It is unclear what will become of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the wake of the July 3 ouster of President Mohammed Morsi. In the short term, the world’s oldest and largest Islamist movement will continue to denounce the coup and engage in protests which, coupled with the security crackdown on the Brotherhood, will likely result in violence. Eventually, however, the group will try to revive itself by re-assimilating into Egypt’s political institutions, though it is in no hurry to attempt to reclaim the presidency.
On July 4, Egyptian security forces continued to hold members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, particularly those affiliated with its political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. In addition to Morsi, who remains in what military authorities are describing as “preventative” detention, many key figures such as supreme guide Mohammed al-Badie; his deputy and the movement’s top strategist and financier, Khairat El-Shater; and Freedom and Justice Party chief Saad El-Katatny have been taken into custody — as have hundreds of others.
Some reports indicate that many of these top leaders will be charged with inciting violence during the civil unrest, and several pro-Muslim Brotherhood news agencies have been shut down. Meanwhile, security forces continue to clash with Muslim Brotherhood supporters throughout the country.
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Thus, not only is the Brotherhood excluded from the military-led “roadmap,” it is also the subject of what appears to be a systematic crackdown. The Brotherhood has little choice but to continue resisting the military; failure to do so would call its credibility into question, particularly among its membership.
The Brotherhood will use the fact that Morsi was ousted in a military coup to attack its opponents and galvanize its support base as it regroups. Its goal will be to use its longstanding social outreach networks to regain the influence it lost to the state and the opposition. However, the Brotherhood knows that there are limits to what it can achieve while pursing its goals.
Most important is the fact that the Brotherhood is a political party, not an armed revolutionary movement. By design, it operates in civil society and participates in the democratic process. In our 2011 Muslim Brotherhood report, we noted that the group is the largest political entity in the country yet does not even enjoy the fealty of all the country’s Islamists — let alone the diverse Egyptian population. This partly explains why Morsi fell after only a year of serving in office. Eventually, the Brotherhood will accept its fate and return to the political process.
Resolving Internal Issues
While it will try to extract as many concessions as it can, the Muslim Brotherhood cannot afford to be excluded from the post-Morsi political arena process for too long. The Morsi government’s failure to compromise before the end of the 48-hour deadline set by the military likely will inform the Brotherhood’s future moves and help it avoid any political miscalculation. But before it can take any action in that regard, its leadership will need to boost morale within its ranks.
It will do so by citing its 85-year history and point out that it has experienced much worse hardship, such as the massive crackdown by the Nasser regime in 1954. Brotherhood leaders will argue that if the group was able to survive that era, it can overcome the latest setback, which is taking place in a time when democratic space within the country has grown considerably. Indeed, internal criticism over the leadership’s failures, rather than low morale, may prove to be a bigger threat to the group going forward.
The group has previously experienced internal dissent, most recently following the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in 2012, when several prominent members and leaders left the movement to form other parties. The past week’s events will likewise prompt people to defect, and there will be calls for leadership change, particularly in Freedom and Justice Party. The Brotherhood likely will heed these calls because it knows the current leadership, which is dominated by the group’s old guard, has proved incapable of managing the transition from opposition movement to governing body. Because they had operated so long in in an autocratic opposition group, they simply were unaccustomed to working with political and ideological competitors in a democratic environment.
The Muslim Brotherhood will need to resolve internal issues before it can attempt to revive itself politically. However, its leaders will delay this resolution as they denounce and resist the military coup.
“Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Recovers After Morsi's Ouster is republished with permission of Stratfor.”