Young Muslim Brotherhood members serving jail terms have launched a reconciliation effort that has raised many questions about Egypt's approach to such efforts.
On April 2, a document emerged from inside the Tora Prison, signed by a Mohammed al-Rayes. In it, young Brotherhood members announced their desire to offer "intellectual reviews" to correct misconceptions about their ideas in exchange for a presidential pardon.
The group announced that it had severed ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and called upon the state to start a dialogue with them to fight misconceptions and fanatical ideas. The prisoners wrote that they spent years preparing for this effort, having announced a similar initiative from Fayoum Prison to test the waters two years ago.
“Five years on, the Muslim Brotherhood still has no vision or way out of the crisis. Therefore, we launched the initiative. Now, we are independent youth. We are no longer associated with any group or association,” the document read.
Following the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, tension escalated between the Muslim Brotherhood and the armed forces, which led to the imprisonment of many young people and the flight of many others.
The group said they belonged to numerous Islamist organizations in addition to the Brotherhood, including al-Qaeda-linked groups and the Salafist jihadist movement.
“We do not oppose anyone. We love all Islamist groups. We do not want their members to stay in prison anymore. We want the youth to stop wasting their life.” they wrote in the document.
Most importantly, the prisoners recognized the toppling of Morsi as a revolution, not a military coup, in a sign of their desire to reconcile with the state. Diverse segments of society and people from different cultural backgrounds participated in the first revolution in 2011, and the presidential elections of 2012 included candidates of various ideologies. The group called for a chance for Islamists to engage in Egypt's new political phase.
“Our initiative seeks to tell the state leadership that there is a constitutional and moral duty they need to perform," they said. "There must be a transitional period in which various cultures can be integrated into society.”
“Islamists in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular are not trustworthy. Egyptian history is filled with their tricks. No reconciliation with them,” parliament member Amna Nosseir told Al-Monitor. She said that the group cannot be trusted. It is a desperate attempt on the part of the young Brotherhood members to get out of prison, she stressed. “They failed to bring down the Egyptian state. Such initiatives reflect their feeling of failure and desperation.”
Egyptian history, Nosseir said, has seen many similar efforts. “It is just a political show. They never change their mentality or ideology. This is why the state cannot trust them,” she said. In 1997, for example, the Islamist Gamaa Islamiya group created an “Initiative to Stop Violence” and published four books that circulated across Egypt and the Arab world. The effort did not reduce the violence, said Nosseir.
In 2017, Muslim Brotherhood members facing jail terms in Fayoum Prison produced literature sharply criticizing the group’s principles and the approach of the group’s founder Hassan el-Banna.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Sameh Eid, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, said the state should support such initiatives in order to integrate those young people back into society.
“Not all Brotherhood members are sentenced to death. This means that some of them will be released once they serve their jail sentences. This is why it is very important to integrate them into society,” he said.
The state can give those young prisoners access to books that refute extremist thought. It could also ask intellectuals and religious figures to hold dialogues with them, Eid suggested.
“Such initiatives should be thoroughly examined by psychiatrists, religious scholars from Al-Azhar and professors of political science to assess them and identify whether they are serious initiatives or mere attempts to escape from prison,” he concluded.
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