Why the Muslim Brotherhood Fell Politically (Part I)

March 31, 2012, not July 3, 2013 is the true date of the political fall of the Muslim Brotherhood. On March 31, the Muslim Brotherhood’s General Shura Council (GSC) voted on whether to field a candidate for the Egyptian presidential elections in May 2012. The decision to field a candidate was approved by a narrow majority—only fifty-six GSC members voted in favor of the decision, with fifty-two members rejecting the idea. This is possibly the most consequential decision that Muslim Brotherhood has made in the past four decades, since their “return” to political life at the end of the 1970’s. What is striking about this decision is that, despite its extreme importance, it was approved by such a weak majority. The numbers point to an almost complete divide within the GSC, whose members are known for their conservatism and their efforts to work as a united bloc.

The importance of this decision, which led to the Brotherhood’s fall and to a new conflict within the Egyptian state, is clear after looking at a number of important developments. During the January 25 uprising, February 10, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it would not field one of its members as a presidential candidate. The move aimed to reassure the political powers that the Brotherhood’s goal was participation, rather than dominance. Perhaps one of the results of this ‘promise’ can be seen during the first post-January 25 parliamentary elections, with the Muslim Brotherhood winning more than 45 percent of the seats in parliament due to the electorate’s confidence in the group. However, due to miscalculations and a hunger for power, the Muslim Brotherhood broke its promise and fielded a candidate for the presidency. This undermined the legitimacy of its candidate for the presidency—the very legitimacy that was and still is the political banner that the Muslim Brotherhood raises at every opportunity.

When the GSC decided to field a presidential candidate, it did so without announcing a specific candidate. This points clearly to the fact that it was more important for the Muslim Brotherhood to be ‘inside the presidential palace,’ regardless of who would represent the group from within. This shows the complete confidence the Brotherhood had that all of its members would bow to its will, regardless of their position within the organization. This resulted in an extremely unusual step on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood. It fielded a principal candidate (Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater) and a second, back-up candidate, the former president Mohamed Morsi (the head of the Freedom and Justice Party at the time). This was strange because fielding a presidential candidate is a key matter, and it is not acceptable, politically, for the president of the Egyptian Republic to be a ‘back-up candidate’ in the eyes of his own group and party and that, unfortunately, is what occurred.

The elections period from May to June 2012 revealed the significant negative impact that Morsi’s candidacy as a back-up candidate had on the Egyptian people. His candidacy may have undermined the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential candidate before even taking office.

The Muslim Brotherhood did not realize that the time had not yet come for the organization to take on the ultimate responsibility of leading the country when it fielded a presidential candidate. When one looks at the Brotherhood’s history, one sees a great ability to gather supporters and organize them in parliamentary elections and professional syndicate elections, where the group achieved noticeable victories in most of the elections that it contested. This reality also points to the fact that the group’s success was limited particularly to a factional context (professional syndicates’ elections) and a geographical context (parliamentary elections). Their success in these elections was built on “service politics”- in other words politics based fundamentally on providing services to the public – the members of their profession or the people in their electoral district. This is what the group is good at; therefore the Muslim Brotherhood – throughout its long history – has not been able to develop its ability to practice politics in a strategic manner related to running the state and achieving a comprehensive renaissance therein.

Likewise, the Muslim Brotherhood did not realize that it is not easy for some within the Egyptian populace to accept the presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in the presidential position suddenly and after decades of exclusion and persecution. This is compounded by the fact that Egyptian society is distinguished by its religious, ideological, and cultural diversity. Therefore, the Muslim Brotherhood should have been patient and their ascent to the presidential office should have been gradual. More importantly, their ascent should have been accompanied by real achievements and successes related to the running of the state, whether locally, through local councils and governorates, or through ministerial positions, alongside an active and productive presence in parliament through both oversight and legislation. All of this should have been accomplished before they looked to the presidency. In all of this, there appears to be nothing but a lack or an undermining of the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president, even before he came to power. July 3, 2013 confirmed the loss of that legitimacy.

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.

Image: Photo: Jonathan Rashad