Home / TOPICS / Geopolitics / Will Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Implode from Within?

Will Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Implode from Within?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The most probable answer to this question is: No. Yet, the almost 90 year old organization is suffering considerable internal cracks that should convince all observers to rephrase the question to become: What kind of a new organization will emerge from the current phase of both internal and external pressures?

The elements of whatever will emerge from this new phase in the evolution of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will be determined by the interaction between two interlinked kinds of pressures currently reshaping the group: internal struggle and factionalization on the one hand, and the authorities’ crack down on the other. This whole process is grounded on the one year the organization ruled Egypt which culminated in toppling former President Mohamed Morsi. The failure of the group to govern, due to its nature and the persistent obstacles created by its adversaries, resulted in a deep internal crisis and deprived the organization of a good part of its popular support.

In this new weakened version of the MB it was only natural, for the frustrated members, to look back at Morsi’s year in the Presidential palace and wonder what went wrong. This single year ended in huge popular protests, then the military intervention and the arrest of thousands of members, confiscation of assets and the ongoing crack down.

Internal criticism led to unleashing an unprecedented internal mutiny in an organization built on the principle of absolute obedience and strict discipline. It was a sign of the changing times. Never before did the leaders of the organization faced such internal opposition from ordinary members. The internal split of 1954 was actually led by prominent high level leaders not by base members. But that was a testimony of the change in the nature of membership and the weight of urban middle class presence within the group.

The internal conflict, which we exposed in a couple of previous issues of MEB, reached a climax recently. The “Old Guard” led by the Acting Murshid (Guide) decided to assert their role and enter the ring directly to distinguish the fire when the members elected new leadership structures. The main issue raised by the old guard was that it is inappropriate to have a “dual-headed” leadership. Recent elections placed some new faces in different organizational levels.

The fact that the old guards are mostly in prison opened the way to the emergence of a “natural” leadership that represented a de facto alternative and filled the gap. Coupled with a deep search about the reasons of their one year rule, the emergence of the alternative leadership was soon reflected on the organizational structure of the MB.

In one hand there was the old guard’s leadership represented in the acting Murshid, Mahmoud Ezat, the organization’s spokesman Mahmoud Ghuzlan, and the MB Mufti Abdul Rahman Al Barr. On the other hand, the emerging alternative leadership was represented by Mohamed Kamal, Hussein Ibrahim, Mohamed Wahdan and others. It is not accurate to assume that the alternative leadership has any real margin of movement to reach a compromise with the old guards. The reason is that the activist members enjoyed a large degree of independence during the last year. They do not seem to be ready to give that up, particularly to a leadership that led to the catastrophic one year rule.

For example, when some members of the alternative leadership signaled their willingness to reach a compromise, the activists announced that they are not concerned with any deal that does not change the old guard altogether. “We are not loyal to either side of the dispute in the leadership. We are loyal only to the principles of the organization and to fighting the regime until victory”, a communique signed by a group of youth members stated. Now, for this to happen in an organization where the sacred rule is “Listen and Obey” is an indication that the split is not personal, it deeper than that.

The main issue is not only the method of the old guard in the past, but also what tactics the organization should follow to come out of the current crisis. The old guards do not want to introduce any major changes in the modus operandi followed along the past decades, including non-violence (at least rhetorically). The youth want to abandon what it describes as “illusions” and resort to a more militant line that does not exclude violence provided it targets government officials and installations, particularly security agencies and judiciary.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s authorities are watching closely these developments.

In the short term, Cairo believes that the split and the emergence of a more militant line inside the organization, with its open call for violence, is not that bad. It helps to refuse pressures from regional and international powers to reconcile with the group with and it deepens its isolation domestically. Why should we open a dialogue with an organization that is killing army and police personnel and targeting public buildings? they ask. Arab pressures on Cairo is obviously jeopardized by the valid argument of the Egyptians. After all, Cairo does not want to let the group off the hook, or at least not now.

Now, where will this internal mutiny lead?

In content, it is crystal clear that we have a new block of MB activists who do not adhere to the old methods of the traditional leadership. Theoretically, this can be reflected also in form through splitting the organization into two entities.

But the issue here is that all assets, financial or political, that the group has are squarely in the hands of the old guard. It is possible to assume a scenario where the “hot heads” will split, form yet another MB albeit more radical and violent. But the problem of this scenario is that such a new entity cannot fly high. Organizations do not feed on sincerity and personal energies.

If the split take place, the organization, as it originally was, will be pushed back in time to the sixties when it almost had no presence in Egypt. A complex set of circumstances in the seventies and nineties helped it to break its pariah and expand quickly. But contrary to what is said, history never repeats itself.

A split within the MBs will mean practically the end of the MBs as we know them for few decades at least. A traditional and isolated leadership with much fewer members, deprived of its urban wings is helpless even if it holds all the assets. A dynamic base without real tools is destined to slowly disappear or ultimately join other groups like Masr Al Qawia (Strong Egypt) of the former MB reformist Abdul Munaim Abo Al Futtoh. Yet, Futtoh is vehemently anti-violence as well.

But the likely scenario, up until now at least, is that the organization will move in its current condition of internal split for some time. Each side will try to drag the other to its position or will move ahead careless of the opposite views. It was remarkable that Dr. Ezat followed a confrontational line with the mutinies. It is said that he decided to that when all other attempts to appease the emerging leaders did not work. The bet of the old guard is to move to a position where they can improve their negotiating positions with the alternative leaders.

Containing the split will need all the “historical” figures, currently in prison, to be out. Rashed Al Ghanoushy, the Tunisian MB leader and Yosef Nada, the “Minister of Finance” of the MB (residing in Switzerland), recently offered some initiatives to reconcile the group with the Egyptian government. It seems that some MB elders understand, correctly in fact, that the organization is threatened to collapse from within if a quicker solution is not reached with the Egyptian authorities. A continuation of the current situation carries the risk of splitting the organization into a body without the assets, international ties and recognized names, and a head with all this, but with little ability to influence the course of events.