The rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood

A revolution, an electoral victory and a coup. What’s next for the Islamic movement in Egypt?

Muslim Brotherhood in court cages (photo credit: REUTERS)
Muslim Brotherhood in court cages
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The hopeful era of the revolution is dead. In May 2012, Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Just one year later, the Egyptian military staged a coup, ousted the former president, and declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.
The Muslim Brotherhood, banned from political participation for decades, saw a way out through the revolution. But their seize-the-moment attitude backfired, prolonging the national crisis. How did the Muslim Brotherhood transform so dramatically from political victors to a declared terrorist organization? Morsi’s electoral victory was unsurprising considering the Muslim Brotherhood’s superior organization skills, its close-to-the-people image, and the opposition’s failure to unify. Empty promises and power-grabbing stunts began Morsi’s decline, but his disregard for Egypt’s elite constituents ultimately instigated the military coup.
Morsi fell through on his promises to clean up the city, decrease traffic jams and appoint a Copt vice president.
More importantly, Morsi announced a hasty conclusion to the drafting of the new constitution. A referendum shortly thereafter was nearly exclusively composed of Islamists.
He then made a glaring mistake: ridding the constitutional court judges of their power and declaring the president’s decisions immune from judicial oversight. Cairo resident Koert Debeuf described this constitutional declaration as Morsi’s “mini-coup.”
Morsi also assumed a maverick foreign policy and called for a jihad against Syria’s Assad regime, an event that would have delivered a big blow to Egypt’s already suffering economy.
Morsi was not answering to the will of the Egyptian people, but rather aligning his political actions with the Muslim Brotherhood’s interests. His partyline- first agenda neglected the needs of Egypt’s pluralistic society.
Some suggest that Morsi could not have accomplished anything without his power-grabbing schemes due to the lack of cooperation from the existing bureaucracy. However, Morsi did have the ability to appoint governors, who had much influence over election arrangements. Morsi exercised his Islamist favoritism by filling 10 of the 27 governorships with Muslim Brotherhood officials. The appointment of Adel el-Khayat to administer the district most vital to Egypt’s tourism industry especially fueled accusations of Morsi’s attempt to monopolize political power for the Brotherhood. Adel el-Khayat was a member of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya, a radical religious movement that claimed credit for the deaths of 58 tourists at a temple in Luxor in 1997.
The gravest mistake Morsi made was his comprehensive loss of support from the Egyptian elite and military. These important constituents were the very groups with the ability to oust the president.
In just one year’s time, Morsi managed to first deliver tremendous hope and relief to a nation and shortly thereafter return the country to a state of crisis. On July 3, 2013, the Egyptian army overthrew President Morsi and in December of the same year designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization following a car bombing outside a government security building in Mansoura killing at least 15.
Although parallels can be drawn between the Brotherhood’s ideological platform and that of some Islamist terrorist groups, the Brotherhood does not fall under the same category in terms of its action and strategy. But the army did have much to gain from portraying the democratically elected party it displaced as a terrorist group, positioning the undemocratic nature of the coup itself as less important than Morsi’s corruption.
The Brotherhood’s lack of representation in Egypt’s next political transition will likely force the Brotherhood to resort to violence or terror tactics in order to make their political goals known. To combat this, the Egyptian government needs to offer the Brotherhood a peaceful means of participation in Egypt’s future, namely the right to compete in elections.
Infrastructure must be built from the top-down in order to establish new democratic institutions, and society must accept the democratic process for which they call so vigorously.
But is Egypt ready for democracy? Democracy requires a separation of powers, which often creates a complex bureaucracy that complicates the completion of any task in a timely fashion. What Egypt needs is stability, and it needs it fast. Perhaps there is merit in the idea that democracy is not the first solution to Egypt’s political crisis, but rather a long-term solution after political and economic security have been reinstated.
However, the question here is how the Muslim Brotherhood can reintegrate itself into Egyptian society. Two options exist for the Brotherhood to participate in this stability: 1) Pursue its ideological goals by limiting activity to that of a social movement and giving up on all political involvement temporarily, or 2) Use their influential role to guarantee rights for all, including Islamists, in a pluralistic democratic political arrangement.
On the other hand, Egypt needs to 1) distance itself from its negative Islamist past, 2) reestablish the legitimacy of any working government within the state, and 3) accept the principles of a democratic political system.
The author is a student at University of California, Berkeley studying Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic Language and Literature.