THE DIFFICULT COEXISTENCE IN EGYPT BETWEEN THE REGIME AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERS
At the birth of the Confraternity in 1928, its founder, Skheykh Hassan al Banna, inspired by the ideology of moderate Sufism, gave the movement the same, moderate, characteristics.
The Confraternity was founded and spread in the 40's and 50's as an elitist movement that found its members among the higher-ranked employees and functionaries in the urban areas of Egypt. Only later will proselytism be extended to the middle class in rural areas.
There are, however, from the very beginning, two circumstances that are superimposed: officially, the movement is dedicated to a wide array of social activities that range from education to hospitals, assistance for derelicts, etc. (it is such parameters that allow the movement to find its social consensus), but at the same time, it has other, more political, goals. It is this second nature, that of spreading a 'politicized' Islam, that produces frictions with the governing authorities. In fact, the Brotherhood conceptually refutes the idea of a secular state.
The ideology that drives the political activity of the Muslim Brothers is that of fighting for a return to pure Islam (Salafism) by opposing everything that is not in line with the teachings of the Koran and of the Sunna; to pursue the islamization of governments in all countries by recurring to the methods that seem more fitting (including both legal and subversive means); to reinforce the social fabric for the religious education of the population; to achieve physical health (that's why the Brotherhood administers hospitals, gyms, health clinics); to promote scientific studies; to build economic structures for the benefit of the masses.
In practice – and to varying degrees – the Brotherhood aims at forming Islamic individuals in an Islamic society. On a higher level, they aim at ceating Muslim states and then, progressively, the Caliphate (which means the unity of all states Muslim). The final goal – and a very ambitious one at that – is to mold a world guided by Islam. It is an international program that was, however, based on the premise that Egypt, where the Brotherhood originated, would be the first piece of the puzzle to fall into place.
The first difficulties originated in the year 1937, when the country was governed by king Faruq, who was left on the throne by the British after a period during which Egypt was a protectorate of the UK. In 1948 the movement was banished because, following the murder of Prime Minister Nuqrashi, they were accused of carrying out political terrorism. On February 12, 1949, Al Banna was murdered. Then, in 1952, the coup d’état of the “Young officials” forced Faruq to abdicate. There followed a short period at the helm for General Mohammed Naguid, who was deposed by another General, Gamal Abdel Nasser, on the following year.
With Nasser in power, the tables are turned: the movement, which had previously been persecuted, is initially rehabilitated by Nasser. The peaceful coexistence is, however, short-lived: in 1954 the Muslim Brothers are accused to have ordained a plot to kill the President and are once again persecuted and arrested.
Then, in 1970, Nasser dies and is replaced by Anwar Sadat. And the tables are turned once more: in 1971, detained brothers are released and the leaders of the movement are allowed to carry out their activity once again. This new period of peace does not, however, budge the Confraternity from its strategic aims and claims. Within the movement, two juxtaposed currents emerge: one wants to continue the opposition against the regime by developing a 'political' Islam – with all of the subversive elements that this entails – while the other is willing to implement a collaboration with the regime by pursuing the aims of the movement within a legal framework.
But the mid-eastern events tilt the balance: Sadat wages another war against Israel; in 1975, he re-opens the Suez Canal – which had been closed since the six-day war. He signs the Camp David peace accords and visits Jerusalem.
Due to these peaceful initiatives, on October 6, 1981, Sadat is murdered by Islamic extremists, probably connected to the Brothers themselves.
The rise to power of yet another General, Hosni Mubarak, coincides with another wave of repression against the Brotherhood. The reign of Mubarak is a long one, 30 years during which the Movement is alternatively persecuted, then left alone. Periodically, its leaders are jailed, then released. The Movement is prohibited from carrying out official political activity, while the government closes an eye on individuals and formations that are notoriously tied to the Movement but do not profess that they are.
Then, in 2011, the Arab Spring comes along. This social upheaval doesn't see the Muslim Brothers in the front line, but allows them to come out in the open and ride the popular resentment. They are rehabilitated by the United States and manage to grab the popular consensus and power through their network of Mosques. They believe – erroneously – that the long span of military power is over and done with. Yet they are mistaken. When in power, they enact contradicting measures produced by an archaic vision of society. They do not liberalize or democratize society but rather try to impose their vision of the world onto others. The ingredients of their social recipe are religious obligations and impositions. They create discontent; they get into a collision course with the secular and illuminated part of the country; they get on the bad side of the Copt community (roughly 10% of the population of Egypt); they do not solve the economic woes of the poorer part of the country. In fact, they give the military the opportunity to ride the social malcontent – this time against them – generated by the population's worsening conditions.
And this time around their defeat is total. The heavy hand of General Al Sisi's repression brings about the complete destruction of the Movement's structures. The Murshad Alam (the Supreme Guide) Mohammed Badie is arrested, together with the most important members of the organization: the 80 members of the “Majlis al Shura”, or Consultative Assembly, the umbrella-secretariat for all the articulations of the Movement such as its proselytism (within the army, families, unions, students, public administration, etc.), its propaganda (publications, newspapers, magazines) and its social services. In addition, the 15 members of the Political Directorate (Maktab al Irshad) are also killed, jailed or put on the run. The Egyptian military tribunals have already passed hundreds of death sentences (about 10 of which have already been carried out). Badie himself has already been slapped with 4 life sentences and a capital sentence for inciting violence during the demonstrations following the military coup d’état in the region of Suez.
The deposed President Mohammed Morsi, who was ousted by Al Sisi, was also jailed and is currently standing trial for a myriad of crimes: inciting to kill demonstrators; espionage in favor of armed foreign factions (Hezbollah, Hamas and the Iranian Guardians of the Revolution) with whom Morsi would have elaborated terrorist conspiracies; espionage in favor of other countries (Qatar, that would have received “sensible” documents from Morsi); treason; insulting the judicial system; tax fraud with regards to the social and economic program approved during his presidency (the so-called “Nhada Project” or “Renaissance Project”); escaping from prison (during the revolution in 2011) and the consequent accessory to murder charge (some of the prison guards were killed). Mohammed Morsi has already been sentenced to 20 years in prison and to capital punishment, but other trials against him are still on-going.
In a way, Morsi embodies the story of the relationship between the Brotherhood and the regime: he was in parliament from 2002 to 2005 as an independent; he has already been a client of the Egyptian prisons during Mubarak's reign, in 2006 and in 2011 (not to mention various arrests and subsequent releases); then he became President and then prisoner again.
In practice, from June 24, 2012, the day of Morsi's election to the Presidency of the Republic with 51,73% of the votes, until July 3, 2013, when he was ousted by the military, the parentheses in power of the Brotherhood and of its party 'Justice and Liberty', has been inexorably exhausted. This was not due solely to Al Sisi's military coup, but to the failure of the Brotherhood's political, social and economic policies.
Thus the hands of time are back at their starting point, with the Muslim Brothers being arrested and persecuted again, only this time in a more systematic and brutal manner. Morsi falls, Mubarak is released: the course and recourse of history.
On December 25, 2013, the Muslim Brothers have been included in Egypt's list of terrorist organizations. Their properties and financial assets have been seized. On the past 21st of February, Hamas was also banished by a similar government measure.
The Muslim Brothers have thus returned underground, with all that which follows such condition. At a time when the Middle East is infested with terrorism and religious radicalism, the dropping out of the Brotherhood from the “legal” political scene doesn't only imply changes in Egypt's internal questions, but also casts dark shadows over the future of the organization at an international level.
Egypt has a historical tradition of giving birth to – apart from the Mulsim Brothers – other, more radical groups such as al Gama'a Islamiyah (“The Islamic Group”) and the Egyptian Jihad Islamiyah. These groups were founded in the 70's when the Bortherhood had renounced subversive activities. The two aforementioned organizations are affiliates of al Qaeda. Egyptian national Ayman Zawahiri, who took over al Qaeda after the killing of Osama bin Laden, has been a member of both organizations.
Egypt has been a fertile ground for important figures in the field of radical Islamic culture such as Sayyd Qubt, also a member of the Brotherhood, who was hanged by the regime on August 29, 1966. This serves to show that an 'underground' brotherhood is a potential threat not only for Egypt but for the entire Muslim world. The Movement is one of the most important associations in the Arab and Muslim world, where it has millions of adepts coming from every social echelon. It is an organization that has branches in over 70 countries and that administers an enormous amount of money, mostly the fruit of donations. The Brotherhood administers its wealth through a network of its own banks (such as Taqwa Bank) that operate throughout the globe, including Europe, and through a number of funds that are scattered in various tax heavens (Bhamas, Switzerland, Lichtenstein). The Brotherhood also owns magazines, publications, websites and every other media instrument useful for proselytism, without having to recur to the publicized violence of the ISIS, and this makes it more dangerous than the ISIS itself.
Presently, the Brotherhood – or rather, those that have escaped arrest – is going through an inner metamorphosis; it is turning into something more radical. The old leaders have been ousted/arrested/killed/made to flee and the new generations are directing the mounting resentment and violence towards the Egyptian authorities. And, in so doing, they are finding support – not only political and economic – in countries like Turkey and Qatar.
It is a crawling war in which – during the past two years – the regime has arrested over 40.000 individuals; roughly 2000 have been murdered in clashes and terrorist attacks; the vanishing of prisoners and torture is systematic and the hundreds of death sentences do not seem to slow the spiral of violence.
on the one side, there is an attempt to use repression to destroy one
of the world's most important political/religious organizations, on the
other side there is a radical front that is forming in Egypt. A front
that is subversive and armed, and which sees the Muslim Brothers
growing and tying knots with other organizations against the military
regime, even with the Beit al Maqdess, who are in turn affiliated to
the ISIS. The latest attacks in the Sinai and in Cairo are proof of it.