It may be that the battered Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has finally concluded, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” but is it too late? The day before the ousted President Muhammad Mursi appeared on the front page of the Egyptian Arabic daily Al-Masry Al-Youm in a white prison jumpsuit grinning fatuously, the MB-led Pro-Mursi Alliance has proposed “serious dialogue” toward ending the crisis based on these core premises: An end to the military takeover, constitutional legitimacy, retribution for those who’ve lost their lives, the return to air of Brotherhood satellite channels—and the right to peaceful protest.
In reality, almost all those conditions are in the process of being met. A political roadmap is moving forward with parliamentary and presidential elections set for the first half of next year. A draft constitution is about to be finalized and a law allowing for peaceful demonstration—with “peaceful” being the operative word—is on the president’s desk. If the Alliance’s proposal is genuine, it signifies that the MB realizes it’s on the wrong side of history. Despite its repeated attempts to launch a counter-revolution over the past four months, the penny has finally dropped. Mursi is languishing in Alexandria’s notoriously well-guarded Borj El-Arab prison, charged with several offenses, including treasonous collaborations with foreign entities; he’s not coming back.
You can’t blame them for trying. Six months ago, after more than 30 years of repression, hiding and struggle, the Muslim Brotherhood had it all; their man in the top job, a heavyweight presence in both parliamentary houses, and MB head honchos in key positions within governorates, institutions and the media. But, although most of their representatives wouldn’t admit it, Mursi, an engineer with a suspect doctorate, let them down; he simply wasn’t up to the task and moreover, was too full of himself to acknowledge it. If he had an ounce of patriotism toward his country rather than groveling loyalty to the MB Supreme Guide and the international organization, he would have resigned. Instead, he refused saying, “It’s either me or blood.”
There’s been so much blood running through the streets of Egyptian towns and cities since he was flown to an undisclosed location on July 3 (a naval facility in Alexandria), but Mursi clearly desires more.
In a statement “to the Egyptian people” read out by his legal team during a press conference last week, he accused Defense Minister Gen. Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi of “treason against God” and warned that Egypt would face instability unless he was reinstated. Mursi is in no position to dictate terms to 90 million Egyptians and neither is the Brotherhood whose calls for “Million Man” marches go virtually unheeded.
The few thousands who do show up to chant against the military—either because they are MB diehards or recipients of cash payments—are often confronted by angry pro-government citizens, resulting in clashes broken up by security forces.
The Brotherhood’s refusal to participate in the political process going forward and the violent methods it has used in an effort to hold the nation hostage are its gravest errors. Whereas most Egyptians would have embraced—or tolerated—the MB’s inclusion before its following began burning churches, turning AK-47s on passersby, disrupting university education and gridlocking traffic, the majority now view the MB as beyond the pale at best or a terrorist organization that pulls the strings of armed extremists in northern Sinai at worst.
Local Arabic TV channels buzz with heated discussions on whether or not Egyptians should forgive and forget; in one case tempers between two protagonists ran so high that coffee was thrown around. Those for inclusion of MB, say there will be no peace in Egypt without reconciliation. Those against insist there can be no reconciliation with “terrorists” and “traitors” citing the MB’s calls for US military intervention to bring Mursi back to the palace and alleged dodgy deals between Obama and the Brotherhood prior to last year’s election. This past weekend I was in Cairo chatting to various people from several social strata on this very question.
I have yet to come across a single one who supports Mursi or the MB. Most are effusive in their praise for Gen. El-Sissi, although I did come across a few female liberals in their 20s’ who told me they’re not a fan of either.
The interim government is virtually united on the issue. Most ministers feel the MB, which an appeal court has deemed a banned organization to be stripped of its assets, should not be brought back to the fold. Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El-Din is the lone voice calling upon both sides to make compromises. Other politicians who’ve made similar noises, such as former presidential candidates Mohamed El-Baradei and Ayman Nour, exited the country under media and public condemnation, branded fifth columnists.
It seems the MB is starting to panic as it observes its window of opportunity on the verge of shutting. Its leadership behind bars and abandoned by the US that’s more concerned about its own interests than the fate of Obama’s old pals in Cairo, the Brotherhood is trying to find a way of boarding a ship fast sailing out of the harbor destination tomorrow. Not an easy task if it wants to retain what’s left of its base: people who’ve been ruthlessly conned with false promises and unrealistic hopes.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.