The choices of the Muslim Brotherhood

Said Shehata , Thursday 25 Jul 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood faces a critical choice: carry on trying to bring Morsi back and embrace political suicide, or bow to the prevailing winds, withdraw, regroup, and live to fight another day

It can be argued that the Muslim Brotherhood have only two options left to deal with their dilemma. They can continue demonstrations, sit- ins and carrying weapons to engage in violent acts. This could lead to severe damage to the organisation itself. Or they could be wise and withdraw from the street after striking a deal with the army. This deal should be guaranteed through an honest broker to tackle mistrust between the two sides.

It seems from developing events in Sinai, Rabaa Al-Adawiya and the recent killings of some protesters in Tahrir Square after clashes between pro and anti-Morsi supporters, that the first option prevails. It is a suicide for the Muslim Brotherhood group if the daily level of violence and clashes continues for long. The inhabitants of Rabaa expressed their anger and frustration at pro-Morsi supporters commandeering their neighbourhood. So it is a matter of time before protesters are forcibly evacuated from this area.

It is believed that the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, especially the supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, and Mohamed Al-Beltagi, might put the group and Egypt in danger of escalated violence and instability. They are in denial that the ousted president cannot return to office. There is an imbalance of power between them and the current regime. It looks like they did not learn the lesson of their confrontation with President Nasser in the 1950s. The group's leadership at the time refused what Nasser offered them, and wanted to be in a leading position. They should read what happened in front of the Republican Guard compound as a sign of who has the upper hand if it comes to using force to settle differences. This scenario is suicide and a historical sin by the organisation's current leadership. It is also against the interests of Egypt, which needs to tackle pressing economic issues such as employment, food insecurity and poverty.

The other option requires mediation between the army and the group's leadership. The current regime should engage with the second generation of Islamists if the first generation and current leadership are unwilling to negotiate a solution in order to stop violence and disturbance in the daily life of Egyptians. Badie, the supreme guide, Al-Beltagi and others have a historic responsibility to read the political scene and bow to the public interest in Egypt. The US, the EU, Qatar and Saudi Arabia could sponsor a deal that protects the organisation from oppression and facilitates their involvement in the transitional period. Excluding pro-Morsi currents will be a disaster since they are Egyptians and might resort to violence as Islamists did in the 1940s, 1980s and 1990s. There is anger within the organisation with regard to the management of the crisis by the supreme guide, and those angry voices could be the new generation of Muslim Brotherhood leaders that can be involved in negotiations if the current leadership refuses any deal to end tensions and violence.

It should be noted that it was the first time in its history since 1928 that the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, and that it is very hard for them to let go without a fight. Throughout the history of the organisation, using force and violence was a main characteristic when they are — or think they are — powerful. For example, the assassination of Al-Noukrashi, the prime minister, in 1948 was a clear example. In addition, they view the political game as zero-sum where they win everything or lose the same. Thus they tried to control all parliamentary committees after they won a majority in elections in 2012. I asked Mohamed Al-Beltagi in a meeting to avoid the logic of controlling everything and excluding others. Although he promised to think about it, nothing happened. This carried on when ousted president Morsi put his people all across the state apparatus.

When they are weak the Muslim Brotherhood tends to cooperate with others and accept compromises. For example, during the Mubarak era they did not compete in many parliamentarian seats. They did not nominate anyone from their members to be chairman of any professional syndicate.

It can be said that they are still strong but have lost credibility amongst Egyptians since they came to power. They are not victims anymore, as they were stereotyped for a long time. They are not in a strong position in comparison to the pre-January 25 Revolution period.  

The ideal scenario for the Muslim Brothers and Egypt is to strike a deal with the current regime. They should learn from their founder, Hassan Al-Banna, when he withdrew his candidacy for parliament in return for more branches for the organisation and the closing of brothels.

Finally, it should be noted that the Islamic project in the Arab world is almost over in the foreseeable future. It is up to the organisation's leadership to protect itself from being targeted in Egypt since they are against a wide sector of society and the state apparatus.

I defended the Muslim Brotherhood for years and I still believe that they should be included in the political scene. They could weaken their group if they escalate a war to bring Morsi back. And if this happens the organisation will be very weak for decades. I think and hope that the voice of wisdom will lead to a deal to end violence and instability.

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