The Brotherhood’s Second Republic / جمهورية “الإخوان” الثانية

MB Headquarters.jpg

Various false notions are making the rounds in the media and research centers about the relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt and the military establishment. It began with talk of a clash between the two parties, extended to rumors of a ‘Muslim Brotherhood coup against the military’ and most recently has shifted to ‘the Brotherhoodization’ or ‘Islamization’ of the state. Following the pattern of the current government’s decisions, however, one can see that the regime is merely readjusting, while the broad outlines of its policies remain intact.

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Those circulating the rumors have taken as proof the fact that President Mohamed Morsi – who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood – retired senior military leaders and appointed MB members to prominent positions in the state, as well as the fact that, for the first time, a veiled news anchor appeared on state television. These analyses, however, are superficial, and do not examine the nature of the Egyptian regime, dating back to July 1952.

Those talking about the Islamization of the state speak as though Egypt was already secular and they fear it becoming Islamic. These theories ignore the fact that in the previous era, the constitution stipulated that the principles of Islamic Shari’a were the main source of legislation, and that Egypt has lived in the shadows of a military regime, employing religious discourse in education and media for the past 60 years.

In the semi-liberal age extending from the 1919 Revolution to 1952, Egypt made great strides on the path to modernity and democracy. The influence of the religious current was weak, and Brotherhood was unable to win seats in parliamentary elections or defeat the liberal Wafd Party politically, in the midst a cosmopolitan and open society. After the 1952 military coup, the presence of military rule paved the way for the religious current, as society became closed off to global affairs and the state adopted religious discourse.

Amin al-Mahdi, the author of ‘The Arab-Israeli Conflict: Crisis of Democracy and Peace’ gives examples of how the 1952 regime Islamicized the state in an article he published in al-Hayat, entitled ‘How Abdel Nasser Staged a Religious Coup after the Military Coup.’ In it, states that before the 1952 coup, Egypt had only 7 al-Azhar schools and 3 al-Azhar institutes, a number which today has ballooned to 13,500 school and 680 institutes.

In a conference organized by the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services several years ago, Dr. Gaber Asfour, who at the time was Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Culture, said that Egypt‘s experiment with modernity came to an end because of militaristic and religious fascism. This was an important acknowledgement by a senior official in the cultural establishment during the Mubarak era that captured the nature of the relationship between religious currents and the military.   

This is not the MB’s first experience in power. 10 of the 12 Free Officers who staged the July 1952 military coup were members of the Brotherhood, according to Mahmoud Labib, the former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s armed wing. Additionally, in his memoirs, Khaled Mohi El Din, a member of the Free Officers, details the ongoing relationship between himself, Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Brotherhood. At the time it was not possible to reveal the Brotherhood identity of the officers who staged the coup because they would have been rejected by the people, since at that time, the organization was not popular in comparison with the Wafd Party.

In 1954, the two factions entered into a phase of mock hostility, established to create the military-MB duality that the July 1952 regime exploited, up until the January 2011 uprising. Egypt’s recent transitional period has simply witnessed a role-reversal: the military used the MB as a bogeyman to justify its continued rule, while the role of the MB has now transformed into using the military to once again reach power, but this time by way of a political party rather than an underground organization.

An overview of recent events in Egypt indicates that both sides are operating according to a win-win logic. The appointment of Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi – the aging former Minister of Defense – as advisor to the president and the fact that he was awarded the highest distinction in Egypt, the Order of the Nile, which places its recipient on the same level as the Prime Minister in terms of protocol, is not a coup, but an honor.

After the January 2011 uprising, the military and Brotherhood had shared fears; the military’s concerns were over a loss of power, while the Muslim Brotherhood feared the uprising would lead to a liberal democratic state which would undermine their goals for the country. The two factions cooperated together, with each move made with the aim of maintaining a balance between the continuation of the military’s influence and the preservation of the religious state.

More than two decades ago, secular intellectual Farag Foda was assassinated by two Islamists, while the year after his murder, Mubarak bestowed the State Incentive Award on Sheikh Mohammed al-Ghazali, who issued the fatwa legitimizing Foda’s slaying. Before his death, Foda prophesized what would happen: "The vicious circle is beginning its cycle. In the absence of a secular opposition, military rule will lead to religious rule and religious rule will only be uprooted by a military coup that, after a long or short while, will hand things back to religious rule."

Magdy Samaan is a visiting fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and a 2011 MENA Democracy Fellow at the World Affairs Institute.

Photo Credit: Reuters

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