A difficult reconciliation in Egypt
The declarations, messages and signals that floated recently on the Egyptian political scene had many observers saying that both the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood were seeking reconciliation. Immediately, pro-Muslim Brotherhood figures began putting forward ambitious conditions in the hope of obtaining the minimum from the regime.
The government side was rather quiet. When it spoke, it was usually in general and vague terms, placing the ball in the people’s camp and reiterating that, if the people accepted reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, then the government would, too.
What is unusual in this is that the voices coming from the Brotherhood camp are being raised at a time when the government succeeded in breaking the bones of large segments of the movement and its armed militia. So the regime definitely does not have to accept now what it refused when the Brotherhood was powerful. In addition, the regime can find in Donald Trump’s election as US president enough ammunition to continue its campaign against the Brotherhood.
Be that as it may, recent court decisions overturning the death sentences against some members of the Muslim Brotherhood may have been understood by the group as a sign of political readiness for reconciliation.
Ironically, the Muslim Brotherhood has always accused Egyptian courts of being “partial and blind to the truth” but, after the recent sentence reductions, it adopted a rather positive view of the judiciary system in Egypt, accepting the premise that some legal decisions are subject to political considerations.
Most analyses of the situation in Egypt favour the view that a reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely even with popular support for it. Many in pro-regime political, security, economic and media circles in Egypt find it in their interest that the conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood be perpetuated. They believe that a return of the Brotherhood to the public scene might threaten their interests and endanger their hold on political power.
From its side, the Muslim Brotherhood seems to want to get rid of the accusations about its role in violence in Egypt and the region. It wants to appear flexible and put forth the image that it has always adopted and will always choose a moderate approach and that it is the regime that is responsible for aborting reconciliatory efforts. This was essentially the gist of declarations by Ibrahim Munir, the Brotherhood’s deputy supreme guide.
Another reason for the Brotherhood’s apparent flexibility is the deterioration of international backing, especially considering that, for the past three years, this support has not produced the anticipated results: The Brotherhood has not returned to power, pro-Brotherhood former president Muhammad Morsi is still in prison and the regime is still intact.
On the contrary, it is the Brotherhood that is showing cracks. The gap and disagreements between the old guard of the Brotherhood and the younger brothers are multiplying and the Brotherhood is losing its appeal among the general public.
The Egyptian regime is gaining in strength and, contrary to the Brotherhood’s propaganda, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s popularity is on the rise. Given the similarity in Sisi’s and Trump’s positions on terrorism, the Brotherhood might find itself in hot water unless it takes pre-emptive measures to extricate itself from the wave of violence sweeping across the region.
All of the factors mentioned above constrain the Muslim Brotherhood’s position and views. The Egyptian regime knows that very well and is convinced of its strong position. Therefore, it will not opt for the reconciliation path before it clips the major talons of the Brotherhood and returns it to its former cage, the one it was in under deposed president Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
To recapture its position as a political party, the Brotherhood must regenerate itself in a form that will be acceptable to the population. This is why reconciliation remains quite difficult to achieve for both sides.