Limited Options

The world's oldest Islamist organization has apparently failed in its strategy of confrontation with the ruling military. It is now proving difficult for the movement to make a fresh political start. Karim El-Gawhary reports from Cairo

By Karim El-Gawhary

Ex-President Mohammed Morsi is facing trial, most of its political cadre is in jail: What does the future hold for the Muslim Brotherhood? One thing is certain: This organization, which has been in existence for more than 80 years and has several hundreds of thousands of members and millions of supporters, will not simply disappear into thin air.

Kamal Habib, an expert on Islamists in Egypt, says that the Muslim Brothers will not get very far with their bullheaded strategy in dealing with the military. As a leading member of the Islamist Jihad movement, Habib has served time in prison. "The Muslim Brotherhood's tactic of insisting that Morsi is restored to grace and reinstated in power won't get it very far," he believes.

There are now two options for them, he continues: One section of the movement at least could resort to violence and go underground, or else the organization could be reformed and its return to politics negotiated. But Habib explains that the Muslim Brothers have shifted to the right following the rebellion against Mubarak. Instead of aligning themselves with the liberals, under Morsi they would have sought allegiances with more radical groups such as the Salafists.

Essam al-Arian; Foto: dpa/picture-alliance
Führungsriege hinter Gittern: sitzt nun fast die komplette Führungsriege der Islamisten-Organisation hinter Gittern: Mit der Festnahme Essam Al-Arians Ende Oktober 2013 sitzt nun fast die komplette Führungsriege der Islamisten-Organisation hinter Gittern. Al-Arian ist stellvertretender Chef der Partei für Freiheit und Gerechtigkeit, die von den Muslimbrüdern nach dem Sturz von Präsident Husni Mubarak 2011 gegründet worden war.

"They haven't realized that the Egyptian street is not exclusively Islamist," says Habib. Their biggest mistake was to mix faith and politics, he continues. As a result, the Muslim Brothers have become hostage to their own political approach with its associations with religion, as well as that of alliance partners positioned even further to the right of the spectrum.

Ignoring the demands of young people

29-year-old Muhamad El-Gebba joined the Muslim Brotherhood at the age of 17. He says he cancelled his membership two years ago – in protest at the fact that the mission to Islamize society war became bound up with party politics. He also bemoans the lack of democracy within the organization. 80 percent of members are under 30 years old, he continues, but the movement's leaders have always ignored the demands of younger members, first and foremost their calls for a broadly positioned policy of alliances extending into the liberal camp.

El-Gebba believes the putsch was a direct result of Morsi's political style. Rather than being deposed with the help of the military, he should have been pressured to hold early elections by civilian means such as a general strike, he says.

Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh; Foto: AFP/Getty Images
Schlüsselfigur für einen politischen Ausgleich? Der moderate Islamist Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh, der bei der Präsidentenwahl 2012 unterlegen war, könnte sich als Kompromisskandidat für die nächste Wahl präsentieren.

El-Gebba represents that new generation of young Islamists that could attempt to find a compromise with the liberals and reintegrate Islamist movements back into mainstream politics. But he is certain that "there will not be a democratic transition that's sponsored by the military." For him, political reconciliation can only take place when all those who have committed crimes are held to account. The same applies to the military and security apparatus.

Democracy under threat

Abdel Moneim Abul Futuh also turned his back on the Muslim Brotherhood. He stood against Morsi in the 2012 presidential elections and ended up in fourth place. He could also play a key role in any political compromise. But he does not believe that the military has a democratic agenda. "What guarantee do we have at the moment that no one will be barred from parliamentary elections, when the political trend that the Muslim Brotherhood stands for is not only excluded, but its representatives are being detained and even killed?" he asks.

There can be no democracy as long as this is threatened by three things, he says: The amalgamation of religion and party political work, military interference in politics and foreign money being used to try and influence Egypt's development.

On the one hand, even relatively liberal-minded Egyptians with close links to the Islamist movement such as El-Gebba and Abul Futuh can barely imagine the possibility of political reconciliation in the current situation. On the other hand, the majority of liberals would like to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force once and for all.  This shows just how muddled the situation is in Egypt at the present time. The two trials against Morsi and Mubarak currently serve to reflect this political crisis.

Karim El-Gawhary

© 2013

Translated from the German by Nina Coon

Redaktion: Lewis Gropp/