Power Struggle in Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt and Difficulty of Finding a Way Out

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hassan Ahmadian
Ph.D. Candidate, University of Tehran and Expert on Middle East Issues

General election for the Egyptian parliament, which had been already postponed from its original schedule, has been once more deferred until October 2013. The news was broken by the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. Morsi actually expected that the formulation and approval of the country’s new Constitution would lead to the establishment of stability in Egypt’s disturbed political scene. The crisis which started in November 2012, however, has continued up to this day despite some ups and downs and unlike what Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood expected the secular opposition has not lost its power to mobilize people into the streets. Mohamed ElBaradei, one of the leaders of the National Salvation Front, has set specific conditions for negotiations with Morsi. He has asked for an impartial government to be established first followed by the reinstatement of the attorney general, and establishment of a board to prepare the draft of the new election law of Egypt. It is evident from his remarks that ElBaradei considers the social and political standing of Morsi so vulnerable that he sets conditions for negotiations with him ignoring that it was him and his allies who asked for negotiations in the first place! It is noteworthy that the National Salvation Front had previously refrained from taking part in the national dialogue which was proposed by Morsi and which has been underway since November 2012.

It is no secret that Morsi has been facing major difficulties since he has been elected as president. Starting from November 2012, tension has been a major characteristic of the general conditions in Egypt and there has been no decrease in tension except for short periods of time. The main problem is that neither the government formed by the Muslim Brotherhood, nor its secular opposition are ready to give in to reconciliation. Both parties insist on achieving a maximum degree of their goals. The opposition accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of having seized the Egyptian revolution and asks for its fair share of power. The government and the Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, accuse the opposition of trying to get the country to the situation which existed before the revolution saying that the opposition acts as a cover for foloul (a term used to described political forces still loyal to the former Egypt dictator, Hosni Mubarak) that are bent on disturbing the political and economic order in the Arab country. The gravity of the situation will become more evident when one takes note of incessant demonstrations which have been going on nonstop during the past months. After the revolution in Egypt succeeded to topple the dictatorship, which ruled one of the biggest Arab countries, with the least possible amount of bloodshed, “peacefulness” was one of the main features which characterized the general atmosphere in the country. Although there was a short period of violence under the rule of the Egypt’s Military Council, the election of Morsi raised hopes in the restitution of rational politics away from violence. However, a thorough assessment of the intensity of the violence which has been used by the supporters of the government, or the opposition during demonstrations that have taken place between November 2012 and April 2013, will reveal that the Egypt is currently treading a path whose end is not probable to be anything desirable. There are fears that the discourse-based and psychological violence which governs the political currents on the streets may become so intense as to cause the street protests to take a bloody turn.

Under these conditions, Morsi, who is already under tremendous pressure from the opposition, has been using postponement of the election as a means to reduce the intensity of social tensions in order to stabilize the country’s disorderly political and economic situation. In fact, one of the main points of difference between Morsi and the opposition is over the formulation of the new election law (whether it is approved before or after the parliamentary election is held). The postponement of the election, per se, will allay one of the reasons behind tension, at least, in the short run, but will it be also able to totally do away with all kinds of tension as well? Two days after Morsi talked about the possibility of deferring October election to another date, Egypt experienced one of its bloodiest Fridays on April 19. In fact, democratic differences over the formulation of the election law or the best way to hold it are only one flip side of the coin, which have led to street protests as another manifestation of the status quo. Another side of the coin, however, is the broad-based power struggle the two sides of which use all in their power to push the other side out of the contest.

The Muslim Brotherhood changed its way and its method of choice for political action after accepting the theory of democracy in 1995 and ending the previous insistence on the need to revive the Islamic caliphate. However, in its transition from an opposition group to an established government, the group has not been able to give up its opposition rationality to which it still sticks. The eighty-year tradition of Muslim Brotherhood as the opposition has practically prevented it from freely interacting with the rival groups despite the background of cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood and other political forces (in the period when the Muslim Brotherhood acted as an opposition force). Faced with a broad-based front of rival groups (especially the National Salvation Front), whose main goal has been to strip the Muslim Brotherhood of legitimacy to run for the election, the Muslim Brotherhood has found it increasingly difficult to adapt its longstanding opposition role to its new democracy-seeking tradition. On the opposite, the secular opposition in Egypt (the National Salvation Front which includes Egypt’s nationalist, liberal and leftist figures) accuses the Muslim Brotherhood of undemocratic behavior at a time that they have practically rejected the results of a democratic election and many of them no longer try to hide their desire to topple Morsi's government.

The struggle of power which has already disturbed the public sphere in Egypt, reduced the security level to a minimum, and caused unprecedented economic problems for the country is gradually getting worse. The Muslim Brotherhood is doing its best to establish itself at the top of the power pyramid while the opposition is bent on undermining the Muslim Brotherhood’s government and get a bigger chunk of the political power pie. Although due to its emphasis on introducing reforms in a gradual manner, the Muslim Brotherhood has appeared more capable and pragmatic than its opposition (as evidenced by its decision to organize national dialogue, having minimum interaction with the opposition, accepting to defer parliamentary election for the second time, and probably making efforts to gain cooperation of the opposition in formulating the new election law), it is still showing strong resistance against efforts made to strip the group of its axial position in the new Egypt. The opposition is using all in its power to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood and increase their share of the political power. The future perspective of the political scene in Egypt as well as the economic and security conditions in the North African country will hinge on the degree to which the Muslim Brotherhood will accept the rational discourse of interaction with the pragmatic opposition leaders in the National Salvation Front and, on the other side, on the willingness of those leaders to engage in rational interaction with the government. Emphasis on achieving the maximum degree of goals and ignoring the democratic requirements of the modern times by both the Muslim Brotherhood’s government and its opposition can greatly worsen the dire problems with which the new Egypt is currently grappling.

Key Words: Power Struggle, Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt, Parliament Election, New Constitution, ElBaradei, Opposition, Ahmadian

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طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم