Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood

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In this post I hope to give a brief history of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, their role in the Egyptian Revolution when the Arab Spring first began, and now their current position in post-Morsi Egypt.

Coming up on its third year of political and social unrest since the uprisings began on January 25, 2011, Egypt, like other countries from the Arab Spring, is still lacking ideological unification and struggling to elect a representative leader of all the Egyptian people.

On what was Christmas Day for us in the United States, the Egyptian government declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, thereby making participation and aid to the group illegal. In what was said to be a response  to a car bombing in the northern city of Mansoura, the Egyptian government offered no evidence to criminally link the Muslim Brotherhood to the attack. Now this proclamation by the interim government is interesting for several reasons: a) the Muslim Brotherhood officially states that it is a nonviolent organization and actually condemned the Mansoura attack on its twitter feed; b) the labeling of the Brotherhood as a terrorist group, and the subsequent seizing of Brotherhood assets, effectively cuts off the financial streams to the Brotherhood’s entire network of charitable services amid huge economic decay; c) being the largest opposition group in Egypt, the vast population of members of the Muslim Brotherhood are now susceptible to prosecution under Egyptian law.

When Morsi was ousted from power in July, the military claimed it was in response to ongoing protests  across the country where they gave the ultimatum to Morsi to impose order.  When Morsi failed to maintain control, he was overthrown and the constitution suspended, leading the way for months of more protests and violence to unfold; here in lies  the ironic thing about the post-coup rule by the military-backed government. Under Morsi’s rule, freedom of speech and assembly were much more protected than under either of the regimes of Mubarak or the military. Morsi emphasized the importance of free speech and freedom of the press, saying, “In this critical state, the Egyptian media needs to be liberated from the legacy of the ousted regime,” (Morsi). He released, pardoned, and reduced the jail time for political prisoners during the Tahrir protests, as well as “issued a law banning the detention of journalists for media-related offenses.

And now we come to post-Morsi Egypt where protests continue on an almost daily basis, violence is widespread across the nation and now democracy is being eroded while the largest political party in Egypt is made illegal. And for what? “Terrorist activity”?

The Muslim Brotherhood has evolved significantly from its original stance on using violence as political tool, where in their early days, violence or coercion was considered an acceptable method of persuasion. Officially adopting a nonviolent philosophy, the group has advocated using legitimate political process to gain power and propagate their political positions. By utilizing preexisting electoral structures, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to gain support from local communities who saw it as a legitimate political party. In this way, the Muslim Brotherhood was able to garner support and maintain its influence even under oppressive regimes like Nasser and Mubarak.

In the same way I expect the Muslim Brotherhood to secretly thrive in the shadows of Egyptian society. The new challenge, however, is that the exposure of Brotherhood leadership as a result of government participation has led to top MB officials being imprisoned. Whereas under Mubarak and Nasser the Brotherhood operated underground, now it is as if the organization has been cut off at the head. No leaders. No funding. And the threat of torture and imprisonment under a government with little judicial oversight.

Just as it was difficult to distinguish between the rhetoric of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood while Morsi was in power (he officially left the Brotherhood to become President), it is now difficult to determine whether national protests are the result of organized action, or just the manifestation of a tired and broken population who have suffered three years of revolution.

As the protests wear on and the government continues to operate without proper authority, it is becomes obvious that more and more people are become increasingly desperate. Before the uprising, tourism was a vital source of revenue for the country, especially in the north. With all of the political and social unrest that has been going on, the economic conditions that helped initially spark the protests have become even worse. The Brotherhood provided social services to impoverished people, particularly in the rural areas of Egypt. In this way, they gained legitimacy and support from the population while filling in the gaps left by the government. And now, as the Muslim Brotherhood is branded a terrorist organization and their bank accounts frozen, all the people who benefited from those services will be without help.

If the interim government thinks they can minimize violence and protests by subjugating more of the Egyptian people to lives of poverty and injustice, then I expect that they’ll find even more elevated levels of protest.

For Egypt to establish order and save its economy, it needs to protect the interests of its population. By creating viable channels for political participation, jobs for the unemployed, health and education for people not just in Cairo or the big cities but also the rural districts, then I think they will be able to start the road to recovery. By rejuvenating the tourism sector, creating incentives for foreign investors, and establishing a system for its citizens to air their grievances towards the government, then the interim government can actually start doing some good.