.

Others, however, argued that things would not go that far because, ultimately, Moussa does have a considerable constituency across Egyptian society, who have developed a dislike for the consequences of the 25 January Revolution and its key political figures and who are more inclined to support a statesman who did not fully agree with the ousted regime but who is still associated with the call for stability.

'A considerable political loss'

"By all accounts, Moussa has sustained a considerable political loss that is hard to exaggerate really," said Diaa Rashwan, director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. However, he added, "We should not go very far away in attending to this matter at this point in time because our focus now should be on keeping all the Muslim Brotherhood opposition closely assembled on the way to the 30 June demonstrations."

In the analysis of Rashwan, the split of the opposition, particularly the NSF, is the objective that the Muslim Brotherhood had opted for behind this meeting. "This we should deny the Muslim Brotherhood by all means; they are already on the losing side politically and they should not be granted an easy way out," he said.

The Muslim Brotherhood's popularity has been clearly undermined by several failures in state management, including severe and repeated cuts of electricity for housing, services, industry purposes; the lack of potable and irrigation water and that of car fuel; and the decline of most services. "Had they not been on the weaker side, they would not probably have solicited a meeting with Moussa," Rashwan suggested.

According to Ahram Online's sources, the meeting with Moussa was first discussed in a meeting between Nour and Muslim Brotherhood figure Saad El-Katatni, the leader of the organisation's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. El-Katatni had previously met with Moussa, among other NSF leaders, including Mohamed ElBaradei.

Inevitably, El-Katatni suggested to Nour a possible get-together between El-Shater, the man who is really in the driving seat, and Moussa, supposedly to consider his views on several foreign policy challenges, including the political showdown with Ethiopia over a plan to build a mega-dam over the Blue Nile, which provides Egypt with over two thirds of its share of Nile water.

Other items on the agenda include a call to Moussa to mediate with some Arab Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, in hopes of economic assistance and political reconciliation. Developments on the home front and possible ideas for accommodating moves on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood were also on the agenda of the dinner at the Nour house.

Nour's leak

At the end, no agreement was reached and it could have ended there, had it not been for the leak made by Nour. This leak, said one of the younger Muslim Brotherhood figures, occasioned anger within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood as it reflected the image of a weak group that is pursuing secret negotiations with opposition figures, which gives the impression of an intention for concessions.

This might not be a major loss for the Muslim Brotherhood in the eyes of the public, but it is certainly a considerable loss for its leadership that is faced with recurrent waves of frustration from younger rank-and-file members over a wide range of matters, including above everything else the image of the organisation that has sustained a considerable negative impact.

Nour is not considered by many as either a loser or winner. Nour was already under considerable attack due to his insensitive statements on Sudan during an accidentally aired presidential meeting with the opposition over relations with Ethiopia. 

For some, the fact that Nour played host to such a controversial meeting at this moment added to his negative image as the deliberate political spoiler who breaks the ranks of the opposition by succumbing to the carrots of the ruler without being able to go beyond that.

For others, however, Nour had shifted public attention – and, for that matter, anger – from his shocking statements, along with other unfortunate remarks by some other politicians who took part in the presidential meeting, to the meeting that he only played host to.

"Nour does not have much to lose in this respect any way; he might have lost some and won some – or neither this nor that – but at the end of the day, the biggest loss is sustained by Moussa," Rashwan argued.

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