Egypt: Uncertain futures

Radicalise, reform or fragment: these are the options facing the Muslim Brotherhood – on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Dina Ezzat, April 3, 2014.

Most people expect that on 5 June that Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi will be inaugurated as Egypt’s new president. The recently resigned military chief officially announced his candidacy against a backdrop that includes — according to local and international human rights organisations — the detention of more than 20,000 Muslim Brotherhood members who face a raft of charges. Triple that number are thought to be on the run, either in Egypt or abroad.  

Within the Brotherhood, say sources, divisions have emerged between those who blame their current predicament on the “leniency” of policies adopted by Mohamed Morsi and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood during their year in power which allowed state bodies to garner public support and act against the elected president, and others who believe that the Guidance Bureau should have acted “with less intransigence and more openness towards political forces” and so have isolated its hard-core opponents.

This polarisation within the Muslim Brotherhood was already established before Al-Sisi’s announcement he was entering the presidential race. It was exacerbated when Brotherhood member Gamal Heshmat ignited an internal debate by issuing a public statement in which he said the group “could take a few steps back” if the authorities accommodated some of their demands … //

… Meanwhile, sources within the still operative Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), established as a political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood after the 25 January Revolution, say there are moves within the party to announce a full separation from the Brotherhood. This would allow for the FJP’s re-launch as a political party with an Islamist base to compete in parliamentary elections. But the strength of separatist feelings within the party remains difficult to gauge.

The future of the Muslim Brotherhood — whether it will radicalise, reform or fragment — lies not only in the hands of the group’s leadership but is also subject to the policies of the Egyptian authorities.

Sources close to Al-Sisi’s presidential team — both his campaign managers and advisory groups — say the overwhelming view is that now is the time to capitalise on widespread public resentment of the Muslim Brotherhood and eliminate the group for years to come.

Public disquiet with the Brotherhood has been fanned by trials involving the group’s leaders who face charges ranging from incitement to murder to high treason. The official line is very firm: the authorities do nothing to influence the prosecution in ordering the arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members, and do not interfere in the process of referral to criminal courts. The independence of the judiciary is regularly extolled by both the executive and the judiciary itself, statements that are downplayed by some legal activists.

What calls there were for reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood within official quarters have been roundly defeated. Which is not to say that the hawkish security establishment has won the argument: sources say there is a growing realisation that the confrontation cannot be allowed to go too far. Contrary to the prevailing wisdom of security bodies a consensus is growing that excessive use of force will force many brothers into more radical actions and fuel a wave of anger and violence at a time when Egypt desperately needs to attract foreign investment and tourists. Escalating confrontation will also prompt international condemnation just when the new authorities most require recognition.

And a policy of carrot and stick, argue the advocates of low level confrontation, could eventually turn out to be more effective in defeating the Brotherhood. It will lead to further arguments within the group’s ranks and bring the possibility of fragmentation closer.

Allowing Muslim Brotherhood members who are not facing legal charges to join parliamentary elections and to have some limited presence in parliament would indicate that Al-Sisi has opted for the carrot and stick rather than all out confrontation approach.

“He is undecided. There was a moment when he was willing to make a deal but is now more inclined to pursue a tough approach,” said one of Al-Sisi’s advisors.

In statements last Wednesday Al-Sisi said he plans “no exclusion and no political revenge against anyone”.

Amr Moussa, who some believe will be prime minister under an Al-Sisi presidency, insists that under the constitution all citizens are equal regardless of their political affiliations as long as they are not subject to legal charges and accept the provisions of the constitution.

Within the Brotherhood such statements are interpreted either as an attempt to deflect the “bloody reality of a dictator determined to eradicate all opposition” or else as signalling an end to the iron fist security approach so as to allow for the internal stability and external acceptance required for a successful presidency.

“Reconciliation is not on the agenda as such because it is unlikely that even after the inauguration of Al-Sisi the state will backtrack on its labelling of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorist organisaiton. What it might do is reduce the security roundups and seek to empower more moderate elements within the group, essentially from the younger ranks,” said a source close to Al-Sisi.

(full text).


Egypt: Pressing their case,  on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Khaled Dawoud, April 3, 2014: Hamdeen Sabahi’s chances to become Egypt’s next president might be slim but his campaign team promises a tough fight …;

Egypt: Muddying the course, on Al-Ahram weekly online, byAhmed Morsy , April 3, 2014: A new opposition movement is pressing for a presidential bid by Mohamed Al-Baradei … ;

Iraq: An unnoticed massacre, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Salah Nasrawi, April 3, 2014: The latest massacre in Iraq is just one more on an already long list of sectarian atrocities in the country …;

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