Four years after losing Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood in tatters

Sunday 02/07/2017
Routed. Supporters of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi cheer at soldiers during a demonstration against the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups at Tahrir Square in Cairo in November 2014. (Reuters)

Cairo- On June 30, 2012, Muslim Brotherhood figure Mu­hammad Morsi took the oath of office, becoming Egypt’s president and fulfilling a more than an 80-year political project.

A year later, millions of Egyp­tians took to the streets, protesting Morsi’s rule. Four years on and the Muslim Brotherhood is out of poli­tics in Egypt, designated as a ter­rorist group and devoid of any real popular support in the country of its birth.

“Look at the Brotherhood now,” said Mokhtar Noah, a former mem­ber of the group. “It has never been weaker.”

The Muslim Brotherhood is in tatters, with half of its leaders in jail and the other half in exile. Sup­port for the group is at an all-time low amid rejection of the group’s violent rhetoric after Morsi’s ouster and because of the government’s massive security clampdown.

This, however, is less about the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt than the state of political Islam throughout the Arab region, ex­perts said.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Mo­rocco following the “Arab spring” emboldened its branches in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere to push for change.

“This was why this rise was cautiously welcomed in the Gulf, where Brotherhood sleeper cells awaited their moment of empow­erment,” said Ekram Badr el-Din, a political science professor at Cairo University. “The Muslim Brother­hood wanted to rule everywhere, even though it did not have a prac­tical programme.”

In Egypt, the group’s develop­ment programme, known as the Renaissance Project, was hardly successful. Economic development stalled and Muslim Brotherhood leaders — until then an unofficial opposition group — seemed more interested in pushing for the Is­lamisation of society than securing economic development.

Deputy Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Leader Khairat el-Shater conceded in 2013 that the project was only a set of random thoughts, not a full programme for Egypt’s development.

This lack of real solutions caused the group’s failure in Egypt, Noah said.

“They did not expect to come to power so early, which was why they were not prepared when this happened,” he said. The Muslim Brotherhood initially said it would not put forward a presidential can­didate after Egypt’s 2011 revolution but did so.

Morsi’s year in office was full of controversy, failings and public discontent. He entrenched division rather than seeking to unify ranks after a divisive post-revolutionary period and the Brotherhood proved to be full of political novices.

Following a series of political and judicial crises, along with concerns from Egypt’s military about the di­rection the country was heading, Morsi’s ouster was assured.

“When Egyptians rose up against him, there was nobody to defend him but the members of his move­ment, only a fraction of the popula­tion,” Badr el-Din said.

The end of the Brotherhood’s project in Egypt, the uncertain prospects of the group’s affiliates in other North African countries and the regional move to designate it a terrorist group demonstrate that political Islam is on the way out, experts said.

However, the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) across the region, as well as the resurgence of al-Qaeda in many areas, remains a major cause for concern.

In early 2013, senior Islamist figure Tarek al-Zomor, who spent nearly three decades in jail for par­ticipating in the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, made a comment that was viewed as prescient.

Zomor said Islamist movements would not resort to violence so long as change via political means was possible.

“Violence only happens when there is no hope of change via polit­ical means,” Zomor told the private Egyptian Dream TV.

In 2012, Zomor and other Islam­ists from Jamaat Islamiya formed the Building and Development Party. When Morsi was ousted, he fled to Turkey, like many other Is­lamists.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brother­hood has been routed and ultra-orthodox Salafist parties have seen their support wane. The rest of the region is also witnessing a general state of fatigue towards Islamist groups. Is this the end of the politi­cal Islam project in the region?

“It all depends on whether these states will present a success­ful model of the secular rule that solves the problems of their citi­zens,” said Sameh Eid, an expert on Islamist groups. “This model’s suc­cess will make it difficult for Islam­ists to claim that they hold the keys to a better future.”