Khalil al-Anani had a piece in the Daily Star the other day, which I missed, on the possible repercussions springing from the Egyptian regime’s ongoing crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood. These are the main points of the article:
- The recent spate of arrests, sympathetic press in independent papers such as al-Masry al-Youm and al-Dustour, as well as the tried and trusted state media, has resulted in the isolation of the Brotherhood in mainstream Egyptian society. However, the MB have never been more powerful, perhaps not domestically, but abroad and especially in Europe, and the organisation will outlast this particular onslaught.
- The regime’s relationship with the MB continues to mirror that faced by them under Nasser: having won so many seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections, the MB overstepped the mark somewhat with regards their supposedly accepted ‘quietist’ role in the Egyptian public sphere. That is, there was an understanding that charitable work and da’wah would be the only fields in which the MB would be allowed to operate. Post 2005, as the regime’s thoughts started to turn towards the post-Mubarak era and the question of succession, it has been decided to eradicate the Brotherhood once and for all, and in so doing keep the lid on the inevitable power struggle in the wake of President Mubarak’s ‘standing aside’.
- The MB have been unable to secure a broad-based coalition upon which the fight government oppression and other issues afflicting Egyptian society, and have, in turn, become disconnected from heir grassroots’ support/power base.
Al-Anani outlines seven likely scenarios:
- The crackdown could lead to mass disruption and civil unrest in the wake of economic turmoil and Egypt’s uncertain political future.
- The MB’s isolation could have unexpected knock-on effects such as the radicalisation of the organisation.
- Continued suppression could lead to the disenchantment of the young cadres turning on the MB’s leadership and splitting the organisation. The recent arrests have been seen by some as akin to the execution of Sayyed Qutb, and have expressed their dissatisfaction at what they see as a lack of political will on behalf of the leadership to confront the Mubarak regime.
- Arresting moderates in the organisation could secure short-term political capital, but generate long-term problems for the government if the MB left the centre ground.
- Radical Islamists movements could emerge amidst the MB’s tribulations, groups modelled on al-Gama’ah al-Islamiyyah that espouse violence as means of bridging the void between the state and religion.
- One possible scenario is the break-up of the MB into smaller, independent groups unfettered by a central command/leadership structure and possible more radical.
- Finally, the suppression could mirror the period in Algeria in the early 90’s when the Islamists were deprived of political power by a secularist-military alliance that culminated in the bloody feuds that continue to threaten peace in the country today.
It must be said that I disagree with al-Anani over his suggestion that the MB have become isolated from their popular support: those in Egyptian’s miniscule middle classes and more affluent social strata were never likely to endorse them and the recent arrests and consonant media revelations have done nothing to change that. Furthermore, the MB, despite not being able to capitalise fully on the lack of progress with the so-called Road Map and not forming a coalition with the civil rights movements as we witnessed a couple of years ago, are reaping the rewards of the communications strategy, particularly online. MB bloggers, as was borne out by the recent Harvard report into the Middle Eastern blogosphere, carry substantial weight domestically and across the Arab world. Furthermore, the Brotherhood’s alliances abroad, outside of the Middle East, appear to be bearing fruit as meetings with White House officials prior to President Obama’s speech in Cairo and the invitation of several Muslim Brothers to the event itself will testify.
No. The Brotherhood are a long way from finished yet and, together with Egypt’s burgeoning salafist movement, they have achieved respectable gains in their ongoing efforts to re-Islamise Egyptian society. The MB are here to stay.