Where are the Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian revolutionary process?

Amid continued protest in Egypt and the formation of a new government a week ago before the pressure of the popular movement in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)’s position continue to be source of debate and critic for Egyptians and others.

The MB was the largest opposing party during Moubarak era and became the focus point to rally around for the opposition against the dictatorship. Under the Mubarak regime, the MB was formally banned but nevertheless tolerated. The begrudging toleration, however, did not save its members from frequent arrests and trials before exceptional courts. The group achieved its best election result in 2005 with independent candidates allied to it winning 20% of the seats. The government subsequently launched a crackdown on the MB, detaining hundreds of members, and instituted a number of legal “reforms” to make them illegal. During the fraud-ridden 2010 parliamentary elections, the government found pretexts to invalidate the candidacies of virtually all Muslim Brotherhood-linked independents.

The MB leadership participated in the Revolution entering it on the 28th of January, while the youth of the party were part of the Revolution since day one on the 25th.

The position of the MB towards the revolutionary process since the fall of Moubarak has been more than ambiguous in many ways. Many revolutionaries and protesters in Egypt have characterized the MB’s behavior of counterrevolutionary and reactionary, while others say that it is nevertheless the largest and most organized party in the country so there is a need to collaborate with it, as advice by some on the Left from the UK in a conference in support of the Arab revolutions in Cairo.
Let’s observe the MB since the resignation of Moubarak.

The Security Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) and the MB

Not later than last week, the MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie urged Egyptians to back the ruling military council and he praised its role in protecting the revolution and backing the people.
This is not what the Egyptians demonstrating in Tahrir square and throughout the country believe. The main demands of the Revolution have actually not been met, since Mubarak was forced to resign whether in terms of democracy, social justice and on anti imperialist issues. In addition to this, justice for the martyrs of the revolution has not been made, and the criminals have still not been charged. 
The SCAF and the military regime have in addition been accused of being implicated in torture and other human rights violations, while condemning protesters and bloggers who criticize the SCAF anti democratic behavior. The SCAF has also implement a law that criminalizes strikes, protests, demonstrations and sit-ins that affect the economy in any way. The military council has trialed many workers who decide to strike in military courts since it came to power in February 2011.

For example, the military council sentenced five workers from the Petrojet Oil Company to a suspended one year sentence last June after they protested against management over full-time status grievances.
The MB position of supporting SCAF has been the case since February, as we remember with referendum on the Constitutional amendments which the ruling armed forces put forward. These amendments were the most marginal constitutional changes and they were supported by Mubarak’s old party, the NDP, and by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Army and the Muslim Brotherhood put forward amendments favoring same system and disadvantaging new candidates in forthcoming elections. Those in the No camp were most of the left and those in the forefront of the revolutionary movement plus the youth sections of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the demonstration of the Friday, 8th April, the Army launched a violent attack on the protesters killing at least two. The Muslim Brotherhood has described those protesting against the military as ‘zealots’, and has refused to support their demonstrations: ‘The Muslim Brotherhood condemns any attempt to weaken [the military’s relationship with the people], and especially attempts to cause any split between the military and the people or to pit them against each other.’

 The MB repeated this behavior lately in mobilizing for the Tahrir Square rally on 8 July, which hundreds of thousands, but made a pointed exit at 6 pm, defying calls for a sit-in and leveling criticism at the political parties and groups who remained in the square. The group launched attacks as well on the ongoing protest via its website, Ikhwan Online, which on 11 July reported that the sit-in had been infiltrated by “remnants of the dissolved National Democratic Party, the state security apparatus and their Zionist allies”.

The call for this demonstration to continue and achieve the demands of the “revolution” was made on the 23rd June. The MB initially refused any participation in the demonstration, but under the pressure of the mass and scared to lose ground even more with the protesters, finally decided to join the demonstration out of fear and self interests more than principles. The MB’s leadership negative behavior and criticism towards the protesters from the call and during the demonstration will create more tensions among its members and leads to the inevitable split with the youth of the group who where one of the leading parties in the revolution from day one. 

The MB splits in different parties

The MB created their own political party the Freedom and Justice Party during this period of time, which they claim will be independent of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. However, this seems highly improbable, especially since the group’s Shura Council selected the party’s president, vice-president and secretary general and decided on the maximum number of seats the party would run for in the upcoming parliamentary poll. The Freedom and Justice Party is in reality the MB’s political arm.

The animosity and condemnation of the MB leadership towards the protesters and its support to the SCAF have nevertheless brought tensions and division among the group, especially among the youth.   Tensions between factions of the Brotherhood youth and leadership were first exposed during the January 25 Revolution, when the group officially boycotted the call for a revolution while its youth insisted on participating.

In June, the youth of the MB finally decided to create their own political party following increasing criticism on the political position of the MB’s leadership and disenchantment with their generation’s marginalization of the group’s leadership. The party is called Hizb Al-Tayyar Al-Masry  (Egyptian Current Party) and plays until now an important role in the pro revolution camp. They want the party to express the spirit of the revolution and give a role to the youth.  The Egyptian Current Party have for example issued recently a statement to express their ‎‎rejection of accusations made by the SCAF ‎against the April 6 Youth Movement. In its 69th communiqué, the ruling military council blamed the April 6 Youth ‎Movement ‎for the violent clashes that erupted in Abbassiya on Saturday 23rd of June. ‎Alleged hired thugs, along with local residents who believed their ‎neighbourhood ‎was under threat, confronted peaceful demonstrators heading ‎towards ‎the SCAF headquarters to protest against ‎Egypt’s military ‎rulers.‎

The Egyptian Current party is participating and joining the demonstrations aimed at upholding agreed-upon demands of the revolution, including quick and fair trials of corrupt figures and those accused of killing demonstrators, cleansing corruption and enabling a new government free from former regime figures.

The Egyptian Current party is distinguished by its civil and democratic nature. Morals, values and religious principles play a role in regulating its performance as written in their statement. Unlike most other Islamist parties, its manifesto does not mention Islamic sharia as its frame of reference; it only refers to the Arab Islamic civilization. They state that they cannot refer to the Islamic sharia because this is not an Islamist party, and it is not a party for the Muslim Brotherhood youth. The party is actually not just composed of former or current Brotherhood youth, but is much more diverse. Members of the party include April 6 and Kifaya members, as well as many independents.

They have also expressed vehement opposition to the MB official party, Freedom and Justice, arguing that it failed to ensure a full separation between the Muslim Brotherhood’s proselytizing and political activities.
The announcement of the creation of the Egyptian Current Party came actually two days after the group’s Shura Council expelled prominent reformist leader Moneim Abouel Fotouh for declaring that he would run for president. Although he said that he would run as an independent, the group viewed his announcement as a defiance of its decision not to field any presidential candidates.

His expulsion was resented by many young Brothers, including many of those involved in founding the Egyptian Current Party. The Egyptian Current Party was the second rebellious party to emanate from the Muslim Brotherhood. In March, Ibrahim al-Zaafarani, a former member of the Shura Council, resigned from the group and announced the formation of the Renaissance Party (Nahda), while Senior member Mohamed Habib resigned to join it as well.

The MB’s leadership in reaction sacked several of its known youth leaders because of the formation of the new Egyptian Current Party, not approved by the organization.  The Muslim Brotherhood had declared that members were not allowed to join a party other than Freedom and Justice and or support any presidential candidate

Economic policy of the MB
The MB’s leadership denies anyway any lost in popularity and continue to organize for November parliamentary elections in November despite not even seeking to obtain a majority of votes in the context of the democratic alliance, according to them, for the sake of Egypt.
They are notably campaigning on a platform to trim the country’s budget deficit. The Brotherhood is also proposing to cut spending, sell state-run media, link subsidies to job creation and slow inflation. They prioritize investment and free markets for encouraging industry and innovation.  The FJP (MB’s official party) strongly see the need for a free economic system… and building government institutions that would ensure prosperity and justice,” their economic program ambiguously states.
MB calls for revising the tax plan. However, it is non-committal about any specific belief regarding taxes. On the opposite, the Wasat Party a religiously liberal Brotherhood spin-off, calls for progressive taxation. It is also more explicit on how it would mobilize public resources towards redistributing wealth and encouraging social justice.  They state the desire to offer a minimum wage, universal healthcare and education in Egypt.  The MB is less specific on those topics, although a recent report suggested that they would support austerity measures due to their opposition to high budget deficits.
The actually claim that the wide budget deficit has impaired the state’s ability to spend on basic services, a matter that affected the quality of those services in a way that has increased the misery of the poor.
The MB leadership said it supports free-market capitalism, but without manipulation or monopoly. The party’s political program would include tourism as a main source of national income, but the MB believes that Egypt should focus on a specific form of tourism.  A sort of “clean” tourism, which will attract many tourists and investors who would like to take part in it”. They are notably seeking to enhance trade with Muslim and Arab countries in particular.

An economic political program that can hardly be differentiated from past economic policies in many ways, the MB have actually not supported but opposed socio economic demands of the workers and public servants.  

Palestine and the USA
On international issues, the group answered positively to a call made by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 30 June that the US was “re- engaging” with the MB in an effort to promote democracy. The MB declared that it welcomes formal contacts with the United States as a way to clarify its institutional vision. No contacts have been established yet nevertheless, but it shows the readiness of the MB to speak and collaborate with imperialist states.
In relation to Palestine, the MB did not participate in the protest for Nakba day in May in front the Israeli embassy in Cairo, in which the Egyptian police fired tear gas and live ammunition at protesters. Thousands of demonstrators were massed outside of the embassy in the Egyptian capital.   The MB did not intervene or criticize as well the SCAF’s decision to restrict the Palestinian use of the Rafah crossing to enter Gaza, after announcing the total opening of beginning of June.

In conclusion, the MB has been an ally of the SCAF since they took over following the resignation of Moubarak and therefore acted as a counterrevolutionary player in the Egyptian revolutionary process since then. The division in Egypt is not between secular or religious parties, but between revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries parties. The MB’s leadership will to be inducted into the Egyptian political and economic elite, while their mass base and the pressure of the revolution, which is the only thing that gives them legitimacy, forces them to vacillate between acting in a counter revolutionary way and making concessions to mass pressure. These vacillations are producing splits and weakening the MBs legitimacy. The MB should definitely review their political behavior and support of SCAF of these past few months if they want to be part of the continuation revolutionary process, and this time on the right side of it…

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