Is Muslim Brotherhood Ban a Return to Oppression?

Is Muslim Brotherhood Ban a Return to Oppression?

As Egypt’s interim government moves to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, questions are emerging as to whether calls for freedom in Tahrir Square are backsliding?

On the 23rd of September, after the socialist party Al Tagamo’a filed a case, a Cairo court ordered the Egyptian interim government to ban all Muslim Brotherhood (MB) activities and the organizations derived from it. As this is not the first ban of the Islamist organization in its 85-year history, the decision raised many questions on the impact, as well as the efficacy, of the verdict. While some argue that such decisions are a return to the old regime’s oppression, others assert that the ban is not enough to ensure the country’s stability.

The verdict, which included the seizure of the group’s funds and assets, seems similar to previous decisions by former governments. Yet, it differs from its precedents. In the 1940s, Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmy Al Nokrashy decided to dismantle the organization only to be assassinated by the Brotherhood’s militia 20 days later. A few years later, Gamal Abdel Nasser decided to dismantle the group after a failed attempt to assassinate him. None of these previous decisions banned the organization’s activities, nor were they issued by a court after a lawsuit.

The court’s decision is controversial for several reasons. It comes after blood was shed during the authorities’ attempts to end some of the organization’s demonstrations and sit-ins, as well as the detention of some Muslim Brotherhood leaders, who allegedly incited and financed violent activities. This prompted the MB to run a huge media campaign in different Arab and Western countries, portraying the MB as a victim of oppression and prejudice practiced by security forces. The campaign succeeded to a great extent in distancing the organization from the attacks against churches, security forces in Sinai and police stations in several cities—as well the presence and use of arms during sit-ins and demonstrations.

Furthermore, some of the youth revolutionary groups, who have stood against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) since the January 2011 revolution, suspect that the army still has intentions to stay in power. Even though the army and its leader General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi do enjoy massive support at the moment—due to the campaign against terrorism and successful domestic public relations techniques—questions regarding the military’s intentions remain prevalent in public discourse. Hence, some interpret certain decisions as embodying a return to the old regime or a counter-revolution against the freedoms obtained after the January 2011 revolution.

The government claims to make an effort to reintegrate the Islamists in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular into the political process. But offering to negotiate with the MB or including some Salafist parties in meetings does not seem to be enough. Some MB members started their career in the organization when they were as young as 11 years old. Participating in weekly excursions, monthly meetings and annual camps have not only made some of them extremely loyal to the organization but have made it, in some cases, a substitute to their home. Having studied the country’s history and literature through the lens of a Brotherhood education, Muslim Brotherhood members are less likely to change their convictions about Egypt’s history and their interpretations of the present. Consequently, the Egyptian interim government is facing another challenge that is no less important than security and the economy.

Nevertheless, reintegration is a bilateral effort, which may fail if members of the organization decline to respond. At the moment, the leaders who are not detained on criminal charges are piloting negotiations with the government. Meanwhile, many of the MB’s youth have taken to the streets, although their actions are losing momentum. It is not clear whether this dual path of negotiating and pressuring is an agreed-upon tactic or a result of loss of control and communication between the organization’s different levels after the security crackdown. However, it is obvious that deliberately interfering with infrastructure and causing violence is not gaining the MB any friends.

On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood international organization and its branches in several countries have launched several campaigns to support their mother-entity in Egypt. Despite the fact that international activists are organizing conferences in Turkey and Pakistan, meeting with foreign officials and attempting to internationalize the Egyptian domestic crisis, the majority of the polarized and stressed Egyptian society does not seem to appreciate these efforts.

Egypt’s quest for stability cannot depend only on security solutions like prohibition and banning. Combating crime and terrorism is vital, and so is the reintegration and inclusion of groups like the MB, whose membership is estimated at between 750,000 and 1,000,000 people. Ending the crisis is definitely a common responsibility for both parties. However, failing to reintegrate Islamists might drive Egypt into a dark tunnel, where Islamists resort to insurgency, similar to what happened in Algeria in the early 1990s.

About Author

Ahmad Taleb

Ahmed is a Business Intelligence Analyst for a multinational financial advisory services company. He received his graduate education in Business & International Commerce in Egypt and France. He obtained a master’s degree in Comparative Politics from the Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po Aix) in France.