Will Egypt’s Brotherhood abandon politics for terrorism?

Following the fall of the Brotherhood regime in Egypt, there is an increasing possibility that the group will abandon political action in favor of terrorism against the state.

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terrorism, muslim brotherhood, mohammed morsi, june 30 protests egypt, january 25 revolution, january 25, egypt

Nov 17, 2013

In 1928, Egypt created the Muslim Brotherhood that, in turn, produced “political Islam” throughout the entire world. Its aim was to diffuse its teachings in the world, and it spread everywhere to fulfill this elusive goal. With the failure of the Brotherhood after being removed from power in Egypt, its ethical slogans are falling and the group itself is crumbling. This raises logical questions on the possibility of the group moving from peaceful political action to organized violence and terrorism. It would carry this out through its angry members, as was the case from the 1940s to the 1960s, and by proxy through cooperation with takfiri groups in Egypt or abroad.

Before answering this question, another preliminary question needs to be answered: Which scenarios were available to the Brotherhood following the June 30 Revolution? The answer is not easy with the ongoing “inflamed emotions” of the group after it was removed from power, and the conflicting statements that coincide with an almost complete return to “secret work.” However, the paths can be identified by examining how the Brotherhood thinks. This can be understood by reading its history and understanding its context, such as the international connections that pushed the Barack Obama administration to invest in [the Brotherhood] to serve American interests in the Middle East.

One can say that the Brotherhood is on the verge of following one of these paths:

1. An option of going forward, meaning reconsidering ideas and roles, and apologizing for the mistakes committed by the group against the Egyptian people while it was in power. It also implies a new vision to familiarize the group with the idea of ​​nationalism and to show a firm belief in political and intellectual pluralism and the rotation of power. The group must affirm that democracy does not only mean ballot boxes. Elections are just one measure, among others, that should be accompanied with values ​​of personal and collective freedoms, tolerance, openness and respect for human rights. The Brotherhood must reorganize its ranks to get rid of the leaders of “the special group” who practiced violence and terrorism. It must favor reformers over those who embrace the ideas of Sayyid Qutb. After that, the Brotherhood can be voluntarily reintegrated in the community. The only thing left will be placing the group under the authority of the state — in terms of control and accountability — rather than its current form of a state within a state.

2. An option of going backward. This option consists of engaging in hostile and terroristic acts against society and state institutions, most notably the armed forces, in retaliation for overthrowing the Brotherhood’s rule. This also stems from a desire to make the authority that replaced the Brotherhood fail, to weaken the state and to force it to make radical concessions. This option is simply suicide for the Brotherhood. A group cannot triumph over the people or shake the pillars of a well-established state such as Egypt, which has experience in dealing with terrorism and has already defeated it more than once.

3. The option of standing still. Under this option, the Brotherhood negotiates with the new rule in order to return to public life. The Brotherhood would run in parliamentary, local and probably presidential elections, and completely accept the course of events. However, it would secretly act differently by funding and mobilizing groups to practice terrorism against the state. The first part of this option requires keeping the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, operating legitimately. Nevertheless, if a court ruling was issued to dissolve the Brotherhood and their party, the group could revert to its structure before the January 25 Revolution.

After losing the first and second options, it seems that the Brotherhood's only option is the third. Nabil Naim, a leader in the Egyptian Islamic Jihad who was a companion of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri, said that a Brotherhood leader known as Ezzeddine had traveled between Europe and Peshawar many times in the 1990s to fund terrorists acting against Egypt's ruling authorities. Zawahri’s reply to his offer was: “We have decided to fight the West, which is ‘the distant enemy,’ and to postpone any confrontation with the regimes in the Arab world, which are the ‘near enemies.’ Moreover, jihadists in Egypt do not have a strong presence anymore because most of them are in Afghanistan. I can’t meet your demand.”

Naim continued to say that Ezzeddine turned toward the leaders of Gamaa Islamiya who managed to escape to Afghanistan. He had made an agreement with them to finance operations they conducted in order to exhaust the regime, by showing that it was powerless in opposing terrorism, and to negatively affect the economy, by undermining tourism and foreign investment.

With each terrorist operation, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement of condemnation. This sought to show the Egyptian regime and the public that it condemns terrorism and that it can be relied upon to curtail violent groups if [the Muslim Brotherhood] was given political legitimacy.

Black banners

If this was true, it would not be strange or new for the Brotherhood to secretly ally itself with al-Qaeda and other jihadist organizations, even though over the past years they were traditionally accustomed to attacking them in public. Al-Qaeda’s black banners were raised in all of the Brotherhood’s masses in Tahrir Square when Egypt was under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). They were even more present at the sit-ins at the Rabia al-Adawiya and Nahda Squares. This was clear during the clashes orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood in Ramses Square where firearms were brandished by al-Qaeda members within the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

During the rule of the SCAF, much ink was spilled over the apprehension of an “al-Qaeda cell” in Nasr City in September 2012. In this respect, I wrote an article on the subject, stating: “I hope this is not yet another fabrication and that our security authorities are vigilant in safeguarding the country. I hope this is not a maneuver to deceive the people and the president, thus adding to his fear and isolation and pushing him to impose extraordinary laws that would completely shut down the revolution.” However, the current situation proves that many of these news reports were untrue.

One can no longer deny that members of al-Qaeda and similar groups have emerged in Egypt during the past two years. Their threat was very real in the Sinai. Some of them took advantage of the state of confusion following the outbreak of the revolution and the events in Libya to infiltrate Egypt from various places, leading to an influx of huge quantities of arms.

The situation grew even more stark as the ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi exercised his presidential prerogative to release terrorist jihadist leaders from prison. Many were shocked by this measure and warned of its danger. Some even talked about a secret alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the remnants of terrorist groups. This alliance was bluntly asserted in the massive assembly of Muslim Brotherhood members and their jihadist supporters in the indoor hall of Cairo Stadium, where Morsi declared jihad in Syria and severed diplomatic ties with Damascus.

Before this, the Muslim Brotherhood was walking down the path of violence and bloodshed. It began when they stormed Tahrir Square in October 2012 then kidnapped, tortured and killed peaceful protesters in front of al-Ittihadiya Palace during mass demonstrations against the authoritarian constitutional declaration issued by Morsi in November 2012. Similar events occurred in the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in the Muqattam neighborhood during the “restoration of dignity” demonstrations, when more than 200 armed militants took refuge in the headquarters and fired live ammunition at demonstrators.

Brotherhood official Mohamed el-Beltagy provided conclusive evidence to this alliance when he famously said, “If Morsi is brought back to power, armed operations against the army in the Sinai will cease immediately.” He issued this statement at Rabia before the pro-Brotherhood crowd, which included groups of jihadist Salafists who had attempted in April 2012 to storm the Ministry of Defense, but were deterred by the Army’s special forces.

The alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda is not surprising after the Brotherhood fell under the control of a group that believed in the ideas of Sayyid Qutb. This group accuses authorities and society of apostasy and justifies recourse to arms against them, while describing the West as the battlefield. It also allows the shedding of Christian blood and the usurpation of their properties. This alliance is also logical given the Muslim Brotherhood’s need for militants to execute its plan of depleting the state, as it is currently happening in Egypt.

This probability is increased with the emergence of new jihadist groups on the Egyptian arena after the January Revolution. These new groups have a different approach than traditional jihad organizations and Gamaa Islamiya.

Undoubtedly, the watchful eye of the security apparatus under Hosni Mubarak prevented the Muslim Brotherhood from arming and training their “special group.” Moreover, the enormous revolutionary waves that flooded the streets on June 30, followed by a human tide on July 26, halted the Muslim Brotherhood’s plan to create an Egyptian internal security organization similar to the Iranian Basij. The Muslim Brotherhood had no other choice but to resort to al-Qaeda members to carry out its terrorist attacks. These groups executed their operations in Upper Egypt following the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule by the people backed by the army. The frequency of these attacks increased following the break-up of the sit-ins in Rabia and Nahda squares.

Security and planning

Obviously, direct confrontation of these terrorist formations, joined by the Muslim Brotherhood as sponsors and providers of political cover, requires extensive security efforts.

In the long run, whoever holds power must believe that facing apostasy, violence and terrorism should not stop at pure and direct security measures. The struggle must also encourage moderate religious discourse that promotes spiritual health, moral enlightenment and philanthropic action rather than using religion as a tool to stir up political conflict. This entails promoting scientific thinking and enhancing the role of civil society in politics, economy and social affairs. A major national project must be established to lay the foundations of social justice, strengthen public rights and freedoms, elevate the dignity of the Egyptian citizens and employ the youth capacity so as to prevent them from falling into the trap of terrorist organizations.

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