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Supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi shout slogans during a protest outside Al-Fath Mosque in Ramses Square

Six weeks after toppling the government, the Egyptian military moved to crack down on the Muslim Brotherhood, raising questions about the future of the world’s largest Islamist movement. The Brotherhood has demonstrated an ability to weather far worse suppression, but this time it is facing a different sort of crisis – one that could strip its status as Egypt’s largest political movement.

Some 300 people were killed Wednesday in clashes resulting from the military government’s decision to forcibly break up Brotherhood sit-ins protesting the coup that overthrew president Mohamed Morsi. In the wake of the violence, the government imposed a month-long state of emergency. On the same day, Cairo appointed 25 new provincial governors, 19 of whom are generals (17 from the military and two from the police).

Clearly, the regime is unwilling to tolerate the Brotherhood’s resistance to the post-coup political process and has prepared for the worst. What it has not done and is unlikely to do is deliver a decisive finishing blow to the Brotherhood. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the founder of the modern republic of Egypt and of the current regime, tried to do just that in 1954 when he launched a major campaign to crush the movement. The Brotherhood was resilient and emerged from that experience with its core intact.

Nasser’s popularity enabled him to move aggressively against the Brotherhood without much cost. Likewise, military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sissi’s moves against the Brotherhood, though nowhere near the scale of those carried out in the Nasser era, are backed by popular demand. However, the key difference is that Nasser was running a classic military regime, while al-Sissi is pursuing an agenda in which the military will not govern but rather will rule from behind the scenes. Obviously, the Egyptian military today is under different constraints – the country’s geopolitical environment has been significantly altered, especially in light of the Arab Spring and in the age of worldwide social media and cell phone videos.

“…members will likely hold the movement’s leadership responsible for the loss of the power that the Brotherhood had gained democratically – and this will lead to an internal shakeup of the organization.” – Stratfor

Indeed, al-Sissi must ensure that the army retains popular support, and that will only be possible so long as the Brotherhood’s opponents feel that they benefit from the post-Morsi political process and the country’s economic woes do not exceed tolerable levels. The Brotherhood hopes that the military will be unable to stabilize Egypt’s economic and political situation, providing the Islamist movement with an opportunity to stage a political comeback.

That could happen eventually, but at present the Brotherhood is in the midst of the greatest crisis since its inception. During the suppression of the Nasser era, the Brotherhood could portray itself as the victim of a brutal campaign ordered by an autocratic regime; what it is faced with today comes in the aftermath of a popular uprising against the Islamist movement’s government. The Muslim Brotherhood’s power peaked and then suffered a steep decline.

A poster of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi lies on the ground as military police stand outside a cleared out Muslim Brotherhood protest camp burnt Rabaa Adawiya mosque, the morning after the clearing of a protest in Cairo August 15, 2013. (Reuters)

A poster of deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi lies on the ground as military police stand outside a cleared out Muslim Brotherhood protest camp burnt Rabaa Adawiya mosque, the morning after the clearing of a protest in Cairo August 15, 2013. (Reuters)

Many of the group’s rank and file do not recall the suppression of the 1950s and 1960s. There is a good chance that their generation will see the coup and the suppression that followed it as evidence that mainstream politics does not pay off, a conclusion that could lead them to resort to radical and militant Islamism. They are battle hardened after weeks of violent protests against security forces, and many of them have taken up firearms, Molotov cocktails or simply paving stones. They are angry at the security forces and angry about friends killed in the clashes. There are many Salafist and jihadist forces that will work hard to recruit the disillusioned youth of the Brotherhood.

At the same time, there are many within the Brotherhood who have long wanted to see the group move beyond Islamism and follow the lead of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party. Such introspection will have to wait until after the group has made it through the current hostilities afflicting the Egyptian state and society. But once the current period has passed, these members will likely hold the movement’s leadership responsible for the loss of the power that the Brotherhood had gained democratically – and this will lead to an internal shakeup of the organization.

Between these two forces pulling the movement in different directions, the group is bound to enter a lengthy period of internal crisis. It could even lose its position as the most organized political group in Egypt, the largest Arab state. Whether this will happen is not clear, but it is the clear hope of the military and its civilian allies.

The analysis In Egypt, Crackdown Threatens to Divide Muslim Brotherhood is republished with the permission of Stratfor.

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Stratfor

Stratfor is a privately-owned subscription-based provider of geopolitical analysis.

2 Comments

  1. Cley Victor

    August 21, 2013

    Democracy supporter

    Reply
  2. Cley Victor

    August 21, 2013

    Democracy supporter

    Reply

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