TSG IntelBrief: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: What Happened…What’s Next
July 30, 2013
Bottom Line Up Front
• The overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi’s government is presenting the Muslim Brotherhood with the most serious political crisis in its 85-year history.
• The Brotherhood’s aspirations were ultimately stymied by a combination of its lack of inclusiveness, its focus on consolidating power, the failure of its policies to address critical economic and political issues, and the perception of Morsi as a divisive figure.
• The Brotherhood’s leaders failed to learn that winning an election is not sufficient to legitimize a new government. It was slow to respond to the challenges of managing a major economy or recognize the broader interests of the Egyptian population.
• With the current political situation in Egypt highly fluid and unstable, forecasting future scenarios becomes highly problematic.
As of late July 2013, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is facing the most serious political crisis in its 85-year history. After only a year in office, President Mohammed Morsi, one of the Brotherhood’s top leaders, was overthrown in early July. In a televised statement following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government, Army chief of staff General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi explained that the military was forced to act after Morsi had refused for weeks to set up a national reconciliation government in response to the widespread protests against his administration’s rigid policies.
What is so stunning about this dramatic fall from power is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not only Egypt’s oldest and largest Islamist organization, it is also the country’s largest and best organized political organization. Beyond Egypt, the Brotherhood has influenced counterpart Islamist movements in the Middle East and around the world with its model of political activism combined with Islamic charity work. As a result, its precipitous downfall will almost certainly have implications for groups such as the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Muslim Brotherhood organizations in Jordan, Syria, and Tunisia.
What Went Wrong
The immediate events that led to the Brotherhood’s ouster are well known, particularly the widespread street demonstrations against the Morsi-led government that began around November 2012. This marked a dramatic turnaround from the aftermath of Morsi’s election in June 2012. According to polling conducted by the Egyptian Center for Public Opinion Research, his approval rating had dropped from a high of 79 percent to just 32 percent.
To appreciate the wider context for the sudden downfall of President Morsi’s government requires an understanding of four interrelated contributing factors.
▪ Political and Theocratic Aggrandizement. Despite the Brotherhood’s long political history, it appeared that even when its vital interests in attaining political power were finally being realized, its tendency toward political and theocratic aggrandizement ended up trumping self-restraint and a sense of inclusiveness. Thus, as soon as it assumed formal leadership, it began pushing hard to advance a narrow partisan Islamist agenda to create a state ruled by Islamic law, or Sharia, that alienated the very groups that had hoped the Egyptian Revolution would lead to a more pluralistic and open society.
▪ A Focus on Consolidating Power. The Brotherhood appeared to focus more on consolidating its hold on power and “Brotherhoodization” of the government than on improving the economic lives of the Egyptian people. This began with its announcement that it would field a candidate in the June 2012 presidential election despite having previously promised it would not; attempting to ram through an interim Islamist-based constitution that granted President Morsi far-reaching powers in contradiction to the earlier reassurance about establishing a “democratic, civil and modern state” that guaranteed the freedom of religion and right to peaceful protest; consolidating its hold on power by appointing the organization’s leaders to influential government positions, forcing leading generals into retirement, granting President Morsi executive and legislative powers, and giving him authority over the nation’s judiciary; and breaking the promise to appoint a female vice president and a Coptic Christian deputy.
▪ Policy Shortfalls. President Morsi’s policies had failed to introduce measures for restoring internal security or repairing the economy, and this resulted in a popular perception that the Brotherhood’s interests were not aligned with the country as a whole. As a result, the economy continued its free fall. Making matters worse, little was done to boost tourism—a major source of revenue—or attract foreign investment. In addition, both the cost of food and unemployment continued to rise, accompanied by fuel and gas shortages, electricity cuts, and perpetual power outages across the country.
▪ Popular Perceptions. In this highly politically charged environment, President Morsi began to be perceived as a divisive, polarizing, and incompetent leader who resorted to increasingly authoritarian tactics, such as stifling free speech and attempting to crush any criticism of his administration.
Where the Muslim Brotherhood May Be Headed
With the current political situation in Egypt highly fluid and unstable, it is difficult to formulate a single best forecast of likely future outcomes from such uncertain data. To remedy this information deficit, we offer three alternative scenarios, with the understanding that, over time, new evidence will be introduced to validate the relative likelihood of each of these possible scenarios.
▪ Best Case Scenario. In this preferred scenario, the Muslim Brotherhood will apply the lessons learned from the model of what the Islamist-based Welfare Party did in Turkey in February 1997 when the military intervened and forced the resignation of Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and the termination of his coalition government. In response, its successor, the Recep Tayyip Erdoğan-led Justice and Development Party (AKP), regrouped and formulated a more consensual-based party platform that enabled it to win the May 2003 elections and consolidate its power in government since then.
In this scenario, for the Brotherhood to retain its role as a legitimate political force in the new emergent Egyptian political system, it will need to adopt the principles of compromise and consensus over violence, and accommodate itself to the promotion of democratic pluralism and religious freedom. Finally, the Muslim Brotherhood will need to contest any new elections that will be held (likely in early-to-mid 2014) as opposed to boycotting them.
▪ Worst Case Scenario. In this least preferred scenario, the Brotherhood, feeling they have been robbed of their victory in free and fair elections and unjustly deposed without proper cause, will return to its pre-Arab Spring underground existence, but waiting to return to power through violence and sabotage. They will intensify their current street protests into a full-scale violent uprising until Morsi is restored to the presidency.
This scenario is modeled after Algeria in 1991 when the country’s powerful military cancelled the electoral victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party, took control of the government, forced President Chadli Bendjedid from office, banned the FIS, and arrested thousands of its members. This plunged Algeria into a protracted insurgency by the Armed Islamic Group, the FIS’s militant successor, until 2002, when the government gained the upper hand.
In such a scenario, Egypt would be projected to plunge into a protracted and violent Algerian-type civil war. Moreover, in support of the Brotherhood, terrorist groups linked to al Qaeda (which is led by the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri) would likely conduct terrorist attacks in Egypt.
▪ Most Likely Scenario. The most likely scenario will be a mix of best and worst cases, with the Muslim Brotherhood continuing to incite its adherents into mass street protests that, over time, are likely to diminish as the country’s security forces gain the upper hand in restoring a sense of domestic stability (although possibly at the cost of temporary martial law). Although the Muslim Brotherhood will attempt to prevent the new technocratic government from succeeding, popular sentiment will be so strong for establishing a democratic and pluralistic political system that it will have no choice but to acquiesce to the new political environment and join the proposed national reconciliation conference.
Although the political outcome of the current violent upheaval is uncertain, the Egyptian military will follow through on its intention to serve as a temporary, transitional ruling body, after which it will step back to its traditional supporting role of the country’s civilian government. At the same time, no one—possibly not even its leaders—can say with certainty that the Muslim Brotherhood will adopt the best-case scenario of exercising restraint and self-examination during this period of upheaval and pursue the path of sacrificing their short-term power loss in preparation for future long-term political gain.
The Brotherhood’s leadership needs to learn from its recent governing failure that winning an election is not sufficient to legitimize a new government to do as it pleases, that managing a major economy requires economic expertise, and, above all, that the interests and concerns of all Egyptians—as opposed to narrow sectarian interests—need to be addressed.
➣ The decisions that will be made in the coming weeks by the military-dominated interim government and the opposition Muslim Brotherhood will shape the future of Egypt and the wider Middle East.
➣ In the wake of the political change, the US government is likely to continue its current levels of military and economic aid to Egypt.
➣ The Muslim Brotherhood-led street protests against Morsi’s overthrow are likely to continue. With the Brotherhood angrily resisting its forcible eviction from power, the prospects of Egypt’s second transition to democracy will be less peaceful than in 2012.
➣ Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Persian Gulf governments will provide an infusion of economic aid that will alleviate the economic shortfalls in the near-term.
➣ The national reconciliation conference will be held in early 2014, which will usher in the transition to an elected civilian government.
➣ An extremist splinter group of Muslim Brotherhood-related Islamists will revert to armed struggle and assassinations against the interim government and successive governments.
➣ The Egyptian military is likely to employ large forces to contain al Qaeda-affiliated militants in the Sinai Peninsula.
➣ In the neighboring Gaza Strip, Hamas will be increasingly isolated from Egypt, unless it adopts a more conciliatory policy towards the new regime in Cairo.
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