What is left of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt?

TRANSLATED BY MARIE PELTOMÄKI AND PROOFREAD BY RHONA KAPPLER

The year is 2012, and it is the inauguration of the newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi. Just a year later he is impeached and replaced by general Al-Sissi, who restores the military dictatorship. This marks the beginning of a severe repression that aims to eradicate the Brotherhood.

In June 2012, Egyptians were called to the polls for the first democratic elections in the country’s history. Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, won with a slight majority, 51.8% of the votes. But his presidency was short-lived: in July 2013, the army dismissed him and replaced him with General Al-Sissi, thus bringing back the military dictatorship in Egypt. The authorities then made every effort to silence the Muslim Brotherhood, founded almost a century ago. Members of this brotherhood are hunted down, driven out, imprisoned, even sentenced to death. In August 2013, the Rabaa massacre resulted in more than 1000 victims. In March 2014, more than 500 members were sentenced to death. Between April and May in 2016, 1300 people were arrested by security forces. Devastated, stripped of its leaders, cut off from its most active members, what remains of the Brotherhood today?

Freeing Egypt from British occupation and finding a new place for Islam

The story of the Muslim Brotherhood fluctuates between periods of expansion and repression by the authorities. Founded in 1928 by Hassan Al-Banna, the association has developed with tremendous speed. By 1932, the brotherhood had 15 branches, growing to 300 in 1938, then to 2000 in 1948, making up nearly one million members. Originally, it was created with two goals: to free the country from British occupation and to reintegrate the values of Islam into the heart of the social system. But after the assassination of its founder in 1949, a more extreme current developed within the Brotherhood and the Brothers chose political violence as a means of expression.

Nasser’s rise to power in 1952 marked an initial period of decline and dissolution of the organization. The 1960s were fraught with bloodshed: torture, camps, death sentences…

These dark years led the Brotherhood to assume the role of the victim, and since then they have cultivated a narrative of persecution. The brotherhood re-emerged in the 1970s thanks to an implicit compromise made by Sadate, Nasser’s successor. Recognized as a religious organization by Mubarak in 1984, the Brotherhood gained influence and became the second political force of the country during the legislative elections of 2005.

Social and charitable activities

Beyond ideological discourse, the Brotherhood plays an essential social role among poor populations, which explains the astonishing durability of the organization. Through social or charitable activities, it goes beyond the actions of the state by providing citizens with means of sustenance. It has gained legitimacy among the population while broadening considerably its popular base.

However, the methods used in recruiting new members reveal a sectarian nature. Targets are often isolated individuals, for instance provincial university students who are moving away from their families for the first time. The indoctrination of the new recruits is precise and methodical: incitement to religious practice, presentation to other members, and exposure to ideological propaganda.

From presidency to fragmentation

During the 2011 revolution, the Brotherhood managed to establish themselves as the only reliable and structured alternative to replace Mubarak. Their history has earned them political know-how and a social base that enabled them to win elections. And yet, they failed to stay in power. Morsi’s draft constitution was widely disputed, and his attempts to weaken the army were failing. The organization lacks transparency, and, unable to respond to the economic and social needs of the Egyptian people, are struggling to bring themselves out of the shadows.

After Al-Sissi’s crackdown on the organisation, the Brotherhood has suffered unprecedented internal fragmentation. Two movements claim to be the official representatives. On one side, the “old guard” in exile is trying to unite the members of a fragmented organization. On the other, a new “revolutionary path” carried out by young militants advocates for an internal reform of the organization and wants to break with the tradition of secrecy. Having suffered the oppression of the authorities, the Brotherhood considers the use of violence against the police or the army to be legitimate. In any case, the difficulties faced by the Brotherhood, from fierce government opposition to their own internal struggles, place the future of the Brotherhood in question. However, history has shown just how capable they are of renewal and reinvention.

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