Commentary

Is the Muslim Brotherhood Turning to Violence?

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The events of the last few days in Egypt have once again raised important questions about the future of the Muslim Brotherhood. News that the country’s interior minister had been targeted by militants coupled with attempts to blow up a ship in the Suez Canal have many wondering whether the MB leaders (if indeed they are behind these attacks) have opted for an Algeria-style militant campaign against the military-backed civilian government. The Muslim Brotherhood has disavowed any connections with the violence and have expressed concern that the military will use the attacks as a pretext for further raids aimed at weakening the MB.

 Seeing the violence of the last days as a bad omen for the future, many have decided to take the case directly to the MB by advising them that its leaders ought to emulate their Turkish counterparts rather than the Algerian ones: “The Muslim Brotherhood is going for broke, wagering its entire future on the slim chance of foreign intervention, on utter chaos in which jihadists would fight on its side, and vowing to turn the current conflict into a matter of life and death....The Egyptian Islamists must reconsider the consequences of their actions. The Algerian model doesn’t suit them, and the Syrian one — featuring imported Islamists joining the fight — is even more unthinkable. The Turkish Islamists, by contrast, played their cards right.”

In an article for the Egypt Independent, Dina Hamdy also sees the current violence as a sign that the MB has chosen the wrong model, one which reveals the organization’s true colors: “The bombing targeting the Minister of Interior marks the third wave of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategy of violence against the new Egyptian state. The first wave were the militarized sit-ins, the second was the series of demonstrations that were also militarized and violent, killing innocent civilians, burning churches, and attempting to weaken the state by targeting police stations and the security apparatus. This third wave of bombings was expected. You only had to listen to the statements coming from the Raba’a podium to know the plan. They told Egyptians that they will bomb civilian targets and unleash a wave of terrorism and insurrection.”

Al Hayat’s Jihad el-Khazen makes a similar argument, but warns the MB that Egypt is stronger and that the Brotherhood is pursuing a losing strategy: “The Muslim Brotherhood, having taken power on the back of the youths of the revolution, could have taken advantage of their popularity to establish a true democratic system that accommodates all spectrums of the people. However, they chose to seek to impose the Brotherhood’s ideology on Egypt, failed in saving the economy and imposing order, and were subsequently toppled. Now, they have returned to violence and it seems that they are good at little else.”

But not everyone accepts the prevailing narrative that the Muslim Brotherhood is behind the recent violence. Immediately following news of the Thursday attack, Ikhan Web, the main news outlet for the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), posted a statement by Khaled Hanafi, Secretary of the Freedom and Justice Party, who “warned that media coverage of the assassination attempt on Mohammed Ibrahim, Minister of the Interior ‘is meant to justify the crushing grip of the security apparatus and more repressive practices and arbitrary arrests. We condemn all forms and acts of violence. We have absolutely nothing to do with the incident (the attempt to assassinate the minister).’...Khaled Hanafi, who is also a leading member of the Anti-Coup Pro-Legitimacy Alliance, further said: ‘The coup’s security grip has already reached maximum ruthlessness. I don’t know what more they want. In any case, we warn against exploitation of this incident to increase the security grip on coup opponents.’”

The current strategy being pursued by the Egyptian military, argues the Daily News’ (Egypt) Ziad Akl, is only the latest attempt to create an environment of fear and insecurity: “The most basic consequence of the state’s counterterrorism discourse was of course the readymade excuse to renew the state of emergency, which the police and all other security institutions in Egypt started taking for granted. Those strategies and the very high ceilings they allowed the police and other security forces have definitely majorly shaped the brutal and violent police force that we have lived under for the past 20 years....The stage is set and ready to launch this new national counterterrorism project based on some simple facts: the army is always right, the Islamists are always guilty and those who criticize the army are traitors who sold out their patriotism to foreign dollars.”

Bemoaning what he sees as the bitter end of the Arab Spring, Mustafa Akyol writes in an op-ed for the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News that, contrary to the prevailing discourse, the responsibility does not lie with the Islamists, even though: “The elected Islamists, to be sure, can be blamed for acting triumphantly and for not seeking consensus with their opponents. However, I believe that much bigger blame is on the other side: the military, the ‘feloul’ (the remnants of the old Mubarak regime), and ‘the liberals.’....None of this means that there are zero true liberals in Egypt. There are some, and some of them are my friends. However, they are a minority, and as a political group, ‘the liberals’ of Egypt have failed badly in the past two months. They not only sabotaged democracy in the largest Arab country, but they also gave ‘liberalism’ a bad name in the whole Muslim world.”

Finally, in the wake of recent developments, attention has once again turned to the man at the center of the storm, General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, whose real intentions and long-term plans remain unknown. It is for this reason that Yedioth Ahronoth’s Smadar Peri considers the general the real ‘Man of the Year’: “General al- Sisi appears, so far, to be a Robin Hood who took matters into his own hands in order to declare war on the villains....The man of the year's schedule is bursting. A war on terror in Sinai, which is drawing to a war against Hamas. Quite a difficult headache with the collapsing economy. Drafting a new constitution. Parliament elections. And the most complicated problem: That Egypt will remain in control of the sources of the Nile. And we haven't forgotten about the relations with the wide world, and creating an image – God knows how – that conveys stability. Convincing investors to return, bringing tourists, maintaining a safe passage through the Suez Canal. Pulling harder at the ropes being woven on the way to settle the score with the ‘brothers.’”

Writing for the Arab daily Asharq Alawsat, Ghassan Al Imam also wrestles with the question of where the current Egyptian regime falls in the political spectrum, although according to Al Imam there is a general trend toward the right: “However, the regime’s inclination to the right and center has caused it to lose the support to some leftist powers, including socialist Mohamed El-Baradei’s Al-Dustour party and the April 6 Youth Movement....General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi may be more fortunate than Major Abdel-Nasser. Both are legitimate sons of a national military institution that Egypt rightly boasts of. Yet, Sisi enjoys openness with the Gulf States that threw their regional, Arab, and international weight behind him, not to mention financial support. Perhaps, the new regime in Egypt will be able to use such support to boost and strengthen the economy. Indeed, should this new regime act otherwise, it will quickly lose public support, as was the case with Mursi’s Brotherhood regime.”


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