Arab world: The twilight of the Brotherhood

Toppling of Mohamed Morsi has weakened the movement; winning elections in Tunisia remains its last hope to gain power democratically; won’t make up for loss of Egypt.

Egypt women Brotherhood protesting 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Egypt women Brotherhood protesting 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
These are sad times indeed for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Having tasted victory in Egypt, the Brothers were poised for the next step in their long-range plan of restoring the Caliphate – only to see their hopes dashed to the ground. No wonder they can’t accept the new reality.
Mohamed Morsi’s ouster was a bitter blow to the World Organization of the Brotherhood (WOB), set up in the 1930s by movement founder Hassan al-Banna. His initial triumph in taking the presidency had been seen as a first step towards conquering other Arab countries, in the wake of the Arab Spring. In Tunisia the Brotherhood party, Ennahda or The Renewal, became the largest party in the first elections following the ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali; in Morocco, their Justice and Progress party made such a good showing it was tasked by the king to form the government. In Algeria, Libya and Yemen, the Brotherhood made an impressive show of strength; in Jordan, they lead the opposition to the king.
On the other hand, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, with the exception of Qatar, were bitterly opposed to the movement, which spawned jihadi and al-Qaida-affiliated terror organizations.
Qatar, a longstanding ally of the Brotherhood, offered sanctuary to members fleeing the wrath of Gamal Abdel Nasser in the ’50s. They helped transform the small Beduin country, and their influence can be felt in the emir’s foreign policy and in the powerful Al Jazeera channel, which actively promotes the movement and its Egyptian branch – to the extent that the new regime in Cairo closed down its office and jailed its workers.
WOB leaders followed with growing concern the groundswell of protest against their president. They recognized the signs from their own bitter experience and made their warnings heard in the crucial period of June 2013, urging Morsi to agree to demands for new presidential elections in order to salvage the movement. The president and his mentors in the Guidance Bureau would not listen; their obstinacy led to a resounding – maybe even irreversible – defeat for the Brotherhood, not only in Egypt but throughout the Arab world.
Yet the WOB did not give up easily.
After Morsi’s arrest on July 3, it launched an all-out effort to have the country’s “legitimate ruler” restored.
In an interview with Egyptian daily Al-Watan on July 12, WOB secretary- general Munir claimed that the army had dealt a blow to “all forces of political Islam,” and stated that his organization had called for the mobilization of all the countries where it was represented – some 80 altogether. He expressly threatened Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, adding that the US would not support the new regime and that the Brotherhood was urging the EU to adopt the same policy.
This, in effect, made clear that the organization had its allies in the White House, and in the EU; indeed, both did give Sisi the cold shoulder, and refrain to this day from granting their official support to the new regime.
Furthermore, “political Islam” is the “soft” expression used to qualify jihadi and Salafist terror organizations. Such organizations in Sinai did not wait for the arrest of Morsi to issue a joint declaration to the effect that toppling the president “would open the gates of hell to Egypt.”
To coordinate efforts with other Islamist movements, the WOB organized at least two meetings to discuss how to restore Morsi to the presidency. It took advantage of the presence of many Islamic parties and organizations at the conference of the Sa’ada Turkish Islamic party in Istanbul on July 10, and called for a special session on Egypt. Among the participants were Mahmoud Hussein, secretary-general of the Brotherhood in Egypt; Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the movement in Tunisia; a Hamas representative; and Munir himself.
According to Sky News in Arabic, the consensus was that Morsi’s ouster had been a serious setback for world Islam, and especially for Hamas; Morsi and his people were blamed – without being named – for having failed to tackle Egypt’s pressing problems, something which would have a positive impact on public opinion. It was decided to launch Operation Deep Breath, involving demonstrations to destabilize the country, attempts to discredit the new regime in international media, and a fullblown effort to divide the army. Pressure to suspend military assistance to Egypt was to be exerted on the US. Only Turkey and Qatar, two countries openly supporting the Brotherhood, were expected to help.
Moreover, on July 13, Egyptian leaders of the movement held a secret meeting in a Cairo apartment, and decided to target top army brass, promote terror in Sinai and call on Hamas to lend its expertise toward the preparation of explosives.
There were a few tense weeks. More than 1,500 people – nearly a third from the security forces – died in bloody confrontations between demonstrators and the army. But today, though terror in Sinai is not abating, the Brotherhood can no longer get the masses to the streets. The regime has banned all of the movement’s activities, put most of its leaders in jail and decreed it a terrorist organization.
The WOB then convened at another meeting on September 25, away from the media, under the auspices of the extremist Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistani organization. It was held in Lahore, Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan, where al-Qaida has its largest base of operations. The meeting was intended to deal with a number of issues such as the situation in Syria, but once again revolved around Egypt. There was an impressive turnout – with representatives from the Brotherhood and other Islamic organizations such as Hamas, from Jordan, Yemen, Morocco, Somalia, Malaysia, Sudan, Libya, Mauritania, Syria, Algeria and Tunisia.
Yet at the end of the day, the Brotherhood and their Salafi allies could neither paralyze the country nor garner popular support; they could not even convince world public opinion to call for the return of Morsi.
While it is unfortunately true that the West is still dragging its feet regarding Sisi, Russia is only too eager to fill the gap and recently concluded a $2 billion arms contract with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, helping with the financing of the deal.
Altogether, the Brotherhood has to be content with the support of its traditional allies Turkey and Qatar, both countries which find themselves on a collision course with the new regime in Cairo – which has summoned its respective ambassadors to express the regime’s displeasure, before recalling its own ambassador from Ankara.
Cairo even went as far as to call for the extradition of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the outspoken cleric who lives in Qatar.
However, in Tunisia, the Brotherhood – which had caused a political crisis that led to the assassination of two members of the secular opposition – were quick to understand that what had happened in Egypt could happen to them, and voluntarily relinquished power to a neutral government that is set to hold new elections. It was a move hailed by the West as the symbol of true democracy – though it reflects the fact that in Tunis as in Cairo, the Brotherhood had no blueprint for running a country and developing its economy.
The fact is that Ennahda remains the last hope of the Brotherhood, in its endeavor to gain power by democratic means – though even if it does succeed, it won’t make up for the loss of Egypt.
Unfortunately, al-Qaida and the like are still very much alive. The unhappy fate of the movement which inspired their founders will not deter them from pursuing their bloody course.