The International Organisation of Muslim Brotherhood (MBI) is not giving up trying to regain control of Egypt, regardless of the sweeping popular revolt against them in June and July.
Though the Muslim Brotherhood is trying to avoid the Egyptian scenario in Tunisia, losing power in Egypt is a fatal blow that might lead to the demise of the group, which considers itself the vanguard of political Islam.
The Al Nahda movement in Tunisia is trying to stay in power, leading a coalition of centre parties, by manoeuvring to avoid a popular uprising that can oust it from power — like what happened to the Brotherhood in Egypt.
Tunisian leader Rashid Al Gannouchi — who is a principal figure in the Muslim Brotherhood — understands well that his movement remaining in power is the only hope for the group. Though the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a proclaimed ‘moderate Islamist’ leaning towards the Brotherhood, the group is a bit sceptical of him and his party.
The leaders of the Egyptian Brotherhood and leaders of the Brotherhood organisation know how opportunistic Erdogan is — they share the same traits, hence they can’t fully ally together for long. The Brotherhood organisation still counts on a sort of perceived “western” support for their role in the region as an alternative to the militant Islamists or jihadists symbolised by Al Qaida and its affiliates. Fear of extinction and an illusive perception of victimisation, besides regional and international calculations are still driving the Brotherhood towards a fight to reclaim their position in Egypt.
However, similar tactics that stirred change in some Arab countries like demonstrations and marches are not having the same effect. Media coverage in the West — and by the main satellite news channel, now labelled “Ikhwan mouthpiece” — Al Jazeera — magnifies such tactics to put pressure on Egypt’s interim authorities, but that is not enough for the Brotherhood organisation. They would resort to the last arrow in their quiver: Violence and terror.
One doesn’t need to go back to Orientalist literature on political Islam in English and French to get to the simple fact: Almost all militant and terrorist groups came out from under the Brotherhood umbrella. So, all said and done, there is little doubt that the spurt in violence through attacks, explosions and car bombs in Egypt is associated with the Brotherhood’s efforts to regain lost power in the biggest Arab country.
Terrorists attacking military and security installations with machine guns, rockets and car bombs are killing and wounding civilians as well as military and security personnel. Yet, the main focus of Brotherhood-sponsored terrorist violence is the military. In this, Egypt is like Tunisia, Algeria and others. There are deep historical roots of this rivalry between the Ikhwan and regular armies.
Historically, it goes back thousands of years since the times of the pharaohs in ancient Egypt. Initially, the pharaoh was the ruler, god and head of the army, but later the pharaoh ruled Egypt with the Chief Cleric of the Temple on his right and the Chief of the Army on his left.
Later on, with the advent of Islam, the shaikh (chief cleric at the time) was more esteemed than the army chief (the general of today). As the Muslim empire expanded, the ruler assumed leadership of the army — becoming the chief general — while the shaikhs became second in the state hierarchy.
The Brotherhood thinks that it is destined to reclaim the rule of the shaikh over the general — and here they coincide with Erdogan’s party in the opposition to any clout for the military. But Islamists in general, and Ikhwan in particular, can’t live with a regular army. They monopolise the structure of orders and blind obedience and refuse to let it be on any other grounds than what they claim is ‘religious’.
Armies are built around patriotic doctrines, while Ikhwan is a group of opportunists exploiting religion. The solid institution in any society they are active in is a main obstacle to their ascendance. No wonder then that Ikhwan are targeting the army, and if they were not ousted in Egypt they would have diluted the military ultimately replacing it with a militias like their terrorist affiliates, the so-called jihadist groups.
In the course of their struggle for power, Islamists tried to penetrate the army — for example, the current situation in Sudan — or cut deals with the army until they manage to turn against it, or weaken the army like in Algeria. These tactics did not work in Egypt, so the struggle is now in its hottest phase: Attacking the army. The feud between the shaikh and the general in Egypt is far more significant than who rules Cairo, but its results mean that either Ikhwan, with the International Organisation of Muslim Brotherhood will continue to threaten the region or face their demise with no prospect of re-emergence.
Dr Ayman Mustafa is a London-based Arab writer.