By Khalil El-Anani
July 08, 2009
Hypothetical question: What would happen if Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Mahdi Akef was arrested?
Hypothetical answer: Nothing.
The Egyptian regime has succeeded in scaring the society from and neutralizing it regarding the Muslim Brotherhood. But at the same time it did not succeed in eradicating the Brotherhood from the Egyptian society. The group remains steadfast in the face of the regime’s crackdown.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the relationship between the two parties have changed from a mere political confrontation to “us or them” type of battle.
Over the past few weeks about five members of the group’s Guidance Office have been arrested — the first time since the 1954 Al-Manshiya incident in which the Muslim Brotherhood was accused of attempting the assassination of President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Over the past quarter of a century (1981-2006) the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Mubarak regime was based on a simple implicit equation known to all: namely allowing the group to play its religious (preaching) and social role (charity) on the condition of not threatening the political survival of the regime.
The two parties have applied this equation until the early 2000s, when the regime turned against the group. This became evident after the 2005 parliamentary elections when the group achieved a historic victory that shook the ground under the feet of the ruling party.
Since the beginning of 2006 the Egyptian regime has been applying a comprehensive strategy aimed at isolating the Muslim Brotherhood socially and undermining them economically in preparation to eradicate them completely from political life and transform the group into an antique that can be placed in the Egyptian Museum. Therefore, the problem of the regime with the Brotherhood isn’t merely electoral bickering or a media battle anymore, but rather a problem of survival and existential threat.
The Brotherhood has failed to face the regime’s strategy and has committed grave mistakes, notably its inability to form a national coalition to confront the regime’s oppression, in addition to the large distance separating the Brotherhood and the society resulting in the group’s isolation from its grassroots.
Mubarak’s regime has gotten us used to the fact that the more the regime oppresses the Muslim Brotherhood the more this indicates that the regime has an intention to hold dialogue with them behind the scenes in preparation for political bargains between them.
It must be noted that the recent crackdown on the group comes amid talks about power inheritance in Egypt and the dissolution of the People’s Assembly scenarios, not to mention the heated conflict between the old and the new guards within the ruling party.
Although the Egyptian regime would not scruple to uproot the Muslim Brotherhood from the Egyptian soil — certainly it won’t be able to do what its predecessors (Abdel Nasser and Sadat) couldn’t — the Egyptian society would pay a heavy price as a result of the nihilistic confrontation between the regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Firstly, the stepped up crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood could increase the polarization within the Egyptian scene, which is already boiling over other many political, economic and social factors.
Secondly, the political and religious isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood could contribute to the emergence of either more superficial or stricter religious discourse.
Thirdly, the increased suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood could force some of the group’s grassroots to turn on their leaders and stage violent protests or call for civil disobedience.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the arrest of the group’s leading reformers, led by Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, is tantamount to the execution of Sayyid Qutb in mid 1960s of the last century and its far-reaching repercussions on the Muslim Brotherhood’s young generation and the other young religious enthusiasts at the time.
It is enough to look at the Muslim Brotherhood discussion boards and blogs to find out the extent of resentment and tension among the Brotherhood grassroots after the arrest of Aboul Fotouh, and their appeals to the group’s leaders to move and to take firm positions against the regime.
Fourth, the arrest of the group’s reformists and moderates could throw the group into intolerance and conservatism. This could benefit the regime temporarily, but it could adversely affect the society on the long run.
Fifth, the isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood could contribute to the emergence of radical religious movements seeking to fill the religious and political gap between the state and the society.
Sixth, the targeting of the Muslim Brotherhood could lead to its breakup and fragmentation of the group into smaller groups and pockets that do not abide by the decisions of their leaders.
Finally, the regime’s oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood could lead to the repetition of the Algerian model in the early 1990s when the military and secularists turned on democracy and deprived the Islamists of their legitimate gains, turning Algeria into a pool of blood still bleeding to the very moment, which we do not wish to happen in Egypt.
Khalil Al-Anani is an expert on Political Islam and Deputy Editor of Al Siyassa Al Dawliya journal published by Al-Ahram Foundation.