The strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood

Hicham Mourad , Thursday 28 Nov 2013

Egypt's largest Islamist organisation has adopted a strategy of defiance and resistance since the fall of president Mohammad Morsi. Will it pay off?

Since the start of Mohamed Morsi's trial on 4 November, the question arises of the strategy to be followed by the Muslim Brotherhood. This question arose in reality since his removal as president on 3 July.

The trial, in itself, is a major event, because on the one hand, it demonstrates the authorities' determination to crackdown on the Brotherhood and try its leaders, accused, among other things, of incitement to violence. On the other hand, it is a test to measure the nature and extent of the reaction of the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood has so far adopted a defiant attitude against the decisions and actions taken by the interim government against the group. Since the dismissal of Morsi, the Brotherhood have held an ideological discourse describing the overthrow of its leader as a plot hatched by the army and the secularists, in collusion with the West, against the Islamic project it claims to represent, and against Islam in general. Its goal was to galvanise its troops and win the sympathy of a largely religious population. The rhetoric of the Brotherhood defends the "legitimacy" of a democratically elected president against what it describes as a coup instigated by the army.

This second component of its discourse mainly targets the Western world supposed to be attached to the defence of democracy. The violent repression of the Brotherhood, following the overthrow of Morsi, was also exploited to propagate the idea of "victimisation" in order to win the sympathy of at least a part of the local as well as world public opinion, governments and human rights organisations included.

Corollary of this attitude of defiance, the Brotherhood has launched since July a campaign of permanent demonstrations against the interim government, the police and the army. Although its ability to mobilise has proved increasingly difficult, the Brotherhood has shown a determination to pay the price of these continuous protests in terms of casualties, injuries and arrests.

This price, although paid dearly, serves the purpose of victimisation. But it also serves the medium-term objective of the group, namely the failure of the interim government and of the entire transition process. This stems from the fact that the Brotherhood continues to refuse to recognize the new reality, born on 3 July, and still expects its return in one way or another to power.

To achieve this, it seeks, by permanent protests, to make life hard for the government: unrest and clashes in the capital and major cities, roads blocked, disruptions to public transport, huge and frequent traffic jams in the streets of Cairo due to demonstrations, teaching disrupted at universities, security threats on property and public buildings.

Not to mention the rise of terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula, partly related to the Brotherhood's eviction from power. These actions are designed to worsen the state of political and security instability, economic and social difficulties, economic stagnation, decline or halt of social and infrastructure projects, increase unemployment, dry up foreign and local investment, reduce revenues from tourism, which is a vital source of foreign currency, etc...

All of these phenomena should, the Brotherhood believes, put the government in a quandary facing citizens who, before the difficulties of daily life, would turn against the regime. This, hopes the Brotherhood, will cause its downfall or push it to accept to conclude an advantageous deal for the Brotherhood. The objective of the Brotherhood is to delegitimise the regime and the transition process, which the group denounces as "undemocratic" and "not inclusive".

The strategy of "defiance" or "resistance" adopted by the Brotherhood, which results in the persistence of low intensity violence, is explained primarily by the willingness of its leadership to maintain the cohesion of the group against the repression by the authorities. Making "concessions" to reach an agreement or a "reconciliation" with the regime and to reinstate the legal political life, would be considered within the group as a "betrayal" of the martyrs who have fallen since the overthrow of Morsi, precisely because of this same strategy, dictated by the leadership, of confrontation with the regime.

Hence, it would be difficult, in the short term, for the Brotherhood to makes this step, because it would mean that it recognises that its strategy followed so far was a mistake. Nobody in the group dare do so, especially given the fact that all its leaders are detained pending trial. It would also and above all take the risk to break the Brotherhood between those, a minority, who are willing to compromise with the interim authorities and those, a majority, particularly in the leadership, who reject any agreement with them.

Will the Brotherhood strategy pay off? Nothing is sure. The Brotherhood counts on the failure of the current regime and of the one who will succeed it after the holding of legislative and presidential elections, thanks to its strategy of permanent protests. This weapon is double-edged and can return in the same way, against the Brotherhood, because, even if some citizens can sympathise with the Brotherhood because of the repression it suffers, the majority of Egyptians make it bear the responsibility for their daily and economic difficulties due to the continuation of political and security instability. Proof: the demonstrations of the Brotherhood often degenerate into clashes with residents of the neighborhoods they pass through. Many also associate the rise of terrorism with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The army, which is the main enemy of the Brotherhood because it was the tool of the dismissal of Morsi, enjoys a certain resurgence in popularity, precisely because of its overthrow the Brotherhood regime. At the point of witnessing a phenomenon of Sisi-mania, by reference to army chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi who, if he decided to run in the next presidential election, would probably prevail.

The Brotherhood, however, remains a political force to be reckoned with. It maintains a presence on the ground, despite its decline. It can benefit from the opening of the political space, in place since the fall of Hosni Mubarak. Because, even in the case of a ban on its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, the members of the Brotherhood could stand as independents for the next parliamentary elections and win some political representation.

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