Cracks within Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood showing

Sunday 11/12/2016
A May 2015 file picture shows Essam Sultan, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, speaking to a judge during the trial of Brotherhood members in a court on the outskirts of Cairo. (Reuters)

Cairo - The men behind bars in a Cairo courtroom had once voiced full support for Muhammad Badie, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now, however, they chanted: “Down with the rule of the supreme leader, down with all the men of the supreme leader”, who was being tried — as were those chanting — on charges of at­tacking a police station in 2013 and killing all the officers inside.
“Divisions have been demon­strating themselves inside the or­ganisation very clearly in the past two years,” said Kamal al-Helbawi, a former long-time member of the Brotherhood. “Junior and senior members are locked in an endless conflict over power and money.”
This seems to be more than a fight over who will get or control what or a generational divide within the movement, which was established in 1928 as an educational organisa­tion and is considered the mother of political Islam in the world.
The Brotherhood was in its hey­day in 2012, a year after the down­fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, when it won a majority of seats in parliament. A few months later, senior member Muhammad Morsi was elected president, becoming Egypt’s first Islamist and civilian president.
Morsi’s performance as presi­dent, however, failed the people, leading millions to take to the streets in 2013 to demand an end to his rule.
The army moved in to oust him, a move that triggered a wave of Mus­lim Brotherhood violence, includ­ing the torching of scores of police stations, churches and government offices and the killing of hundreds of police.
Hundreds of Brotherhood mem­bers and sympathisers were killed in confrontations with police and thousands, including Morsi and Badie, were imprisoned.
Although the slogans chanted by the Brotherhood members as Badie entered the dock November 27th were unprecedented, they were not the first indication that the move­ment was losing support, not only from the general public, but also from its members, experts said.
In 2012, the Brotherhood estimated its membership at 5 million but there were signs the organisation was starting to crack. An increasing number of people were abandoning it either because of the heavy-handed tactics by the security apparatus or because of the Brotherhood’s policies.
Sameh Eid, who spent almost three decades as a Brotherhood member and is an expert on Islam­ist movements, referred to several “fatal mistakes” committed by the Brotherhood’s leadership in the last three years.
“They resorted to violence, which contradicted their continual claim to peacefulness, and failed to have a practical vision for getting out of their crisis with the regime,” Eid said. “When they were in pow­er, they also failed to present solu­tions to their country’s problems.”
Having put almost all Brother­hood leaders in jail, the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi shut down the offices of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, froze Brotherhood-related assets, prevented funding to the movement from abroad and scared off supporters and sympathisers.
The government also neutral­ised the Brotherhood’s allies such Jamaat Islamiya and the ultraortho­dox Salafists, which left it alone in a battle for survival against the Sisi government.
The Brotherhood’s demise means that Egypt’s military establishment, which had provided the country its rulers for the 60 years before Morsi’s election and then returned to power after the Islamist president’s ouster, will likely continue to control Egypt’s rule.
Islamist political analyst Kamal Habib conceded that the Broth­erhood has entered what he de­scribed as a “dark tunnel” but said movements with ideologies such as the Brotherhood never completely go away.
“These movements may suffer weakness at times but they never die,” Habib said. “The Brotherhood, which has invented political Islam, is an idea and ideas never die.”