Should the Brotherhood give up the struggle for democracy, Egypt would fall prey to the hegemony of a corrupt ruling class for decades to come
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is being subjected to the most vicious onslaught of repression and terrorism ever exercised by the Egyptian state against its people since the birth of modern Egypt. Just like previous regimes, the current Egyptian regime is obsessed with the idea that it can uproot the Muslim Brotherhood from society and from the political arena.To achieve such an objective, the regime has so far detained tens of thousands of its Egyptian opponents, most of whom are believed to be members of the Muslim Brotherhood from various ranks as well as people who support or sympathise with them. The state security agencies treat these detainees brutally, subjecting them to torture, putting them in overcrowded prison cells lacking the most basic of living conditions, and denying them medication and food for many days.
Reports smuggled out of the prisons indicate that some Brotherhood leaders and prominent opposition figures are being detained in particularly harsh conditions aimed at killing them slowly, including Khayrat al-Shatir, Muhammad al-Beltagi and Issam Sultan. Several other leading figures have already been murdered. During the past few months, the security agencies have adopted a policy of extrajudicial execution – assassinating leaders and activists without formally arresting or interrogating them.
Members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood do not only face the state’s repressive machine. Since 3 July, 2013 it has been evident that the main body of Egypt’s judiciary chose to stand against the people’s aspirations for freedom and democracy. As soon as the first elected president in the history of the Egyptian republic, Dr Mohamed Morsi, was toppled, the judiciary emerged as one of the state’s most repressive instruments and most hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and opponents of the 3 July regime.
Egyptian judges have issued death sentences, as well as prison sentences totalling hundreds of years against the most senior Brotherhood leaders. Scores of other opposition figures were also given death sentences. Egyptian courts have been issuing prison sentences on a daily basis in a manner that cannot be imagined in the 21st Century. The condemned individuals are young men and women who only took to the streets to demonstrate or express peaceful forms of protest against the regime.
Charities shut down
No policy exemplifies the regime’s determination to eliminate the Brotherhood, both socially and politically, more than the confiscation of property and closure of charitable institutions and societies. A small judicial committee, staffed by a certain type of judge, gave the state the right to seize the properties of hundreds of businessmen and Brotherhood figures, irrespective of whether they were detained or sentenced. Further, the state has shut down hundreds of charitable societies that used to provide care and sponsorship for millions of poor Egyptians. The same has been done to schools, institutes, hospitals and public-service facilities under the pretext that they belong to the Brotherhood or that they were set up by Brotherhood members.
Even at the height of the conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and the monarchic state in the late 1940s, or between the Brotherhood and the Nasserist regime in the 1950s and 1960s, the Brotherhood were not subjected to such a campaign of extermination.
A prominent opposition member living in exile has commented on the conditions in his country, saying that the Muslim Brotherhood members bear a share of sacrifices far bigger than their size in Egyptian society. This, after all, is a struggle for the freedom of Egypt and the Egyptian people. It is not a struggle for the freedom of the Muslim Brothers alone. The Brothers do not oppose the regime because it robbed them of power or of privileges (such as those enjoyed by the Mubarak regime’s ruling class). There was really nothing the Brotherhood gained from the brief democratic experience apart from the presidency and a few ministerial positions in the government.
In fact, most of Morsi’s ministers were not members of the Brotherhood, and not even Islamists. The state’s major institutions, such as the judiciary, the army, the security agencies and the diplomatic service, were almost completely untouched by the Brotherhood.
A few step backwards
Why, then, should the Brotherhood pursue this struggle at such a high cost to themselves? Why do they not accept that what happened on 3 July 2013 was nothing but the return to business as usual in Egypt? Would Morsi have suffered prison and a death sentence had he recognised the legitimacy of the military coup? Would the leaders and cadres of the group have found themselves in exile or in detention had they taken a few steps backward and left the fate and direction of Egypt for time to decide?
In fact, the options of the Muslim Brotherhood are very limited. Unlike the previous major crisis the Brotherhood faced in 1954, political Egypt progressed in the last few decades in a manner that put the responsibility for the future of Egypt and its people on their shoulders. Throughout this era, from the birth of the Republic almost all the way to the mid-1990s, the Brotherhood was little more than just one of the political forces in Egypt. In addition to the Brotherhood, there were Arab nationalists, liberals and leftists. Yet, as of the mid 1990s, and due to internal social and economic changes, and changes at the international level, the Brotherhood emerged as the main political force, perhaps even the only one capable of standing up to the state establishment and its tyranny.
The National Party, which was the political tool of the regimes of Sadat and Mubarak, was not a party in the conventional sense of the word. It was a political transmission belt for the will and hegemony of the state. The National Party did not represent a social class or even a coalition of social classes, nor did it bear a specific ideological content. It was a party founded by the regime in order to reflect a modern, civil image of itself. Its very existence, right from the moment of its birth until its demise, was conditional upon its explicit ties with institutions of the state and with the ability of the regime to monopolise power and wealth and to distribute the surplus of power and wealth among its supports.
Where is the opposition?
Apart from the National Party, particularly since the start of the third millennium, there existed no other meaningful political force except of the Muslim Brotherhood. It might be worth noting that scores of political parties were born in the aftermath of the January revolution. A group of these parties had enough resources and media support to make them really influential.
But where are those parties now? Where is their weight and impact, not necessarily in terms of opposing the regime and its repressive policies, but also in supporting and bolstering its legitimacy? In reality, these parties, just like their older predecessors, such as Al-Wafd, Al-Tajammu’ and Al-Nasiri, are of no more value, neither as an opposition nor as a loyal party.
It was not just the political arena that changed. The Egyptian state and its relationship with society has also changed. In the early 1950s, perhaps also up to the early 1960s, the Egyptian economy was flourishing and the state’s public finances were in good shape. Egypt was the most important educational and cultural centre in the entire Arab East. An Egyptian citizen of moderate means could find reasonable healthcare.
In contrast, Egypt now is witnessing a rapid decline in its economy and public finances. All levels of Egyptian education have fallen into a deep abyss. Most Egyptians lack any healthcare. The only institution within the Egyptian state that is growing and flourishing is the security establishment. Even more serious is that the fact that the Egyptian state is no longer separate from the ruling regime. Today, the state and the ruling class are one and the same.
For all these reasons, the Brotherhood’s options are much fewer than what politics would normally offer. Should the Brotherhood throw in the towel and relinquish the struggle for freedom and democracy, Egypt would fall prey to the hegemony of the state and its ruling class for many decades to come. And since Egypt is the pivot in the balance of Arab powers, what befalls Egypt will afflict the entire Arab region.