MB flaunts confrontation chip
BY SARAH EL SIRGANY
Cairo: Less than a day before a new president is named, the politically conservative Muslim Brotherhood finds itself at the forefront of a major battle. Having lost parliament and possibly the presidential seat, the group has been forced to defend its gains using tactics that go beyond its usual deal-making and incremental reform approach.
In a turbulent week fraught with rumored doomsday scenarios the Brotherhood saw the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) dissolve a parliament led by its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. Its near win of the presidential election was also threatened by a likely upset in the final official count. Even if the FJP’s candidate Mohamed Morsi is declared winner, his authorities have been reduced by an addendum to the interim constitution giving SCAF the upper hand over the legislature and the state budget.
With all its gains lost or at stake, the MB has no option but to confront the military leadership. Their calculated approach that saw the group repeating some of SCAF’s anti-revolution propaganda — costing it the support of revolutionary forces in the process — is no longer sufficient.
Yet this doesn’t mean that the group is ready for a showdown on the street. Whether the conflict will be resolved on the street, in meeting rooms, or both, analysts well-versed in the intricacies of the group’s behavior, note a new trend of offensive tactics, unlike the MB’s usual defensive, reactive approach.
“The Brotherhood developed its performance,” explained Khalil Al-Anani, scholar of Middle East Politics at School of Government and International Affairs at Durham University. In addition to stepping up its game, it’s also learning from past mistakes, he argued. One example is its attempts to mend fences with other political groups. Activists who recently sat around the table with the group spoke of a change in tone and an unprecedented willingness to make concessions; while others see this as a typical manifestation of the MB’s political opportunism.
At the same time the Brotherhood is taking advantage of “SCAF’s miscalculations,” which in Al-Anani’s opinion dissolved the parliament too soon, on the assumption that the MB will not react.
As the preliminary results of the runoff trickled in, Morsi’s campaign quickly declared his victory within hours of the closure of polling stations and days before the scheduled official announcement. The group intended to preempt any attempts at foul play or exclusion of the Brothers from power by swaying public opinion locally and internationally in its favor. Supported by street protests over the past week, this put SCAF and its de facto presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik on the defensive.
When the announcement of the presidential election results was postponed from Thursday to Saturday or Sunday, again the group was on the attack. In a show of force on Friday, Morsi appeared alongside some of his most vocal critics declaring a united national front. Veteran politicians, journalists and activists gave fiery speeches against “the military coup that overturned democracy,” not only the MB’s gains.
This brought to the table what the MB needed the most: diversity. Their attempt at reconciliation could tip the balance in their favor by showing that the fight is not only between the Islamists and the generals.
Earlier, groups like the April 6 Youth Movement and the Revolutionary Socialists had declared similar stances. Their flags were raised high in Tahrir Square, announcing their presence alongside the MB, but they remain cautious when it comes to speculating on the Brotherhoods’ future actions.
A palpable concern that the Islamists would reach a settlement with the military and abandon the fight against SCAF’s hegemony, permeates political circles irrespective of their stance towards the MB.
These fears are not unfounded. Aside from the Brothers’ unimpressive record in parliament and flip-flopping political discourse over the past 16 months that prioritized the group’s interests over consensus, the MB have also backed down on confrontations which they had triggered.
On Monday night, for instance, the FJP said that its MPs will challenge the decision to bar them from entering parliament and will hold a PA session in the chamber. The following day only a handful showed up to chant for a few minutes before heading back to Tahrir Square. One MB supporter said that this was a warning, and that once Morsi wins, it will be a different story. No one tried to cross the police barricade.
“We discussed this step with other national powers and decided it wasn’t the right time to take it,” said Yasser Ali, FJP member and Morsi’s campaign spokesman. An attempt of over 230 MPs and their supporters to enter the parliament building would result in a battle with security. It was exactly what some older MB members were trying to avoid last Tuesday, urging fellow protesters to leave the area and not to engage with the armed soldiers.
They neither wanted violence, nor did they want any incident to jeopardize Morsi’s chances at such critical timing.
Behind closed doors
Ali denied reports that the Brotherhood will pull back its supporters if Morsi is declared winner. “We’ll stand our ground until all demands are met.” he said. “No respectable patriot would accept this [coup on legitimacy].”
Reports in private and state-owned media claim that the Brotherhood is negotiating with SCAF over either restricting the SCC’s ruling to dissolving only one third of the PA or holding a public referendum on whether to dissolve parliament altogether. Other reports suggest higher level talks negotiating all four demands.
“Instead of accepting anything like before, now they are raising the ceiling of demands,” Al-Anani said, explaining that now the Brotherhood has election “legitimacy” to fall back on. It also believes that backing out would be fatal for its members, he added. An ongoing full-fledged smear campaign promised broad retaliatory measures against the group’s icons. In the run-up to election day, for instance, the MB found itself at the heart of unfounded accusations of having orchestrated the attack on Tahrir Square on Feb. 2, 2011, notoriously known as the “battle of the camel.” Several officials of the Mubarak regime are on trial for the same charges.
MB members of all ranks and observers believe that Morsi’s win could be a game changer affecting the outcome of the other demands.
“Morsi is adamant on being sworn in before parliament,” Ali said. The constitutional addendum, released hours before Morsi spoke to his supporters following news of his initial victory, says that the president could take oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court if there is no parliament.
If the group decided to pull its supporters from the square this week, it will have to confront both those supporters who have been frantically chanting against military rule; and public opinion, with the activists who supported the MB at its core.
After admitting its previous mistakes, including “the obstinacy that cost it a lot” internally and on the wider political arena, the MB has learnt its lessons, Al-Anani said.
On Friday, as activists who stressed that they disagreed with the Brotherhood politically but on that day spoke in its support left the stage, Ali pointed to them and said the group has learnt from the worst lesson in its history: 1954, when the army officers that led the 1952 coup turned against their Brotherhood allies, jailed or sentenced them to death.