The only thing more stunning than the rise to the heights of state power of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is the swiftness of its fall. The newest blow came on Monday, when the Cairo court for urgent matters announced a comprehensive ban on ‘all activities’ by the Brotherhood, while the majority of the organisation’s leadership remain in police custody and its assets are frozen.
The military’s ousting of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, and its continuous assault on the group ever since, are open to conflicting interpretations. From the Brotherhood’s viewpoint they signal the resurrection of the military dictatorship that Egyptians sought to overthrow during the January 25 uprising. Yet this narrative, which paints the Brotherhood as a champion of democracy and an innocent victim of state aggression, fails to acknowledge the ways the group contributed to its own demise. It says nothing about the millions of people who signed petitions and took to the streets to demand Morsi’s resignation in June. And fails to mention that by voluntarily stepping down Morsi could have resolved the crisis without violence, but chose instead to remain defiant.
Yet the narrative advanced by the military and other representatives of the State establishment is even more flawed. Since Morsi’s ousting, Brotherhood members have been denounced as terrorists who threaten Egypt’s national security, a characterisation used to justify the killing and maiming of unarmed men, women and children at protest sites around the country. Contrary to its portrayal in state propaganda, the Brotherhood is not a monolith but an umbrella organisation encompassing a wide range of opinion. Some younger members have begun to circulate petitions demanding that the senior leaders resign, arguing that their hubris and misjudgment set the Brotherhood on a collision course with other groups in society and that, by remaining defiant in the face of overwhelming opposition, they put its members in harm’s way.
It is unlikely that the old guard will acknowledge its mistakes and initiate a major course correction, particularly when so many of them are in jail or on the run. In the meantime, Egypt’s new military-backed leaders should be mindful of the fact that demonising the Brotherhood and banning the group are likely to hamper the cause of those calling for its reform and so undermine the prospects for the healthy re-integration of mainstream Islamists into Egypt’s political system.