Mixed reactions to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood junior members’ initiative

There are fears that the proposed revisions might be a tactic for Brotherhood members to get out of prison and return to violent activities.
Sunday 28/04/2019
A 2014 file picture shows supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood gesturing from the defendants’ cage during a trial in Alexandria.  (AP)
A question of trust. A 2014 file picture shows supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood gesturing from the defendants’ cage during a trial in Alexandria. (AP)

Cairo - A reconciliation initiative offered by jailed junior members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood received mixed reactions, with security experts warning against the move and some political analysts supporting it.

“Such initiatives are more a political show than a desire by these people to correct their ideas,” said Khaled Okasha, a member of the Supreme Anti-Terrorism Council, an advisory body of the Egyptian presidency. “Experience shows that these movements propose revisions only to gain a renewed presence on the political stage.”

Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members were arrested for suspected involvement in violence in Egypt following the July 2013 ouster of Islamist President Muhammad Morsi. Other members of the group were arrested after the government designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist group in December 2013.

However, some Brotherhood inmates have proposed an initiative for reconciliation with the government. In a letter to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Muslim Brotherhood members reportedly vowed to renounce violence and end ties with the outlawed group, recognising Morsi’s ouster as the outcome of a popular uprising and embracing a more moderate ideology.

Egyptian media reports said the junior Brotherhood members said they would work to convince other inmates to renounce violence, in addition to pledging to stay away from political activity inside and outside the country.

In return, they want official pardons from Sisi and release from jail.

“Young people should be at the mosques, the schools and the unions, not in the jails,” the junior Brotherhood members wrote.

The Egyptian government has not officially commented on the reconciliation proposal but a member of the National Council for Human Rights said it had formed a working group to assess such initiatives.

Mukhtar Nouh, a former member of the Brotherhood and a member of the council, told Egypt’s privately owned Ten TV that the new group aimed to ensure that the proposed revision was genuine.

Initiatives such as this, experts on political Islam said, should not be taken lightly, particularly considering the campaign by the government against political Islam.

If thousands of young Muslim Brotherhood members renounce violence, this can only be viewed as a victory for the state, analysts said, particularly because senior members of the group in exile in Qatar and Turkey appear keen to continue the fight.

“It is better for these junior members to be pardoned and integrated back into society,” said Sameh Eid, an expert on political Islam.

Eid warned that junior Brotherhood members in jail are at risk of radicalisation but news that large numbers of Muslim Brotherhood members were renouncing the group would serve as an important public relations victory and sap the strength of the organisation.

“Junior members are like fuel, whether in the case of the Brotherhood or any other Islamist movement,” Eid said.

However, there are fears that the proposed revisions might be a tactic for Brotherhood members to get out of prison and return to violent activities.

The biggest ideological revisions were conducted in local jails in the 1990s when members of Jamaa Islamiyya, which assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981, renounced violence.

Some of those members have turned into icons of peaceful activism. One of those was Nageh Ibrahim, a founder of the movement who is a leading campaigner against Islamist violence.

There are also examples of Islamists who feigned a change of views but returned to violence once they were set free. Some of the founders of the Sinai militia that became the Islamic State were released from jail after their sentences were commuted following the 2011 uprising against President Hosni Mubarak.

This is why, experts said, the proposed initiative should not be approved lightly.

“Instances of Islamists who were pardoned and then returned to violence abound,” said Hesham al-Najjar, another political Islam specialist. “Those conducting the revisions can be given preferential treatment in the jails but setting them free can be very risky.”

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