Era of political Islam is over, say ex-Brotherhood figures
The once powerful Muslim Brotherhood, proscribed as a terrorist organisation in Egypt since 2013, is down and out and will not return, said Mohamed Habib, a former senior member.
Habib, a retired professor of geology in his mid-70s, served as second-in-command of the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving the group in 2010 following internal elections that led to a schism within it.
Habib had been expected to become the next leader of the group but elections resulted in the ascension of a more radical cadre of leaders, led by Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie and his deputy, Khairat el-Shater.
“This was actually the beginning of the end of the movement,” said Habib, who served as deputy supreme guide from 1995-2010. “I had full knowledge of the violent nature of the new leaders and knew how they would act in any situation.”
This schism, which saw several senior Brotherhood figures leave the organisation, took place almost one year before the 2011 uprising that resulted in the ouster of long-time Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood, as one of the few organised grass-roots political forces in the country, was well-placed to exploit the political chaos that followed and it secured a majority in the first post-Mubarak parliament.
The group initially said it did not intend to compete in presidential elections but nominated Muhammad Morsi, who went on to a disastrous single year in office.
“They were in a hurry to be in power and this was their deadliest mistake because they were not prepared for it,” Habib said. “When in power, the Brotherhood also failed to contain other political forces, which united everybody against them.”
The Brotherhood’s downfall in Egypt, Habib said, had ramifications for its branches in other countries and political Islam overall.
“The Muslim Brotherhood now does not have any kind of future [in Egypt], which also means an end to political Islam,” he said.
“This is not just true for Egypt but for other countries in the region, even though some Muslim Brotherhood branches, especially in North Africa, continue to linger on the political stage.”
Habib was not the only former Brotherhood figure to spot the early signs of the group’s demise. Ahmed Ban, a researcher into Islamic movements and an ex-member of the Brotherhood, said the group has become synonymous with violence and political mismanagement.
However, he warned that despite the ongoing campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood — designated as a terrorist group by several Arab and Gulf countries — and its main backer Qatar, the group has left a void on the political stage.
“This vacuum can easily be filled by Islamists who could rebrand themselves and convince the public that they have solutions to their problems,” Ban said. “Economic failures and the lack of basic freedoms here [in Egypt] and in other countries in the region could help them do this.”
Although the Muslim Brotherhood and its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party, has been banned, there are several Islamist, particularly Salafist, political parties in Egypt, including al- Nour Party, which backed Morsi’s ouster.
Sameh Eid, another former member of the Brotherhood and an Egyptian expert in political Islam, said the new generation of Islamists had taken careful note of the mistakes made by the Brotherhood.
“This new generation will seek to present a new discourse, one that is different from the single-minded discourse of the current leaders of their movements,” Eid said.
“This could lead to the return of the Brotherhood and Islamists in general to the political stage in the future,” he said.
However, Habib, who was one of the founding members of the Renaissance Party in 2011, which explicitly endorsed a civil society formula, said the era of political Islam was over.
“The violent nature of the Islamist leaders, especially those of the Brotherhood and the mistakes they committed over the past seven years, makes their return to politics next to impossible,” he said.
“Everybody witnessed the violence and ugly nature of their rule. The Muslim Brotherhood’s mistakes are too grave to be easily forgotten or forgiven anytime soon.”
Amr Emam is a Cairo-based journalist. He has contributed to the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and the UN news site IRIN.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.