Atlantic Council
October 23, 2013
With the issuing of the September 23 ruling by the Cairo Court for Urgent Affairs, banning the Muslim Brotherhood group’s activities and confiscating its funds, the group has entered a new phase. On October 2, the Egyptian cabinet issued a decision forming a committee to handle and execute the ruling, and to ascertain the number of Muslim Brotherhood offices and manage their assets. On October 9, the Minister of Social Solidarity issued an official decision disbanding the Muslim Brotherhood “association” and seizing its funds.  There is no doubt that this marks a new phase in the confrontation between the ‘Egyptian state,’ with its various institutions, and the Muslim Brotherhood group. New in this context, however, is the fact that the Brotherhood was disbanded by a court ruling, an unprecedented move in the group’s eighty-five year history. 

The Muslim Brotherhood has been subject to dissolution or prohibition twice in the past, but both times it was the result of political or administrative decisions. The first time occurred on December 8, 1948, when then Egyptian prime minister Al-Nukrashi Pasha, issued a decision disbanding the Brotherhood. The decision had extremely significant consequences, the most prominent of which were the assassination of Al-Nukrashi Pasha and the subsequent killing of the Muslim Brotherhood founder and its first General  Guide, Hassan al-Banna on February 12, 1948

The second administrative dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood was carried out by the July  Revolution Command Council (RCC), as the Free Officers came to be known after 1952 It occurred on January 14,1954, on the eve of a big clash between the group and the RCC that was, in reality, a fight over power. The decision remained in effect, from a purely legal standpoint, from the time it was issued until after the January 2011 revolution. During this period of nearly fifty-seven years, the group went through major political changes, all of which occurred while it was “legally banned.” This political ban did not officially end until the establishment of the Freedom and Justice Party, the group’s political wing, in mid-2011, and with the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood as a non-governmental association, in March of 2012.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s presence and its ability to act has always been dependent on how much public space is afforded it by the political authority, regardless of the group’s legal status. Perhaps the most prominent example of this can be seen when the Muslim Brotherhood resumed a public role at the end of the 1970’s. This occurred thanks to a political agreement between the Egyptian president at the time, Anwar Sadat, and the Brotherhood’s General Guide Omar al-Tilmisani, after two and a half decades of pursuit by the security apparatus and widespread arrests. It enabled the Muslim Brotherhood to re-enter political life as Anwar Sadat’s rule ended and Hosni Mubarak’s began, culminating in 1984, with the Brotherhood securing sixty-five seats in parliament, in an alliance with the Wafd Party. All of this happened despite the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood had been “banned” since 1954.

This leads back to the question of the Muslim Brotherhood ban this past September. The ruling confirms that the Egyptian judiciary is in a confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the judiciary has been a political adversary of the Brotherhood since the group came to power, and was also a factor in its removal from power.  The formation of a committee by the Egyptian cabinet to execute the ruling, together with the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from the Ministry of Social Solidarity’s official records, are all hasty steps, since the judicial battle over the association’s existence is an ongoing and lengthy process. The Cairo Court for Urgent Affairs’ ruling is a “temporary expedited” ruling, which did not deal objectively with or investigate the judicial dispute. An objective investigation will begin this November . There is no doubt that all of this will increase the state of extreme antagonism sweeping Egypt and, therefore, decrease the chance of reaching a political solution to the current crisis.

In this context, it must be pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood holds a large share of the responsibility for recent events in Egypt, beginning in February 2011. Regarding the question of the Muslim Brotherhood’s legal status, the group did not seize the historical opportunity to “legalize” its status, work in a legitimate framework and integrate completely into Egyptian society. On the contrary, the group delayed officially registering its activities until this past March, more than two years after Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, two years during which the group practically led the Egyptian political scene. It was not politically acceptable for the Muslim Brotherhood to take on this role while it was – legally – a banned group. Likewise, the situation became even more bizarre  after the Brotherhood’s candidate reached the office of president, when the group should have acted in accordance with the law and set an example by adhering to it. Finally, a reading of the Muslim Brotherhood’s behavior points to the fact that there was a real unspoken refusal on its part to submit to the law and commit to transparency in its dealings with society and the Egyptian state. This was especially illustrated by the secrecy regarding the number of its members, its sources of funds, and the Brotherhood’s submission to the same oversight and accountability standards that apply to other civil groups and political parties in Egypt.

Despite this, in the tense political crisis that Egypt has been experiencing since July 3, as relates to the question of the Muslim Brotherhood’s legal status, it is not possible to exclude a large political group the size of the Muslim Brotherhood. The hoped-for establishment of democracy, which has been greatly delayed, will not be achieved without the participation of all the political factions within it. As for the Muslim Brotherhood itself, it has become accustomed to working in secret over the long decades since its formation, and the group may return to this secret work for decades to come. However, it is in the interest of the Egyptian political and social condition that the Brotherhood does not move towards, or be pushed towards, working in secret once again. It stands to reason that this will affect the peaceful and comprehensive democratic change to which Egyptians aspire.

Some will object, saying that the Muslim Brotherhood chose to pursue the path of violence and of harming public security, and therefore it is imperative to ban the group and deal with it as a security issue. There is no doubt that many violent incidents – against various parties – have taken place in Egypt since July 3, 2013. However, there have not been comprehensive and conclusive judicial investigations to identify the perpetrators of these acts. Likewise, no conclusive judicial rulings have been issued convicting particular individuals. Additionally, the Muslim Brotherhood was not involved in violence nor was it a “material” threat until July 3. This is a date that witnessed a dramatic political change, which was, in reality, against the Muslim Brotherhood. This clearly indicates that the entire conflict began politically, and events then overlapped and intertwined in circles of violence. It must be asked who exactly committed and was involved in this violence, not everyone who belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood or everyone who rejects, in their personal opinion, the events of July 3 and its aftermath. 

Yussef Auf is a fellow with the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. His work focuses on Egyptian constitutional issues, elections, and judicial matters. He has been a judge in Egypt since 2007.

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