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The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt Evaluates its Mistakes

After a period of internal fights and conflicts, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been neatly divided into two main camps: One led by Mahmoud Ezat, the acting Murshid (Guide), and the other is called the Mohamad Kamal group. Kamal, who was killed by Egypt’s security forces last October, was the director of the Crisis Management Bureau, which was formed after the MB lost political power in 2013, following large popular protests against their rule.

Kamal tended to criticize the approach of the traditionalists represented by the majority of the old guard in the leadership. Challenging their tactics led to an organizational crisis which ended with a de facto split within the 90 years old group.

Kamal, before his death, opened the road of internal criticism of the leadership, which is a totally new exercise within a group based on absolute obedience and strict feudal hierarchy. In that sense, he should be considered the first true organizational reformer in the history of the MB. But this did not mean that he was a reformer in the political, ideological, theological or tactical sense. In the contrary, he never condemned the assassination by MB members of judges and security officers or planting bombs in power towers or public buildings.

When the acting Murshid tried to keep the international relations of the MB with influential capitals through a communique condemning violence and calling for peaceful methods in the struggle to regain power in Cairo, Kamal’s camp responded by saying that “peaceful methods are not among the principle of our religion or our group”.

After more than five months of the death of Kamal, his faction, which is also called “The Administrative Office” (TAO), in reference to the crisis management bureau, issued its first lengthy document of internal self-criticism. The Document, called “Evolutional Prelude to a New Vision: A Look at the Past”, said that the MB leadership, since the death of its founder Hassan Al Bana in 1949, followed a reformist, not a revolutionary, political outlook. It explained this “deviation” by the willingness to avoid a head-on collision with former Presidents Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Al Sadat. Soon, according to the document, this outlook became the only choice that shaped the MB’s way of thinking which dropped completely Al Bana’s revolutionary theory.

The document covered many aspects of the experience of ruling Egypt for one year. It criticized the lack of preparedness to govern, the absence of coordination between its different public representatives, the chaos in its political management of the country, the conflicting decision taken by its leaders, the weak and contradicting political discourse, the delay in the leadership responses to major revolts that followed the January 2011 revolution, the dominance of a reform, not a revolutionary, mentality in a moment of revolution, confusing political and the religious roles and the voluntary walk to the trap of trying to replace the state as a whole with the MB alone.

TAO said that the document is a draft to be debated. Later on, it said that it is collecting the feedback and will present “within weeks” the final draft. As the members of the MB in general are emotionally siding with the imprisoned leadership, both wings of the organization claim that they enjoy the support of the traditional leaders behind bars. But it is difficult to imagine that the majority of the highest office in the group, Maktab Al Ershad, would side with the any faction other than that of Ezat.

The imprisoned leaders may be intentionally keeping their position ambiguous until they see how things will develop within the organization. If they are released, the first thing they will try to do will naturally be to bring the two factions together. But it is not likely that the traditionalists in prison will ever accept the evaluation of the new generation of mid-level cadres who are bringing a new way of thinking and a new outlook that is totally alien to the traditionalists.    

The document is brutally critical and very candid at times. It is possibly the first document that provides an overall view of how the group, or at least part of it, sees the shortcomings that became publicly known following the election of Mohamad Morsi, and which soon led to his overthrow. But there are two questions that surface in the context of assessing the value of this document:

* What is its real weight within the ranks and files of the organization as a whole.

* And what will be its impact on the MB’s overall political presence and activities on the ground.

Both question require evaluating first the position of Mahmoud Ezat’s camp on the Kamal’s group paper.

The official spokesman of the organization-that is of Ezat wing- Tal’at Fahmi, did not even acknowledge that the document exists. “What document? The MB leadership did not issue any such document recently”, he said.

It is still too early to assess the impact of the document on the ground. However, traditionalist supporters described it as an additional step to split the organization. In all likelihood, the traditionalist will remain hostile to the document for always. It readis like an indictment of all what they did, and all what they represent.

The document did not elaborate on the use of violence as the antidot of the peaceful revolution that Egypt’s youth adopted in 2011. Attempts to evade any clear position on this critical point took a creative form when Fahmi said that the group should not be dragged to addressing the terminology coined by others. “We are talking about revolution. This is our term”, he said.

There are several points in the document that deserve to be studied. The separation of religious preaching or Call on the one hand and the political participation on the other, the recognition of the disastrous mistakes committed by the organization while in power, the acceptance of the fact that the organization alone cannot rule Egypt, and that it has to work to build coalitions, and the significantly reduced religious language used in writing the paper.

Overall, the document, and the Kamal group as a whole, will not fly high within the MB. They will be faced with the iron dome of the traditional leadership which bases itself on countryside members. Most of the symbols of the Kamal group are urban middle class educated members. While the Kamal group can hardly penetrate the vast majority of members in the countryside, it does not have a monopoly on the urban membership.

Yet, what we see may go in history as the first significant attempt to critically review the traditional culture of the very closed Muslim Brotherhood. It may also be a historical prelude to forming modern political parties based on a religious outlook versus the known religious groups yearning to play a political role.  

30 March, 2017

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