Seven years after Morsi’s fall, Egypt’s Brotherhood still down and out

Islamists in Egypt are pinning their hopes on the Biden administration. But experts believe the adventures in political Islam of the last decade are unlikely to appeal to Washington this time around, especially given the Brotherhood’s suspected links to destabilising violence in Sinai and elsewhere.
Friday 22/01/2021
Supporters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood take part in a rally near the Egyptian embassy in Ankara on April 18, 2014. (AFP)
Supporters of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood take part in a rally near the Egyptian embassy in Ankara on April 18, 2014. (AFP)

CAIRO – Egypt is reportedly upping security measures ahead of the anniversary of the revolution and amid Muslim Brotherhood efforts to rattle the political order by stirring up anger at the lack of political freedoms and increasing prices in the country.

The revolution on January 25, 2011 deposed former President Hosni Mubarak, who had been in office for 30 years. The longtime ruler eyed a dynasty by grooming his son to succeed him. The revolution revived Egyptians’ hopes that a better future could be achieved, politically and economically.

However, it opened the door to unprecedented economic problems. Deteriorating security conditions led to the flight of foreign investment and the near total freeze of the tourism sector, worsening Egyptians’ living conditions.

The uprising allowed Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, to rise politically. The Brotherhood won a majority of seats in parliament and its candidate, Muhammad Morsi, became president.

However, political and economic mismanagement gave rise to another revolutionary wave in mid-2013.

That action was backed by the Egyptian Army, which offered protection to anti-Brotherhood demonstrators.

The army asked Morsi to either initiate reforms or call snap presidential elections. Morsi turned down both demands, leading to his arrest and removal from power.

Since then, the Muslim Brotherhood, which enjoys support from Qatar and Turkey, both regional ideological adversaries of Egypt, has tried to return to power, including by waging a media war against Sisi. It has also been suspected of involvement in extremist violence.

— Terrorist label —

Now with it being hounded by Egyptian authorities, the Muslim Brotherhood claims it sees “a new revolution” sweeping aside the current regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“No injustice can last forever,” Talaat Fahmy, the Islamic movement’s official spokesman, said in Istanbul.

“People’s patience and ability to tolerate what is happening is not eternal. A street uprising is inevitable, although I cannot predict a precise date.”

“The Muslim Brotherhood movement is 93 years old and it has seen similar travails under (former Egyptian president) Gamal Abdel Nasser from 1954 until the release of its leaders from prison in 1974,” said Fahmy.

“The group did not disappear. It did not cut off contacts with those members over all those years. The Muslim Brotherhood knows how to communicate with its members, adapting to the security and political circumstances,” he claimed.

Jailed eight times during the three-decade rule of Mubarak, Fahmy left Egypt and settled in Istanbul in 2015 after spending two years in prison under Sisi.

The Brotherhood was founded in 1928 by Islamic scholar Hassan al-Banna as a pan-Islamic religious, social and charitable movement with the core message “Islam is the solution.” Even in those early days, it was suspected of involvement in violent plots.

Long denied a role in mainstream Egyptian politics, it emerged as a major popular force in the Muslim country after the mass protests.

It went on to score ballot-box victories that propelled members of its allied Freedom and Justice Party into parliament, and Morsi to the presidency.

However, his government soon came under fire for its perceived incompetence, which sparked yet more street protests.

Egyptian rights activist Mohamed Lotfy, who serves as the executive director of the Cairo-based Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF), browses images of detained activists on his laptop in the capital Cairo on January 10, 2020. (AFP)
Egyptian rights activist Mohamed Lotfy, who serves as the executive director of the Cairo-based Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom (ECRF), browses images of detained activists on his laptop in the capital Cairo on January 10, 2020. (AFP)

Morsi’s short-lived rule ended with his ouster in 2013 by an army-backed mass uprising, after security forces dispersed a sit-in protest in support of Morsi that left some 800 people dead.

Senior Brotherhood leaders and thousands of members have been jailed or fled to Qatar and Turkey, the two regional players that backed Morsi’s rule. Ankara and Doha provided them with refuge and political support.

Egypt’s allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, also went on to outlaw the Brotherhood as terrorists, deepening a rift with Ankara and Doha.

— “Existential battle” —

Its claimed attempts at a comeback are not matched by facts on the ground.

The Brotherhood has gone through “an unprecedented disruption on all levels,” said political scientist Kamal Habib.

“The current regime’s relationship with the organisation has become an existential battle. It is no longer just a political dispute.”

Habib argued that the group’s one year in power “shook its image” and laid bare its “incapacity to rule.”

The group had relied heavily on its historic legacy but “this ancient heritage no longer fits the modern generation,” he said.

Lebanese Middle East researcher Hadi Wahab argued that during its rule, the Brotherhood failed to “present an alternative economic or political project.”

Following Morsi’s ouster, militant attacks have surged across Egypt, targeting security personnel, high-profile figures and tourists.

The worst unrest has rocked the restive North Sinai, where an affiliate of ISIS remains active.

Egyptian authorities have blamed the Brotherhood for the violence — a charge the group has always denied. Many experts in Egypt saw a link between the Brotherhood’s “youth wing” and terrorist acts in Egypt during the last few years.

Last year, Sisi said he would not “reconcile with those who want to destroy my country and harm my people and my children,” condemning militants as having “no conscience, humanity or religion.”

After Joe Biden won the US presidential election against Sisi-ally Donald Trump, the Brotherhood urged Washington “to review the policies of supporting dictatorships.”

Analysts, however, do not see the Biden administration changing the status quo in Egypt.

Islamists in Egypt are pinning their hopes on the Biden administration. But experts believe the adventures in political Islam of the last decade are unlikely to appeal to Washington this time around, especially given the Brotherhood’s suspected links to destabilising violence in Sinai and elsewhere.

Habib said it may work toward the goal of “improving the human rights situation… (but) not the Brotherhood’s return.”