Why the Muslim Brotherhood Fell Politically (Part II)

The Muslim Brotherhood reached the pinnacle of power in Egypt on June 30, 2012, by way of its candidate Mohamed Morsi. However, power did not remain in their hands for long, with the president ousted on July 3, 2013. Regardless of how Mohamed Morsi came to power and regardless of the events of June 30 and what followed, examining one year under Brotherhood rule suggests there are many lessons to be learned for the years to come. The Muslim Brotherhood’s exit from power, through Morsi’s ouster, was not simply a coincidence, nor did it come as the result of a surprise military coup. Instead, the Brotherhood’s fall was an expression of its failure to handle the two most important issues facing Mohamed Morsi when he reached the presidential palace: “running the state” and “managing the struggle.” 

Many Egyptians, both prior to and at the time of the presidential elections, thought that the Muslim Brotherhood had the qualifications and abilities that would enable it to achieve real development and comprehensive change in Egypt through wise management of the state. This belief was understandable. After all, the Brotherhood has a long history of political activity spanning more than eighty years. However, from the outset, reality proved that the Brotherhood did not have the ability or experience enabling it to run the Egyptian state. During his presidency, Morsi and his government failed to face Egypt’s accumulated problems. This perhaps could be explained by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood spent six decades of its history facing persecution from the Egyptian regime. 

Since the Arab uprisings began in 2011, the Turkish model had continuously been referenced as a practical and successful example for the new political regimes in the region to follow. Despite a well-known close relationship between Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the latter did not outperform the former or learn important lessons from the Turkish experience. Since 2002, the JDP has achieved real electoral victories, as well as economic success. The foundation for the JDP’s success was its concentration on gradualism and gaining administrative experience. The JDP head and current Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was the mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998 and during that time, he succeeded in achieving astonishing development growth for the big city. He was able to gain political and administrative experience which enabled him and the JDP to form the Turkish government, after a landslide victory in the 2002 parliamentary elections. The JDP has succeeded in maintaining its political dominance in the parliament and government since. A year of the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule in Egypt shows, contrary to the Turkish experience, not only did the group lack a clear political plan that could have been implemented, but it also lacked the administrative experience necessary to implement any of the group’s ideas.

Another important lesson the Brotherhood failed to learn from the Turkish model was the need to secure wide public support before making significant political moves. This is particularly important when these moves impact weighty institutions such as the army or judiciary. This necessary public support does not come from political speeches, but rather through realizing economic achievements which raise the standard of living of the “normal, non-politicized citizen”. When first in power, Turkey’s JDP did take on the military or constitutional court, the very institutions that had protected the strict secular regime in the Turkish state for decades. Erdoğan did not try to take on these two institutions until after years in power, during which he was able to achieve an economic boom felt by Turkish citizens. After achieving economic success, and ensuring he enjoyed real popular support, only then did Erdoğan take on the Turkish military and constitutional court which had long carried out military coups and interfered to topple elected governments – the last of which was Necmettin Erbakan’s government in 1997. The JDP took on these institutions through constitutional and legislative amendments, in 2010, that ensured the shaking up of the military and the constitutional court, as well as their removal from the arena of political conflict.

Contrary to the Turkish experience, as soon as they reached power, Morsi and the Brotherhood chose direct confrontation with the state’s institutions, particularly with the judiciary and the military. The examples of this confrontation are numerous and continued uninterrupted from the time of Morsi’s election until his ouster. He attempted to challenge a Supreme Constitutional Court ruling dissolving the parliament, forced through his choice of prosecutor general, and suffered what is now obviously a tense relationship with Egypt’s military leaders. Morsi and the Brotherhood made a mistake in taking these kinds of significant steps without guaranteeing wide popular support for their regime. The creation of this popular support would have required years of diligent development work, ensuring that a wide sector of the Egyptian people emerge from their state of poverty and low standard of living. This kind of popular support is completely different from both the support of the group’s backers, for whom it can do no wrong, and the rejection of the opposition, for whom the group can do no right.

With Mohamed Morsi’s failure to run the state, a wide cross-section of the Egyptian people rose up against him, and with his failure to manage the struggle, the Egyptian state’s institutions finished him off. Such was the thundering fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, which did not come long after it reached power.

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