(Cairo) – Speculation is rife in Egypt on the course the Muslim Brotherhood, which used to be the Arab world’s most vibrant Islamist group, will follow in the future, after the tremendous change that happened in the fortunes of the group in the past six years.
The Brotherhood issued a statement on June 28, in which it said it would follow a new course after the emergence of new realities on the ground.
“We have made several internal revisions, especially of the mistakes we made during the revolution and our rule,” the Brotherhood said in the statement. “We also made revisions of the mistakes our allies and our competitors committed.” The new realities include the June 17 death of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood senior member who became Egypt’s president in mid-2012, but was ousted only a year later.
They also include the almost total destruction of the Brotherhood’s organizational structure in Egypt, following six years of a heavy-handed crackdown by the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Egypt designated the Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist” group in late 2014, and dissolved its Freedom and Justice Party.
A judiciary committee confiscated the funds and the assets of the Brotherhood last year, along with the funds of dozens of Brotherhood leaders and businessmen, depriving the Islamist group and its militias of the chance to bankroll their violent operations in Egypt. The Brotherhood’s declaration of a new strategy is viewed in Cairo as an attempt by the Islamist organization to return to the political stage after it lost its popularity in the streets because of its successive failures and the violence its members perpetrated after Morsi’s 2013 ouster.
“This is the new mechanism of the group to return to the political limelight,” said Amr Farouk, a political Islam specialist. “The group has lost almost everything in the past six years, which is why it is trying a new start.” In its statement, the Brotherhood is clear in its desire to make this new start. It alluded to its plan to avoid competing over power and start campaigning, together with other political forces, for the rights of the Egyptian public. “We believe that defending national issues and the general rights of the Egyptian people is far more important now,” the Brotherhood said in the statement.
It said it would support all political forces whose goals go hand in hand with it. This is exactly the source of fear in Cairo these days, one that puts political planners and strategists on alert. The fear is that the Brotherhood will team up with Egypt’s disgruntled opposition to pose serious competition to Sisi’s government.
Sisi took the reins of power in mid-2014, a time of deep political rifts and serious security and economic problems. The whole of Egypt was polarized, the economy was suffering acute crises, and the security situation was deteriorating as Brotherhood affiliates staged unrelenting attacks against state institutions, policemen and churches, and a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fought the Egyptian army in Sinai.
Six years later, Egypt is politically stable, its economy is picking up and security conditions are improving rapidly. Nevertheless, the opposition complains about the lack of political freedoms, amid fears from a return to the one-man-rule that prevailed under the Hosni Mubarak autocracy (between 1981 and 2011). Sisi’s economic reforms are also proving heavy on the pockets of millions of Egyptians, because they have included massive subsidy cuts and a liberalization of the Egyptian pound against foreign currencies.
The social grievances emanating from the reforms and the lack of freedoms, observers say, can give the opposition an opportunity, despite Sisi’s sweeping popularity at present.
“This is especially so with the Brotherhood having a knack for distributing political roles on the different political forces,” said Abdel Gelil al-Sharnoubi, a former longtime member of the Brotherhood. “The Brotherhood wants to return to the political stage and is ready to do anything to reach this goal, including by collaborating with other political forces.”