Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi said on Saturday that “no reconciliation” is possible with the Muslim Brotherhood, suggesting the banning of the party could be imminent. Such talk reignites memories of the persecution of the Brotherhood by former Egyptian presidents Hosni Mubarak and Gamal Abdel Nasser.
The question going forward is, what will a full crackdown mean for the Brotherhood and Egyptian society? It seems that any legal decision to outlaw the party would not have an immediate impact on the ground, where thousands of Brotherhood members have mobilized to keep the protests and unrest going.
Despite the arrest and killing of the organization’s leaders and supporters, the Brotherhood is still able to organize its actions and public relations effectively, gaining much of the world’s sympathy in the process, even though the group’s anti-Western and anti-Semitic Islamic ideology is anathema to many.
Even if the army were able to repress and arrest or kill many members, there still would remain thousands that would continue running the group’s dawa, institutions of social welfare services, which have helped maintain the group’s popularity even in times of persecution.
Charles A. Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations stated to The Jerusalem Post that the Egyptian military is prepared to use force against supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and that “recent events, at least for the foreseeable future, dash all hope of an interim government that is inclusive and predominantly civilian-run, even if backed by the generals.”
Notwithstanding calls of restraint from US President Barack Obama, it seems that he is not forcing a change in the policy of the military backed Egyptian government.
“The prospect of a continuation of violent repression and overt military control puts Washington in an awkward position. The US government will want to make clear its strong opposition to violent repression – while at the same time maintaining a working relationship with the Egyptian military. No easy task,” said Kupchan.
Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told the Post that “the situation is likely to continue deteriorating.”
The army will likely win the current battle, but because of a lack of any clear plan on how to proceed, “we are likely to continue seeing violent crackdowns and unrest especially in the southern governorates,” said Tadros.
It is expected that Egyptian Copts are likely to continue to be easy targets for Islamists, he said.
The United States has enjoyed a strategic relationship with Egypt and it would like to maintain it. However, Tadros believes that “the benefits of the relationship are being weighed against the continued violence.”
In his opinion, continued violence is not in the US’s interest and could lead to a scenario where Obama would “find his hands forced into taking further steps that indicate the United States’ displeasure.”
Such involvement by the US against the Egyptian leadership would please the Muslim Brotherhood, but it remains to be seen if the US will be able to drastically change Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s behavior since he feels he is in an existential struggle.
“The Mubarak formula of dealing with the Brotherhood left them some breathing space. Gen. Sisi seems insistent on denying them that. Something closer to Nasser’s formula might be the end outcome,” added Tadros.
Asked by the Post what he sees happening, he responded that in the short term, continued violence is likely. In the medium term, Sisi will probably be able to defeat the Brotherhood in a major way, but in the long term, “a massive wave of jihadism and insurgency” is likely.
Yoram Meital, chairman of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle East Studies and Diplomacy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told the Post that he thinks there is no turning back to Nasser or Mubarak times. The reason for this is very simple he said, stating that “the new political awareness of many sectors within Egyptian society” makes a return to past eras unrealistic.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a historic movement with large support especially outside urban centers – far more than other political parties in these areas, he said. Even if the movement would be outlawed, it “still would remain popular.”
In addition, in similar situations in the past, the banning of political Islamic movements only strengthened them in terms of public support.
The most important thing about the conflict in Egypt, he said, is that the struggle is cutting right through the middle of society, with all sectors involved in the crisis. A split in Egypt of this magnitude is “unprecedented,” and the dismantling of the party “would not ease the divide, but could deepen it,” said Meital.
The key question, asserts Meital, is how the Egyptian youth, who supported the overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi, would react if the military would try to take total control of the state, thus defeating the original purpose of the revolution that ousted Mubarak. The revolution “is not ending any time soon,” added Meital.