Foreign Policy Blogs

Where the ‘Ikhwan’ goes, so shall Egypt


There are many—both in the East and the West—who have been confidently betting on the overt plan to marginalize, and, in due course, eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) as a sociopolitical movement. In light of the on-going vicious Ikhwanophobia and emboldened brutality of the coup regime, it is hard to counter such contemptuous optimism. But, I do.

Inducing Ikhwanophobia

Ikhwanophobia is an almost a century old phenomenon. Throughout that period, the Ikhwan have gone through various levels of repression that placed many of its members in Egypt’s dungeons of torture, or forced them to flee their country and go into exile, or get killed. However, in the past sixteen or so months, there has been an overt internal and external effort, a highly choreographed propaganda campaign intended not only to demonize the Ikhwan and outlaw them as a terrorist organization, but to set the stage for its eradication.

To describe some of the daily demonization rhetoric on Egyptian television and print media as hate-speech is an understatement.

Former establishment cleric or Mofti, Dr Ali Gomaa, who now plays for the coup regime the same role he played for Mobarak recently commended the armed forces for using violence against peaceful demonstrators. He described them as “dogs” that should be killed wherever they are found. In a little bit more subtle but no less inflammatory statement, Naguib Sawiris—Egypt’s wealthiest and perhaps most controversial personality-said: “We would use violence if the Muslim Brotherhood begins with violence during the referendum…If the people who are (in power) right now do not take further steps in confronting the Brotherhood, we (coup supporting public) will take to the streets.” This latter statement is seen as a reckless attempt to ignite sectarian violence, especially since the Ikhwan have not demonstrated any preference toward violence as they still continue their rhythmic chants of “Our peaceful method is mightier than their bullets” and “We won’t quit till legitimacy is restored.”

Following Sawiris’ statement, a TV personality adds this via national television: “The police (when they are not shooting) should jet spray these demonstrators so when they are disbursed they would not be able to walk or ride back to their neighborhoods safely.”

The Brotherhood is governed by a non-violent organizational ethos. “But in a situation in which the leadership is decapitated and people aren’t getting clear orders,” says Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, “you might have individuals who are going their own way because you lose the superstructure of the Brotherhood as an organization.”

Why Has the Coup Regime Become Radioactive?

Aside from miserably failing to deliver any improvement on all things that the overthrown President Mohamed Morsi was blamed for, the coup regime has committed horrifying atrocities by all standards; especially during the breakup of Rabia and against women and young girls. The coup regime, however, has been effective in manufacturing insecurity and systematically inducing anarchy. In their hiring and protecting street thugs (baltagiya) as they provoke attack and indiscriminately transgress against peaceful protesters of all ages and gender, the coup regime has been applying a textbook formula from the Mobarak era. It was his way of creating public fear and subsequent dependency on armed forces. In doing so, perhaps unwittingly, the coup regime has embarked on a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Going on its sixth month of power, it is much easier to list what the coup regime has not yet violated than t list what it already has. So bloody and repressive has their record developed that it became a costly liability to be associated with. A wide range of analysts and some editorial boards such as New York Times and Washington Post have been critical of the ambivalent position that the U.S. has taken. “…the time has come for stronger U.S. protests and action. To remain timid in the face of repression will invite only more,” concluded the latter.

The coup regime has crossed all the mores and moral boundaries, thus offended the sensibilities of many that overtly and covertly supported the coup.

Corruption and Economic Freefall

Majority of the Egyptian people are living in a dire economic situation and, under the current condition, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Meanwhile, the wealthy elites and all those who benefited from the corrupt and the military rule of the past six or so decades still remain the most vociferous defenders of the coup.

Talking to a businessman friend about his recent trip to Egypt, he lingered on how the current dire economic condition has surpassed state of depression and how it is leading to a total collapse of the state. In his estimation, staying on the current course would inevitably pressure people to turn against institutions and ultimately, against each other

Facetiously he said, “Even the fallahin (farmers) know: Anyone who wants to put his money in an Egyptian bank must demand to be allowed to frisk branch officials and executives at end of each shift.”

Ironically, this reminded me of an old anecdote in which a Somali nomad who, after selling a few of his camels came to Mogadishu, was pressured by family members to deposit his cash in a bank where it would be safe and he could withdraw as he needed it.

He reluctantly took the advice and went to a relative’s home. At night he kept tossing and turning; he just could not sleep. Sometime late at night, he left the house and made his way back to the bank. He looked around and could not find any one. So, he slept at the bank entrance. In the morning, he was awakened by bank employees coming to work. One of them recognized him from the day before and asked him: “What are you doing?” He responded by saying: “Guarding my money.” “I was not raised a fool. Who in his right mind would hand his money to a total stranger and go home to sleep?” he added. This anecdote is dated right before the implosion of the state.

Street Power Dynamics

Those who know that history is not a catalog of cheap old reports and documentaries are well aware that coups are generally their own worst enemies, and they often commit suicide with their own brutality. In its first semester since its power-snatch, the coup regime of Egypt has proven itself more sadistic than any other in recent history; as such, its lifespan is rapidly approaching an inevitable and disgraceful end; that is if Egypt survives the 1992 Algeria scenario, or worse.

Despite the disheartening military and police repressions, the power dynamic on the streets have shifted profoundly in favor of the pro-democracy. Unlike last summer when it was mostly the Ikhwan getting baked under the sun while fasting and getting shot in the heads while performing peaceful sit-ins, demonstrations and other forms of civil disobedience, today the anti-coup movement includes a significant number of disillusioned supporters of the coup. Against this backdrop, the Ikhwan is designated “a terrorist organization!”

Terrorists Don’t Beat Drums

If participation in the democratic process and anti-coup peaceful protestation wasn’t enough, could drums, yes drums played by protesters, be a litmus test before any organization is designated “terrorist”?

The coup regime’s designation of the Ikhwan as a terrorist organization blaming the group on a recent bombing (in the wee hours of the night) that was openly claimed by another group has been an object of ridicule and a serious ‘joke’ if you will. At least 16 people were killed and over a hundred were injured.

The coup regime Prime Minister is said to have been awoken close to 3:00 a.m. Cairo time. By 3:05 a.m., he issued a statement through his spokesperson declaring the Ikhwan a terrorist organization.

In the morning after a tsunami of criticism and ridicule in the social media, the Prime Minister has called on an emergency cabinet meeting in which they —not the justice ministry or through any judicial process—have officially designated the Ikhwan as they were being treated all along- like ruthless terrorists.

The absurdity of this latest stunt by the coup regime is highlighted by a response given by Egyptian politician, Hatem Azaam, when asked about the decision: He said [paraphrased] If the Ikhwan is a terrorist organization then Egypt had a parliament made of predominantly “terrorists.” Not to mention that the country was headed by an elected terrorist (Morsi); the same terrorist that the coup leader, el-Sissi, swore in front of in his ceremonial pledge of allegiance before assuming his role as a Minister of Defense. More interestingly, Egypt now has over fifty percent of the electoral body that helped the Ikhwan win five elections as criminals who could get minimum of five years in prison, and a maximum of execution by hanging for being part of or aiding and abetting a terrorist organization.

By declaring the Ikhwan as a terrorist organization, the coup regime has outlawed “ the country’s most successful political movement.”

Ironically, against all these odds, the Ikhwan—due to their decades old opposition to military rule and for being the group that sacrificed more than any other by way of loss of personal freedoms, resources, and lives—have the political legitimacy and moral authority to salvage Egypt.

Granted, if they do not let anyone lure them into violence; if they come to accept that the current struggle, despite its façade, is no longer about “Ikhwan vs regime” hence make a political space for the mosaic of groups that joined them in the struggle to end this bloody coup. More importantly, if Morsi—the wrongly imprisoned democratically elected president—spearheads a Mandelaesque march toward justice.



Abukar Arman

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat, serving as Somalia's Special Envoy to the US. As a widely published analyst, he focuses on foreign policy, Islam, the Horn of Africa, extremism, and other topics.
Twitter: @Abukar_Arman
or reach him via e-mail: [email protected]