Rumors in Cairo have it that Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah Al Sisi is looking at offers from the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) to reach a reconciliation with the regime. Yet, on the practical level, there is nothing that supports what is said in Cairo. There is nothing on the analytical level, either, that encourages one to believe that this may indeed be the case.
Sisi succeeded in pushing the MB where he wanted them to be. The organization was deprived of its leaders, its money, its ability to mobilize any segments of the population and its organizational structure. The group has been reduced to an “idea” with very little concrete existence. Even as an idea, it has been largely isolated among ordinary Egyptians. The conditions of the MB in today’s Egypt are almost comparable to its conditions in the 1960’s.
The last manifestation of the MB failure came when the organization issued an invitation to Egyptians to revolt against their government in November 11. No one moved. Even the usually restless urban youth did not move. True, security forces maintained a very visible presence in the streets on that day. But Egypt’s youth carried on demonstrating between January 25 and February 11 in 2011 despite extremely harsh use of brutal force.
It was obvious that the MB wanted to capitalize on the economic hardship that Egyptians of low income are currently going through. But it did not work. The hot headed wing of the group find themselves left with only limited ammunition like assassinating a police officer or a judge. But everyone knows that these tactics deepen the MB’s isolation and cause no damage to the regime.
However, the rumored conciliation has it that the MB will cease their political activities for five years, voluntarily abstaining from participation or voting in any elections for the same period and refrain from any activity that may be perceived as opposition to the government. In return, they will not be required to declare their support to Sisi, will have all their prisoners freed and those who fled the country after the fall of their government over two years ago will be allowed back without persecution.
Two things should be remembered in this context:
1 – The MB has totally consumed all its options to trigger any meaningful popular movement against Sisi. None worked. Even external pressure from some regional powers did not produce any results. The only weapon in the hand of the organization takes a direct negative form: We will refrain from any violence (terrorism) inside Egypt to help regain stability and bring back foreign investments. But even this negative message does not capture Cairo’s attention.
2- The organization is divided in roughly two camps: The traditionalists who want to see an end to the group’s paralysis even at the expense of its political role, and the radicals who call for a continuation of the fight against the regime. This division has implications for the way the group handles its current organizational crisis. The traditionalists cannot have it their way without risking a sever attack by the radicals. Reconciliation, therefore, has limited chance even from the stand point of the organization, unless the traditionalists accept to split the group.
Therefore, while all objective reasons call for more substantial concessions from the MB leadership to the regime, the possibility to do that remains limited by the internal split within the group.
But there is a third factor that may throw its shadow on the future course of Egypt’s MB: the change in the Western counties’ political powers and the ascendance of views which consider the MB a terrorist organization and rejects all representations of fundamentalist views.
In many cases, this rejection is done for all the wrong reasons. However, it remains a rejection in anyway. The rise of those views, which are unfriendly to the MB to say the least is noticeable in the US, the UK and the EU, particularly France where the right wing Francois Fillon promised to consider the MB a terrorist organization.
In the US, the MB lost its “private channels” with Washington as a result of the recent elections. In the UK, and although the organization still enjoys some relations with certain government agencies, the environment there is much less friendly as well.
The MB had little maneuver room outside these three countries in the Western hemisphere. Elsewhere, it had Turkey, which seems now preoccupied by other issues like strengthening its ties with Moscow, where any MB figure is considered a person non-grata.
The world that allowed the MB a degree of free moves is now collapsing at a moment when it is in its weakest for decades.
Some regional powers were still pushing the idea of getting Cairo to grant the MB a period of grass to recover. Those powers are eying the situation in other countries in the neighborhood and hoping the MB will help there confront Iran’s expansion. But those efforts broyght no result.
The idea that the MB can assist the Arab cause in confronting Iran is questionable. The general turmoil and regional polarization has carried all regional elements, including the MB, to new grounds where this organization is rapidly becoming a voice from the past. The split in the Middle East is so profound to the extent of generating only very violent and radical groups. Just as what is happening globally, traditional ideas are losing grounds and a different pattern of political thinking is raising faster than the wildest expectations.
Does this means that the MB is finished? No. Organizations of this kind do not appear or a disappear overnight. If the radicals in the MB gain tomorrow, they will represent a small quotative additions to a regional basket full of radicals. If the traditionalists win, they will have to divorce their Qutbism and rejection of the nation state. Egypt is one of the oldest nations on earth if not the oldest.
The Egyptian government did not singlehandedly defeat the MB. The MB defeated itself, and the global changing wind came to finish their dreams of a return to their old glory. If they do not read their crisis right, they will finish the job they already started when they put themselves in this miserable spot where they are now.