Since the June 30 revolution in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood has sought to challenge the ruling interim authorities in every way possible. The road map on governance had been the organization's most difficult challenge and most important battle. In light of the success of the Jan. 14-15 constitutional referendum, which drew the participation of a broad spectrum of the Egyptian people, the Brotherhood has reached an impasse.
Even before that vote, however, the organization had sought to strengthen its position by pressuring the Egyptian regime from abroad, announcing on Jan. 6 that an international legal team in London representing it had filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to hold the current Egyptian leadership accountable for alleged crimes against humanity committed since June 30. The lawyers said that they had given evidence to the ICC on Dec. 20, 2013, that proved the Egyptian army had committed crimes against supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.
Announcement of the postponement of Morsi's trial until Feb. 1, supposedly because of bad weather that prevents him from flying from Alexandria to Cairo, coincided with a statement by the Brotherhood questioning the reasons behind the court's failure to convene. The organization, once led by Morsi, claimed that the trial had been postponed due to fears of it "igniting a new popular revolution." The statement, released on Jan. 8 and addressed to the international community, implored, "We ask all human rights organizations in the world to intervene, as well as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, who spoke out in favor of some of the political activists who were arrested."
While the Brotherhood has made steadfast attempts since the fall of Morsi's regime on July 3 to internationalize the Egyptian crisis, this last effort was an option of last resort for pressuring the government. This is especially evident in light of the results of the constitutional referendum, in which 98.1% of voters approved the new constitution. Thus, the Brotherhood could no longer rely on the ballot box to regain strength.
At the same time, the Brotherhood is perhaps trying to distort the charges Morsi faces by transforming his image internationally from the "accused" into a "victim" robbed of his legitimacy. The charges against him include events surrounding the Ittihadiya Palace clashes in December 2012 following confrontations between supporters and opponents of the regime after Morsi issued a constitutional declaration granting himself broad powers.
Essam Abdel Shafi, a professor of political science at the Arab Open Academy, told Al-Monitor that the Brotherhood's resorting to the ICC is in part a means of increasing international media attention on the current authorities. As he noted, ICC proceedings are quite complex, and issuing judgments takes several years.
"Resorting to the ICC also achieves other objectives, including documenting what [the Brotherhood] considers crimes committed against the group and its members by the current Egyptian authorities after July 3, 2013," Abdel Shafi added. He explained further that the documentation itself represents another goal, as it is something the Brotherhood can rely upon should they seek to file additional suits against Egyptian figures, institutions or groups.
Regarding what effect this might have on the Brotherhood's image in Egypt, Abdel Shafi said that the group's opponents could exploit it to launch more smear campaigns against the group. He thinks, however, the Brotherhood has not taken this into account, since its image is already distorted.
Regardless, Abdel Shafi said, this move is important in that it emphasizes that each party to the ongoing political struggle in Egypt now can use whatever means and mechanisms they want to defend what they see as their rights. Abdel Shafi also noted, however, that these remain subject to some conditions, such as "ensuring the use of peaceful means, and ones that will not have a negative impact on Egyptian national security. Moreover, they should not constitute a means for more foreign interference in Egypt's internal affairs."
Ali Bakr, an expert in Islamic movements at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al-Monitor that the Muslim Brotherhood is doing everything possible, logical and illogical, because of its declining popularity and the weakness of its political position — hence, the group's attempt to heighten the issue of its plight abroad, which from its perspective is much easier than doing the same domestically. According to Bakr, the Brotherhood is relying on judicial and other methods and has signed contracts with firms in Europe and the United States to organize the campaign, which has already begun.
Bakr criticized the group's attempt to link the postponement of Morsi's trial to the internationalization of their cause, predicting that the ousted president will deliver a sermon to the "deaf" in an attempt to mobilize the masses supporting him. According to Bakr, Egypt has already undermined this opportunity, so the organization has resorted to a legal pretext in escalating its battle. These attempts are part of the Brotherhood's quest to discredit the Egyptian state and the current constitution, distracting attention away from the group's deteriorating situation. While its confrontations in the past were with the authorities, generating popular momentum, its confrontations are now with the Egyptian public, which is a bigger challenge for the group and its supporters.
Bakr does not believe that internationalizing the crisis is the last card up the Brotherhood's sleeve. Rather, it has many more cards to play, including creating chaos and instability and supporting jihadist organizations.
Of additional note, Egypt is not a signatory to the Rome Statute sanctioning the International Criminal Court. Radwa Ammar, a doctoral researcher in international law, told Al-Monitor that the ICC's jurisdiction is limited to prosecuting individuals accused of committing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. It does not pass judgments on administrations.
Ammar asserted that the Brotherhood is aware of these legal limitations, but ultimately is pushing for the UN Security Council to intervene, which has the right under the Rome Statute to ask the ICC to conduct an investigation into cases based on Chapter VII of the UN Charter concerning acts of aggression and threats to the peace. She added that the Security Council's decision would be binding for all member and non-member states of the Rome Statute.
Ammar explained that such intervention can only occur if the case constitutes a threat to international peace and security, which could be behind the Brotherhood’s escalation of violence, creating a security threat and making the situation difficult to control.
It appears that the Brotherhood's decision to resort to international organizations in the hope of obtaining a resolution condemning the Egyptian government is an attempt to motivate the current authorities to accept negotiations with it, after the interim government designated the group a terrorist organization and rejected any type of reconciliation. The Brotherhood likely realizes the difficulty (and perhaps impossibility) of attaining such a resolution in the near future as progress is made on the Egyptian road map, which went into effect after the ratification of the new constitution on Jan. 15, paving the way for more advances in the governing project.
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