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The Muslim Brotherhood under the scaf

On February 11, 2011, with recently appointed vice president Omar Suleiman’s announcement that President Mubarak had resigned and that authority would now be transferred to the scaf, it seemed that a new era had begun in Egypt. And though during the revolution the military refused to turn on the revolutionary forces, and chants of “The people and the army are one” filled the streets, the main coalition of January 25 revolutionaries submitted thirty-five demands to the military leadership that, in addition to calling for reform of the economic security and social sectors, demanded the quick transfer of power from the military scaf to civilian leaders.

The military leadership responded by stating that they would meet the demands of the revolutionary forces; however, they did so in very limited ways. The military council dissolved the parliament that had been fraudulently elected under Mubarak just a few months earlier. They also arrested three former cabinet ministers for corruption, and called on the state prosecutor to begin investigating the network of crony capitalists that had flourished under Mubarak. However, because the scaf was not willing to reform the security apparatus that had historically been integral to the regime’s ability to control the political scene, was not willing to actually convict the Mubarak-era crony capitalists, and was not willing to reform the media that continued to shape public perception without true independence, the scaf’s commitment to reform seemed merely symbolic, and it quickly began to lose favor with the revolutionary forces.

While the transitional period highlights the deep entrenchment of the scaf in the pol itical process and ultimately in the Egyptian state, this period also marked a great shift in the brotherhood’s political strategy. In the wake of the revolution, it found itself caught between the dual commitments it had struggled with over the past decade: whether to remain engaged in politics or return to its roots of da‘wa (religious outreach) through a movement relegated to the social sphere that aimed to foster pious Muslims through preaching, social services, and integrity by example. This bifurcation in vision culminated with the ideological divide that had been emerging in the brotherhood during the 2005-2010 parliamentary sessions.

The divisions within the brotherhood were further exacerbated in postrevolutionary Egypt by the organization’s youth, whose participation in the protest movement was not only essential to the success of the revolution, but also gave them a sense of legitimacy in the eyes of the brotherhood leadership that they previously did not enjoy. Thus, the brotherhood found itself trying to hold on to its activist youth, who during the revolution began to see their leadership as increasingly out of touch, while trying to forge a new path ahead by shaping Egypt’s political future. This moment of tension also coincided with the release from prison of more hard-line members of the brotherhood such as Khayrat al-Shatir, whose release was due to youth activity, but whose vision for the future of the brotherhood in Egypt stood in stark contrast to theirs.

On the political front, the revolution led to the establishment of several political parties that emerged as ideological competitors of the brotherhood. On February 19, 2011, the first party to gain recognition by the courts in postrevolution Egypt was the previously illegal Center Party (al-Wasat Party). Founded by Abul Ela Madi and other former members of the brotherhood, along with Coptic leaders and women, the Center Party’s political vision for Egypt is seen as inspired by conservatism but not articulated through Islamism. Members of the Center Party were integral in the 2004 popular uprising that led to the establishment of the Egyptian Movement for Change, or Kefaya.

On February 23, 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau announced that it would be establishing a political party separate from the movement called the Freedom and Justice Party (fjp), led by Katatni, former head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc from 2005 to 2010. And though the new party would still be banned due to its articulation of religion as its source of guidance (an indication of the resilience of the political status quo, which still saw the party as illegal in Egypt), on March 29, 2011, the party invited youth, Copts, and women to join its membership. However, the strategy did not work, and much of the revolutionary youth remained alienated from the new party.

On March 26, 2011, high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau member Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh announced to a gathering of Muslim Brotherhood youth that he would be forming a more liberal Islamic party that still reflected the core ideals of the Muslim Brotherhood (piety and social justice), but that would move ideologically beyond the Muslim Brotherhood and embrace “liberal Islamism.” Another high-ranking Muslim Brotherhood member widely respected by the brotherhood youth, Ibrahim al-Zafaarani, announced the establishment of the Nahda Party (the Revival Party), which aimed to become a party that was rooted in Islam with political pluralism and democracy as its aim.

As younger Islamists began to distance themselves from the Islamist political identity of the Muslim Brotherhood and move toward a pluralistic framework in which the past signified a bygone era of the strategic evolution of Islamism, the brotherhood found itself in a predicament. It was no longer perceived as the primary voice advocating for political Islam in Egypt; in an era of pluralism, there was now competition. And the new Egyptian political landscape had opened up not only the political arena, but also the marketplace of ideas in which different Islamisms were now emerging. Islamism, as a reaction to alienation from the state, was being replaced by pluralistic approaches to justice and development on one hand and, for the first time in Egypt’s modern history, the surfacing of more hard-line Salafi political perspectives on the other. Salafists, who rejected the notions of democracy and political processes, were coming to the forefront and competing in politics, trying to gain for themselves a larger stake in Egypt’s political future. And increasingly marginalized on both ends of the spectrum were the revolutionary youth, who were resistant to engaging with the brotherhood.

With the military in power, Egyptians seemed divided over the timing of the elections. The secularists and revolutionary coalitions wanted to postpone elections, giving them time to organize and campaign, while the Muslim Brotherhood, under the newly formed fjp, wanted elections held as soon as possible. While the stated intent of the brotherhood’s push for early elections might have been to move the scaf out of power, it was perceived by many Egyptians as a collusion between the brotherhood and the scaf in which the brotherhood, the largest organized political group in the country, would surely win a majority of the seats in parliament. The secularists also wanted to hold off on the parliamentary elections until a constitution was written, fearing that an Islamist-dominated parliament would lead to an Islamist-dominated constitutional assembly responsible for drafting Egypt’s postrevolutionary constitution. The scaf chose to hold the constitutional drafting period between the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Egyptian parliamentary elections are unique in that they are supervised by the judiciary, and, due to the vastness of the country and the limited number of judges, the scaf moved to hold elections over a period of four months. Several smaller parties joined the fjp to form the Democratic Alliance. After two rounds of elections, it became clear that the Democratic Alliance would be in the majority, consistently winning over 50 percent of the seats. In this regard, the brotherhood made several symbolic mistakes by emerging as the largest, most organized, and most publicly visible group during the parliamentary campaigning period, to be followed only by the Salafi Nour Party. Historically, the brotherhood had maintained modest electoral objectives, contesting not more than a third of parliamentary seats. According to former secretary general of the brotherhood and the current interim general guide, Mahmoud Izzat, “We are not after power, rather we want to have influence in parliament, to reflect the will of the people that elect us to those positions.”26 One-third of parliamentary seats would also allow the brotherhood to meet the minimum threshold necessary to veto any constitutional changes.

But it became apparent that the brotherhood was more interested in achieving political presence than it seemed to let on. And after the declaration of the fjp as a separate political party, a heavy campaign to promote the fjp began. Prior to the parliamentary elections, polls were placing the brotherhood support at 2030 percent.27 However, after a few short weeks of heavy campaigning, through an extensive reliance on the brotherhood’s vast networks, the country was plastered with images of candidates campaigning under the fjp banner, with a logo, it should be noted, that more closely resembled the 2008 Barack Obama campaign logo than the Muslim Brotherhood logo. More importantly, there were very few religious symbols in any of the fjp campaign posters. However, the public was getting mixed messages about who was in charge of the fjp. Although it had established itself as an entity separate from the Muslim Brotherhood, and it occupied its own building in Cairo’s Muqqatam district, the statements issued relating to the parliamentary elections were released from the Office of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau, in the Minyal district. It was clear to the public that the fjp could easily be equated to the Muslim Brotherhood, and that the Guidance Bureau was running the party as a political wing of its organization.

Furthermore, the historically successful strategy of not contesting more than 30-40 percent of seats, which had worked to ensure the brotherhood a place at the table with some modicum of power without being perceived by the public as a usurper, was repeatedly undermined in the run-up to the parliamentary elections. Despite announcements coming out of the Guidance Bureau stating that the brotherhood was not after domination but rather participation, the perception was not such among the public. The general guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Badie, announced on its website and in speeches during April 2011 that the brotherhood “was from the people, with the people and for the people”28 and wanted to effect change in parliament, not dominate it. Yet on April 30, the brotherhood announced that it would not contest more that 4550 percent of seats.29 Coupled with the entry of the Salafi Nour Party into the competition, this announcement was perceived as threatening to undermine the loosely allied liberal coalitions. By mid-October, the brotherhood had announced that since not enough candidates were running on certain lists, it was going to increase the proportion of seats it was contesting to 60 percent,30 and a few days later, it announced that it would field candidates in every race, contesting 100 percent of seats in parliament.31 In the end, the fjp won 47.2 percent of the seats, and 24.7 percent went to the Salafi Nour Party, resulting in Islamist control of 72 percent of parliament.32

The Islamists’ success in the parliamentary elections was met with a direct response from the scaf, who appointed a new advisory council headed by Kamal al-Ganzouri, prime minister from 1996 to 1999 under Mubarak, and populated it with liberals, secularists, and heads of political parties who had not fared well in the elections. After initially joining, the fjp withdrew from the assembly, seeing it as an appointed body that was created as a counterbalance to parliament, the body actually elected by the people. Thus, the brotherhood and the fjp continued to find themselves caught between the public’s outcry at the demise of their former policy of limited participation and a transitional authority seeking to undermine any perceived political gains by Islamists.

Through this exclusion, the scaf was successful in creating a level of alienation of the brotherhood from the revolutionary forces and other political groups. It was also able to utilize the vast resources at its disposal, including private and public media outlets and Mubarak-era businessmen and crony capitalists capable of contributing vast sums of money, to offset brotherhood popularity and further alienate the revolutionary forces, often turning them on each other. The public very quickly not only grew weary of the brotherhood, but also began longing for the old regime.

The brotherhood responded in late March 2012 by announcing that it would field a presidential candidate, after it had continually officially stated throughout the year since the start of the revolution that it was not after the leadership. According to brotherhood leader Badie, the new Egypt “is under a serious threat” because its current military-led government “has failed to represent the will of the people.”33 The brotherhood sought to run Shatir, a longtime financial backer and member of the Guidance Bureau who initially denied any intentions of entering the presidential race.34 He then resigned from the brotherhood to run for president. On April 14, the Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission announced Shatir’s disqualification as a presidential candidate, as he faced charges of belonging to an illegal organization—the Muslim Brotherhood. The brotherhood responded by fielding a former parliamentarian, Morsi, as its presidential candidate.

Morsi had been the primary negotiator between the brotherhood and the state security apparatus, the very means through which the Mubarak regime monitored and infiltrated the brotherhood. Morsi had negotiated with state security to ensure the brotherhood’s participation in various political matters, such as parliamentary elections. In this regard, he seemed to be a candidate with the ability to both legislate, as he once did in parliament, and make inroads with the scaf.

Morsi had less than two months to run, as the first round of elections was to take place at the end of May. The brotherhood argued that they were not after power, but to the public it clearly seemed that they were. The brotherhood controlled both the upper and lower houses, and was now after the presidency. The scaf responded by threatening to dissolve parliament in order to check the power of a rising brotherhood. Revolutionary groups that were growing increasingly insecure in the face of the brotherhood’s control over two branches of government echoed this sentiment. The High Constitutional Court responded by dissolving parliament two days before the presidential election.

While the scaf intended to undermine the brotherhood through several strategic steps, what became increasingly apparent was that the transition from military rule was not a part of the military’s strategic program. Consequently, on June 14, the military occupied the parliamentary building and claimed all legis?lative powers for itself. The Ministry of Justice then reinstituted the emergency laws that had been lifted after Mubarak’s fall. And during the final round of presidential elections on June 17, the scaf issued a constitutional declaration transferring much of the presidential power to itself and stripped the president of his role as commander in chief of the armed forces—placing it in the hands of Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi. It then began to dissolve the one-hundred-member constitutional writing committee recently appointed by parliament, granting itself veto power over any presidential decree. Finally, Tantawi appointed one of his assistants, another military general, as chief of staff of the president. Basically, the new president had a diminished role in the face of the rising power of the military. Morsi had won, but it was not clear what he had won.

The transition period from Mubarak to Morsi was marred by a political power struggle between the brotherhood and the scaf. It was also marred by the brotherhood’s perceived abandonment of its commitment to principles of moderation and its political strategy of limited participation, as well as the formation of new alliances that seemed to undermine its previous commitments. Perhaps the most damage was done to the image of the brotherhood in the eyes of the public, wherein the scaf was able to draw a picture of an ambitious and incompetent group that was not to be trusted. In this regard, the scaf shaped public perception in a way that stacked the deck against the brotherhood.

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