Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood
by Sandhya Jain on 30 Dec 2012 5 Comments
Way back in 1968, Israeli defense minister Moshe Dayan reputedly mused that if they [the West] could somehow topple the Gamal Abdul Nasser regime and bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power, “then we can smell killings and bloodsheds everywhere in Egypt. Let this be our aim with the help of our American friends”.

The Brotherhood, like all Islamic fundamentalist groups from the colonial era onwards, has well documental links with MI6 and the CIA, and now that it is in power in Egypt, the unfolding power equations in the region will bear watching.


Earlier this month, Egypt voted in two rounds on a referendum over a new Constitution Draft. At the end of the first round (Dec. 15), as many as six Egyptian human rights organizations claimed to have detected several violations, and the opposition parties organised a demonstration at the General Prosecutor’s office and demanded his resignation. It is interesting that a few hours later, Judge Talaat Abdullah Ibrahim did submit his resignation, but withdrew it a few days later (Dec. 20), saying that it was made in extraordinary circumstances.


The opposition parties continued relentless demonstrations against the ‘falsification’ and demanding rejection of the new Constitution Draft, but the regime carried on with the second stage of the referendum and on Dec. 23 announced the preliminary results of the referendum – 64 per cent ‘yes’ votes for the Constitution Draft. The flip side of this is that the voter turnout may have been around 33%, provoking the opposition to continue its protest.


The Muslim Brotherhood is now entrenched in the leading Arab nation, exacerbating the political divide there. After coming to power on the back of public demonstrations that saw the collapse of the Hosni Mubarak regime, the MB leadership is showing an unpalatable desire to monopolize power and squash any signs of opposition, in the Mubarak tradition. At the same time, the new regime is revealing great amenability to American and Western economic and political desires, especially regarding normalization of ties with Israel and securing its security requirements.


Israelis claim that President Muhammad Morsi's government has, under American tutelage and in concert with Turkey and Qatar, surpassed the old regime. Thus, Cairo has joined hands with Qatar and Turkey to tame Hamas and include it in the Palestinian authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas.


As of now, it is safe to say that the unrest in Egypt will continue because the Muslim Brotherhood is seeking alliances with the military elite loyal to the West, rather than trying to expand its popular base and upholding the spirit of the Tahrir Square uprisings. It may be recalled that while the Brotherhood cadre joined the ‘spring’ movement very late, the leadership has been propagating that it led the uprisings and accusing its opponents of betraying the movement.


There are wheels-within-wheels in the region. Some opposition groups reputedly receive covert backing from the Sunni monarchs of the Persian Gulf and Jordan who view the Brotherhood with suspicion and fear unrest from their own domestic Islamist opposition groups. The Saudi-backed Al-sharq Al-awsat reported on Dec. 23 that the difference between Morsi and the Egyptian opposition is “the difference between those who believe in the importance of the state and its institutions, and those who want to swallow the state and distort the performance of its institutions and its basic concepts.” It warned against the “danger of what is happening in Egypt and our region.”


But the Brothers claim the support of the majority and US President Barack Obama’s attitude of not standing by falling dictatorships in the Arab world has worked in their favour.


However, the trouble with the new Egyptian constitution is that, while it does not usher in an overtly Islamist state, it provides larger room for religion in public life. Some the main articles are open to interpretation and can be expected to ferment the discontent in the country. Middle East expert Primoz Manfreda points out that the new constitution retains the wording of the Mubarak-era (secular) constitution that “the principles of Islamic law” form the main source of legislation. This was supposed to be a concession to the liberal opposition as hard-line Islamists wanted Egypt’s laws to be based solely on Islamic Sharia. So now it is up to the judiciary.

The provision that the government should consult the Muslim clergy on “matters related” to Islamic law is contentious as there is no clarity about the range of legal matters it is to cover, or how the process is to work. Secular Egyptians fear this may be the first step towards the “Iranization” of Egypt. Further, there is no consensus about Sharia law.


The religious minorities (Baha’is, Shia’s) fear discrimination. The old constitution gave all religious groups the freedom to practice religion, but the new constitution limits the right to practice religion and to establish places of worship to Muslims, Christians, and Jews.


The new constitution grants the right to open political parties and newspapers without prior approval. It gives freedom of assembly, movement, and association, and safeguards the privacy of communication. It provides safeguards against arbitrary detention, torture and inhumane treatment. But these are limited by articles that forbid blasphemy (“insults to prophets”) and defamation (“insults to any person”). These have given rise to fears that they may restrict the freedom of speech. Women’s rights are also open to interpretation.


The army will retain institutional influence in the polity, including the defence ministry, and the generals will be able to protect their economic interests.


The opposition has rejected President Morsi’s appeal for dialogue, pointing out that he rushed to impose a new constitution despite appeals to postpone the referendum, making talks meaningless.


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