Muslim Brotherhood’s loyalties under a cloud
I CAN'T count how many Egyptian and foreign envoys have insisted that the country’s roadmap must include members of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The word “inclusive” has become the international community’s mantra, echoed by a slew of Western opinion writers. But while “inclusive” trips off the tongue delightfully, it’s far easier said than done when the Brothers are more interested in imposing their will than finding solutions. Last week, I read a column by Hassan Barari peppered with that word that, for me, is now a red flag to a bull because it’s thrown around without any regard for the MB’s obstinate refusal to compromise. And so I e-mailed Barari to ask how political inclusiveness can be achieved since that was what he was advocating. He failed to respond.
Enough living in La-La Land! The Brotherhood is sticking to its demands that Mursi returns to the palace, the controversial constitution and the Islamist-dominated Shura Council be reinstated. Elements within the MB who have held talks with foreign envoys grudgingly recognize Mursi isn’t coming back, but they won’t budge on the constitution or the Shoura Council (Parliament’s Upper House). Moreover, they insist that if Mursi is out, then Defense Minister and Commander of the Armed Forces, Gen. Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, has to go too, according to a government official involved in mediation efforts who spoke to Ahram Online. The Interim Vice President for Foreign Affairs Mohammed ElBaradei has indicated that nothing is off the table. But sacrificing El-Sisi, arguably the most popular person in the country likened to Gamal Abdel Nasser, is a red line, said a well-placed Egyptian official.
In the early hours of Monday morning, the UAE’s Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed and the Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid Al-Attiyah together with US envoy William Burns attempted to discuss a proposal with the MB’s political strategist Khairat El-Shater, who’s currently incarcerated. El-Shater told them to go and discuss the deal with the “legitimate president” Mohammed Mursi. Ahram Online has outlined “the trio’s deal” thus: Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi’s replacement and a new cabinet that would include three MB ministers and two from Salafist parties in return for the dispersal of three Cairo pro-Mursi sit-ins. Plus a guarantee that charges against Brotherhood leaders would not be politicized.
However, even were foreign-mediated negotiations between the interim government and the MB to bear fruit, in today’s Egypt it’s the voices of the people that count. The crowds camped out in Rabaa Adawiya and Nahda squares have been promised the return to office of a failed president, whose dismal record not even MB stalwarts have made efforts to defend during TV interviews, which is why, lately, they have switched their message to defending “democracy”. But in those squares, Mursi has been championed as an almost saint-like human being compared to Nelson Mandela, even though Mandela fought to free his country from the imposition of inhumane apartheid by elitist whites while Mursi, with his refusal to resign, has thrown his own Egyptian brothers and sisters to the wolves.
The MB following is being indoctrinated to believe it’s their religious duty to engage in a jihad against compatriots eager to move forward, a call that has been backed by televised messages from their fellow Egyptians Al Qaeda head Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who has issued a fatwa to the effect support of Mursi is a religious duty. So even if the MB leadership was disposed to make a deal that didn’t include the ousted president, their following might turn against them.
The other side of the coin is the anti-Brotherhood camp, led by the Rebel youth movement. Time has hardened their positions to the extent they want the MB banned as a political organization. They perceive the Brotherhood as betrayers of the nation whose loyalty is, first and foremost, towards the global organization and the ideology of Sayyid Qutb, the father of Islamist fundamentalism, whose writings exhort Muslims to separate from mainstream society and engage in violent jihad because all governments and societies are apostate. They are convinced the MB is out to drag the country towards a civil war and, therefore, can never be in government again. Indeed, it appears that El-Sisi shares similar sentiments. “The dilemma between the former president and the people originated from” the Muslim Brotherhood’s “concept of the state, the ideology that they adopted for building a country which is based on restoring the Islamic religious empire. That’s what made Mursi not a president for all Egyptians, but a president representing his followers and supporters,” he told the Washington Post. There may be some truth in their assertions. Yesterday, I watched one of the MB’s top lawyers Ahmed Abu Baraka being grilled on the popular program “Asef Ya Rayes” (Sorry, President). He was pressured to choose between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian nation. He was evasive. The host piled on the pressure. In the end, he chose the MB because “it’s global.”
Not all Egyptians who back the transitional government dwell on the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideology; their objections are more down to earth. Furious callers to local TV stations are incensed that children are being removed from orphanages to be used as human shields in Rabaa Adawiya. Just on Sunday, two buses carrying 45 orphans and street children, lured by new clothes, free meals and cash, were intercepted en route to the main sit-in. They are angered by televised firsthand accounts of torture at the hands of MB heavies by young men with bruises all over their bodies, some minus limbs and fingers. They condemn the Brotherhood for orchestrating terrorist attacks in northern Sinai. A growing number appeal to the police to adhere to the mandate they gave to authorities with their feet on July 26th by using force, if necessary, to end the protests.
In the meantime, anti-Americanism is growing on both sides. MB speakers in Rabaa yell Obama is a traitor; El-Sisi accuses the Obama administration of turning its back on the Egyptian people and insulting a patriotic army. Adding to this seething stew is an impending visit to Cairo by the Russian President Vladimir Putin who is predicted to receive a hero’s welcome. Can he succeed where others have failed? Let’s see.