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Brotherhood and the military… then and now

The 1952 Free Officers coup and the January 2011 uprising threw the Muslim Brotherhood and the military into a power struggle – what are the similarities and differences between the two eras?

Waheed Abdel-Meguid , Sunday 15 Jul 2012

It is interesting to compare the current relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) with the doomed inclusion of the Brotherhood in the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) in 1952-1954.

The Brotherhood was a key revolutionary force during the January 2011 uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, who had been president for 30 years. However, the revolution faltered after the SCAF took power and didn’t fulfil the goals of the revolutionaries.

This is different to what happened in 1952, even if the circumstances in both eras seem similar. In 1952 the army moved to overthrow the monarchy and the country’s calcified parties. The Brotherhood supported the coup led by the Free Officers movement, which quickly became a revolution supported by the people.

The Brotherhood viewed itself as a partner in the July 1952 revolution, just as the military viewed itself as a partner in the January 2011 uprising. However, it is the military that held onto power in both cases. The later uprising did not have a leader to rule in its name or a leadership to take power.

Thus, the Brotherhood came second on both occasions but for different reasons. It possessed a popular presence on the street at the beginning of 2011, unlike the Wafd Party in mid-1952 that was also popular but was viewed by the revolutionary leadership as close to the old regime. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood quickly moved into second position instead of the Wafd Party because the latter was unable to adapt to the new conditions, particularly because the RCC was unwilling to talk to it.

It was natural for the Brotherhood and the military – in the form of the RCC in 1952 and the SCAF in 2011 – to reach some form of political accord. These accords were based on a combination of consensus and conflict. Consensus was necessary in the beginning, and both sides seemed keen on agreement – to the extent that it seemed that they were in cahoots.

When the RCC picked Brotherhood member Rashad Mehanna to be one of three custodians of the crown after King Farouk was expelled, it raised questions about the two sides’ relationship. The same happened when senior Muslim Brother Sabahi Saleh was chosen to be a member of the constitutional reform committee that the SCAF created under the chairmanship of Tarek El-Bishri, who is close to the political Islamists.

The mutual accord and apparent cordiality between the two sides was coloured with extreme caution from the beginning by both sides in1952 and 2011.

The RCC wanted to buy time to consolidate power and guarantee the success of the revolution, while bolstering its relative superiority in the power balance that was tipping in its favour.

The SCAF adopted the same tactic: in order to contain the revolution it was forced to support it and consolidate its power during the transition period. The SCAF, however, realised that the Brotherhood would have the upper hand on the street when the demonstrators went home after Mubarak departed, and thus it would have to adapt to this reality.

Sharing power with the Brotherhood or other groups was the most the SCAF could hope for when Mubarak stepped down, while the political domination was the RCC's goal when it removed King Farouk. Accordingly, the RCC’s tactic was to contain the Brotherhood until October 1954, when it delivered a heavy blow that eliminated the group and removed it from the political equation for more than two decades.

The difference in circumstances after the January 2011 uprising is that the Brotherhood’s power and cohesion reduced the SCAF’s goals to no more than extending the transitional phase in search of a formula to share power. Thus, the general scene remains disconcerting at the beginning of the second transitional phase that began when Mohamed Morsi, a senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected president, and the conflict between the SCAF and Brotherhood could go on for some time.

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