Book Review: Autumn of the Muslim Brotherhood

Hesham Taha, Tuesday 17 Mar 2015

Karem Yehia examines the failures of the Muslim Brotherhood during its year in power

Protesters chant against the brotherhood during a protest at Tahrir square in Cairo June 28, 2013 (Reuters)

Khareef Al-Ikhwan – Kaif fashl hokm Al-Gama'a fi Misr?(Autumn of the Muslim Brotherhood – How the Group failed in ruling Egypt?) by Karem Yehia, Islam and the West Studies Center, Cairo, 2015. pp.287

In his seventh book, Autumn of the Muslim Brotherhood, Karem Yehia tackles the facets of failure of the group in the year they ruled Egypt after the 25January 2011 Revolution. The title reminds one of Mohamed Hassanein Heikal’s Autumn of Fury which also tackled the termination of a president; President Anwar Sadat through assassination, but at the hands of the Islamists that time.

In the first three chapters, Yehia presents a narrative about the last days before deposing Mohamed Morsi, the first civilian Egyptian president, then makes a flashback to the crisis leading to the events of 30 June and 3 July.  He moves to two testimonies, the first is Maasoum Marzouq, Popular Current Party's spokesman, and the second by Ibrahim Youssri, chairperson of the National Salvation Front (NSF). Marzouq mentioned that there were early EU attempts to mediate between the Salvation Front and Morsi starting in March 2013, asserting that the Front presented demands upon which the president agreed then refused. Marzouq says that the MB Guidance Bureau or the American embassy interfered to torpedo this path. On the other hand, Youssri said that the NSF's initiative to defuse the political crisis (which he didn't disclose) was met with stubbornness which he says was due to the deep state's activities as well as the predominance of personal interests, malice and lack of magnanimity. He also cited an example of Morsi's indecision towards Mubarak regime remnants; he personally presented to the president the Former Ministers Prosecution Law issued 1958 and the Betrayal Law and he did nothing.

The author explains in the sixth chapter how the literature of Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the MB, was free from the idea of political alliances while in the eighties of the last century the MB struck alliances with Wafd (The Delegation), Al-Amal (Labour) and Al-Ahrar (Liberal) parties. He presents the testimony of Dr. Magdy Qurqur, General Secretary of the Islamic Labour Party, who asserted that the MB prefers short term gains rather than the long term ones even it would mean losing their allies, aiming only for election results. Then he moves to the significant testimony of Wahid Abdel-Meguid, former spokesman of the Constituent Assembly from which he resigned on 18 November 2012, who divided the MB members into Secret Apparatus men and Reformists. He states that the Secret Apparatus men were dominant inside the MB and held a façade of openness to keep away fears, formed the Democratic Alliance to win in the parliamentary elections. He declares the MB biggest mistake was going back on their promise and having a candidate in the presidential elections which led to the current crisis. Mohammed Esmat Seif Al-Dawla, former member of the presidential advisory team of Morsi, insists that the team was away from decision-making process. He adds that he advised the president to form a national front and give the opposition what it wants in the constitution because if it abandoned him he will seek the protection of the police and the military and they give him a deaf ear.

In the eighth chapter, Playing with the Military, Yehia cites Dr. Yazid Sayegh stating that unless the military state is dismantled there will never be a second republic in Egypt. Morsi thought that by ordering the retirement of Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and the Army Chief of Staff Sami Anan he had gained the loyalty of the military. He also added new privileges to the military in the 2012 constitution including appointing the Defence Minister from the officer ranks. Thus he and the MB acted in total reverse to what two previous Supreme Guides declared very clearly in 1997 and in 2007 that the Defence Minister should be a civilian.  

The author unveils in the ninth chapter the reasons for the MB to have a presidential candidate after marathon talks and balloting. It was because the Secret Apparatus men feared a backlash from any winning presidential candidate especially when Kamal Al-Ganzouri, the prime minister at the time, threatened the MB that the dissolution of the parliament is in the drawers. On the other hand, the Reformists viewed this decision as going back on the promise not to have a candidate and that whoever the new president is he won't order a security hunt for the MB members. Although Al-Banna viewed parties as corrupt and wrote that Islam doesn't acknowledge partisanship in 1938, the MB founded the Freedom and Justice Party and restricted its maneuverability fearing that it may swallow the group!

The tenth chapter discusses the stance of the MB regarding Copts where five attacks occurred on churches and the presidency didn't behave in deterrent way. In addition, Morsi didn't attend the inauguration ceremony of Pope Tawadros II.

The author devoted the eleventh chapter to the economy, where he observes how the MB was formed by men belonging to the middle segment of the middle class then was transformed after the return of the exiled members from Saudi Arabia in the seventies of the last century to hold 28 percent in the consumer commodities and construction sectors of the Egyptian economy. He also mentions that the leading MB businessman Hassan Malek founded an association named "Ibda" where it was joined by businessmen closely associated with Gamal Mubarak, the son of the Egyptian deposed president. In addition, Malek founded "Tawasul" committee that had played a role in reconciliation efforts between the state and corrupt businessmen of Mubarak's regime.

Four plans to restructure the security apparatus were at Morsi's desk which he didn't execute as Yehia confirms in the twelfth chapter. As for the judiciary, Tariq Al-Bishri, Head of the Constitutional Amendments Committee in 2011, says the MB attempted to change the judiciary from the top, thus provoking its members while the correct stance was to reform it from within by using its own mechanisms.

Yehia dedicated the thirteenth chapter to the relationship between the MB and Saudi Arabia, the USA and Qatar. He cited examples of meetings he deemed as proof on how the group was used to serve Britain, the USA and reactionary Arab regimes against Pan-Arabism and socialist trends. He tried to find a rule governing the aforementioned relationship which involved holding secret meetings with British and US officials while issuing statements against these Western countries and at the same time sending volunteers to Palestine during the 1948 war. On another level, the author refers the coolness that Saudi officials met with Morsi to the Qatari ruling family's enthusiasm to play the regional Saudi Arabia role in addition to the opposing stance of the MB in the Gulf War in 1991.

In the fourteenth and final chapter, the author presented his own testimony on the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins before the massacres. Some predict the MB has no future whatsoever after 30 June, others foresee that it won't wither away despite the extreme harshness the current ordeal is.

Yehia relied on two sources of information: books authored mainly by British and American journalists and researchers specialised on MB. The other is testimonies of local characters that participated in the scene.

Perhaps the publication of the book should have waited a bit longer until the dust settles although the author wrote in the introduction that his book wasn't written in malicious envy or riding the wave of denouncing the MB especially or the Islamist current as a whole. Yehia himself acknowledged that the mysterious relationship between the General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi at the time and Morsi will be left to history to reveal it. Besides there are a number of incidents that won't be uncovered except with the passage of a long time.



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