Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and 30/6

Hicham Mourad , Friday 28 Jun 2013

With the approach of massive opposition protests planned for 30 June to demand the president's ouster, the pro-Morsi camp braces itself for a counter-attack

The Muslim Brotherhood, from which President Mohamed Morsi hails, had set out to find political allies against the most serious test of his regime since the arrival of Islamists to power: 30 June. It found it in a coalition of small Islamist parties, some of which are among the most radical on the political scene.

Since the Salafist Nour Party, the second political force after the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Brotherhood, had distanced itself vis-à-vis the regime after being marginalised by the latter, the presidential camp found itself almost alone against a liberal opposition increasingly fierce, joined by the Nour Party.

The president and the Brotherhood were then surrounded by a small coalition of Islamist parties, including the moderate Wasat Party and the ultraconservative Salafist Building and Development Party (BDP), the political arm of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, a former jihadist group who renounced violence in the late 1990s.

This party stepped up to the plate in recent days, especially in the massive demonstration of Islamists in Cairo on 21 June in support of the president, making an inflammatory speech intended to intimidate and deter the opposition protests on 30 June.

The rhetoric held by many supporters of the president emphasises the religious nature of the conflict between them and the liberals, who are thus accused gladly of being infidels or atheists.

One of these supporters, Safwat Abdel-Ghani, a member of the BDP in the Shura Council (the upper house of parliament), called the opposition campaign against the president a "war against Islam." This religious character, however, was undermined by two important positions taken by the Salafist Nour Party and Egypt's Al-Azhar institution, the highest Sunni-Muslim religious authority.

The Nour Party, a former ally of the Brotherhood, had joined the opposition of the National Salvation Front (NSF) since the beginning of the year. Since then, it has denounced, like the NSF, the hegemonic policies of the Muslim Brotherhood and the latter's failure in the management of the country – but without going so far as to demand the president's resignation.

For it, the opposition must respect the choice made by the people in the presidential election last June and allow Mohamed Morsi to finish his four-year term. The Nour Party tries at the same time, unsuccessfully so far, to find compromise solutions between the government and opposition.

For his part, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed El-Tayeb has refuted the religious dimension put forward by supporters of the presidential camp to galvanise their troops and discredit their opponents.

On 19 June, in the aftermath of a meeting with President Morsi, who asked him to take a stance against the planned 30 June protests, El-Tayeb has made it clear that "peaceful" opposition to the ruler is permitted in Islam and that violence is a "great sin" and not an act of infidelity (Kufr). He was thus responding to "false" fatwas (religious decrees) issued by "incompetent" religious sheikhs claiming that those who oppose the ruler are "hypocrites" and "infidels."

Faced with growing domestic opposition, which should culminate in massive protests on June 30, the regime also tried to ensure foreign support. It found it in the United States, providers of an annual military and economic aid of more than $1.5 billion.

The announcement, made with great fanfare by Morsi on 15 June, of the breaking of diplomatic relations with the Alawite regime of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and support for the creation of a no-fly zone in the violence-torn country, was clearly intended to satisfy the Brotherhood's new Salafist allies, but also its American ally.

Starting from a rabidly anti-Shia sectarian vision, the Salafists are in favour of a stronger position against the Syrian regime, ruled by the Alawites, who are an offshoot of Shiism, and its regional Shia allies, Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah.

Proponents of an alarmist vision, Salafists frequent warn against the spread of Shiism in Egypt and the Arab world. The decision to break with Syria came following the announcement by the United States of its decision to arm the Syrian rebels and information about Washington's intention to establish a no-fly zone in southern Syria.

US Ambassador in Cairo Anne Patterson in recent days held a meeting with opposition figures to convince them not to protest on 30 June, arguing that it was not too late to reach a compromise with the president. This attitude, interpreted by the opposition as support for the Muslim Brotherhood regime, has led the ambassador to be accused of interfering in the internal affairs of the country.

The ambassador's position, however, is in line with the policy of the United States to defend its interests in Egypt and the Middle East. Far from standing at the heart of the nascent regime of the Muslim Brotherhood, the United States found that, despite some concerns, its vital interests have been preserved so far by the policies of Cairo.

And to continue to protect these interests in a country and region in full uncertainty, Washington is seeking stability in Egypt. Any new outbreak of violence and instability, creating uncertainty about the political future of the country, will undermine and complicate the protection of American interests.

Patterson has been clear on this issue. "Egypt needs stability... more violence in the streets will only add new names to the list of martyrs," she said to the representatives of the opposition. In the same vein, she assured leaders of the Brotherhood that the United States opposed the opposition demand for early elections and supports the maintenance of the president until the end of his term.

The strategy followed by the Brotherhood does not seem to have shaken the determination of the opposition. Consequently, the presidential camp has opted for the same tactic of street demonstrations and sit-ins, as the Brotherhood and its supporters announced on 24 June, risking violent clashes with the opposition and a political stalemate.

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