During the last few years, the Muslim Brotherhood, along with its organizational bases, has launched a number of initiatives that call for a reconciliation with the Egyptian political apparatus, taking advantage of the political conditions and regional shifts in an attempt to refine its image, renounce violence, and help its affiliates get out of prison, all within the framework of a political swap that should exempt it from the guilt of bloodshed it instigated in the institutions and among the personalities of the state.
In the last few days, some imprisoned young Muslim Brotherhood affiliates have posted hand-written letters that contain grievances and self-victimization typical of the Brotherhood, calling on the political leadership to release them in return for a political deal under the pretext of “a reconciliation,” disregarding that their movement is legally designated as a terrorist group according to the Egyptian judiciary.
The leaked letters were preceded by statements made by the Acting Muslim Brotherhood’s Guide Ibrahim Munir on the Qatari Al-Jazeera Satellite TV Channel in March 2021, and by Yousif Nada, the movement’s former international relations envoy on 14 September, in which both personalities called for a dialogue with the Egyptian regime. In the same vein, a number of the movement’s clerics who are seen as members of its international apparatus have also appealed to some sides, particularly Qatar and Turkey, to intervene as mediators, which altogether constitutes a state of political opportunism and an attempt to exploit the regional and geopolitical convergences.
Besides, the timing of the Brotherhood’s call for reconciliation has an implicit connotation in the context of US-Egyptian relations, as Washington has been exerting tremendous pressure on Cairo with regard to its human rights file during the current complicated era, and the US-based Brotherhood lobby is attempting to take advantage of that situation, strengthen its position in any potential political negotiations, and win over a large social and popular segment that would enable it to reemerge on the arena.
The Egyptian security apparatus was very efficient and accurate in eradicating the armed wing of the Brotherhood, as well as the armed wings of other fundamentalist movements. This was achieved through the strategy of disbanding the wings, dismantling the organizational structure, eliminating sleeper cells, and blocking the sources of funding and arming – all in the context of a comprehensive counter terrorism plan.
It is noteworthy that all Brotherhood’s initiatives that were born inside the jails are based on the principle of a political swap, rather than a ‘self-scrutiny’ of the movement’s literature which is mainly authored by its founder Hassan al-Banna and the Islamist thinker Sayyid Qutb, a literature that on several occasion was demonstrated in the legitimization of violence and the resort to guns, especially after 30 June 2013. This ideology is manifested in the movement’s books such as ‘The Doctrine of Popular Resistance,’ ‘The Guide of the Seeker and the Compass of the Bewildered,’ or ‘Resolving the Perplexities.’
The precise designation of Brotherhood affiliates and personalities inside the Egyptian jails should be “convicted felons” rather than “political prisoners” as they like to portray themselves. Most of them are involved in cases of armed violence and were hence irrevocably convicted. Thus, accepting their initiative should also invoke the concept that any convicted felon may be also permitted to plea for a pardon in return for his pledge never to return to his former criminal activities, ultimately releasing him (in violation of constitutional and judiciary norms).
The Brotherhood is playing the card of its prisoners and exploiting it to demonize the Egyptian state in front of international decision-makers, particularly in Europe, to skip its designation as a terrorist group, to guarantee the flow of funding from the sponsors and supporters of terrorism, and to exploit the story of its prisoners to cover up for the failure of its ideology and project among its followers. The Brotherhood seeks to present its case as that of a group that has been persecuted throughout its history, and to promote that its battle with the ruling regimes is one between “Islam and infidelity,” and that what happened to its leaders and members is “a divine test.” Ultimately, the movement is generating a sympathy-provoking self-victimization discourse to affect its affiliates, guarantee its existence, and avoid its organizational disbanding.
On its part, the Egyptian state has not embarked on political reconciliation with armed groups. Instead, it supported the program of “intellectual revision” as with members of Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad groups. The program was approved in 2001 and 2007 to contain violence waves that broke out in the 90ies of the last century.
The recent Brotherhood initiative cannot be likened to the intellectual revision program, for the latter was not conditioned by “cessation of violence in exchange for release from prisons,” but was confined to a revision of takfiri ideologies that regard the society and the ruling regimes as infidel entities.
The position of the Egyptian political leadership on the “reconciliation” is clear-cut regardless of the shifting regional and global conditions. In an interview with France24 Satellite TV Channel, President Abd-al-Fattah Al-Sisi replied to a question on whether a reconciliation with the Brotherhood is potential, saying: “The reply to that question must come from the Egyptian people, not from myself. The Egyptian people are in a state of utter rage, and the other sides must take that into consideration.”
In the same vein, amid a lengthy dialogue with the Kuwaiti daily al-Shahid, President al-Sisi declared that as long as he serves as president the Muslim Brotherhood will have no role to play on the Egyptian arena, adding that the Egyptian people reject a return of the movement “because its ideology is incompatible with life, and even contradicts it.” During an educational seminar held for the Egyptian Armed Forces on 30 October 2020, al-Sisi said: “There will be no reconciliation with those who wish to destruct Egypt and harm its people.”
Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been always claiming that their battle with the Egyptian political apparatus is of a religious and not a political nature, adding that the toppling of former President Muhammad Mursi and his affiliates is a breach against the Almighty and His Islamic jurisprudence. They act as if they were the direct agents and delegates of God on earth and among his creatures, and as if their acquisition of power is an enactment of divine Islamic jurisprudence, rather than political infiltration.
Meanwhile, several facts on the ground debunk the Brotherhood’s false call for a reconciliation. Through this reconciliation, the movement wishes to cleanse its bloody hands, and represent itself anew to the Egyptian and Arab public opinion as a pacific political entity. The first of these facts is that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a political entity, and the second is that it does not represent Egyptian opposition since it is a covert organization with its own ideological convictions and literature that are based on holding the society for masses of infidels, adopting armed violence and legitimizing it for achieving its purposes. This was manifested after the 30 June 2013 revolution in several armed operations.
The state of failure that is governing the movement has made it succumb and search for a way to achieve its “reconciliation” in an attempt to erase its stained reputation with its stories of violence, killing, and bloodshed, and its discourse that is governed by extremist and takfiri thought. The Brotherhood aspires to achieve this in preparation for launching a new phase in which it again mobilizes its affiliates towards pursuing the same old ideological, intellectual, and organizational path, in the context of the project proposed by the movement’s founder; Hassan al-Banna, and according to what the movement terms as “Dar al-Arqam Strategy” which is an attempt to become secluded until human zealots of the thoughts of Sayyid Qutub are evidently present.
Meanwhile, Brotherhood leaders have been advocating an image among other Islamist movements that the group is still strongly effective and capable of presenting itself as a solid side on the table of political dialogue, and as a powerful and influential body that is entitled to impose its own terms and demands.
The Egyptian state has declared several pardons lists which included some individuals whose hands were not stained by armed violence, in a reiteration of its respect of human rights and mindfulness of human considerations, and in an attempt to present a diverse image of the Egyptian jails apart from the “reconciliation” proposition. The state also seeks to block the intellectual polarization that might turn the prisons into productive incubators for producing extremist and fundamentalist minds.
The Egyptian political leadership aimed to dismantle the “centralization” of the Muslim Brotherhood through disconnecting its head from its bases and making the “ideological review” a personal decision rather than a collective discussion by the entire movement in the framework of political negotiations. This methodology aims at destabilizing the ideological and organizational layers of the movement.
Prior to the presidential pardons, several significant developments took place, including confessions made regarding the Muslim Brotherhood’s sources of funding, lines of communication, and the financial and organizational support provided to the group. This was followed by “guaranteeing paths” provided by the state for conducting the ideological review, including intellectual workshops that resulted in several outcomes in relation to the failure of the projects of political Islam and armed groups, instead promoting “a humanitarian Islam.”
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Lebanese outlet Annahar al-Arabi.