Shehata & Stacher: Boxing in the Brothers

Our friends Samer Shehata and Joshua Stacher have a new piece on the Muslim Brotherhood's relationship with the Egyptian regime at MERIP. It's a thorough overview of the last two years of mounting repression against the MB, tracking down the post-parliamentary election crackdown, the Fall 2006 labor and student election crackdown, the "Ikhwan Militia" scandal, the arrest of senior leaders such as Khairat al-Shatir, the constitutional changes, and more. A kind of Chatham House version for Islamist politics in 2006-2007, if you will. Their conclusion of where this is heading:

The Mubarak regime is intent upon remaking the rules governing the Brotherhood’s participation in formal politics. Just as the 2005 parliamentary elections placed the Brotherhood on the national stage, the regime’s current moves aim to put the Brothers back in their box. If the reinstatement of military trials and seizure of assets were warnings of worse to come, the Brothers appear to have gotten the message. As Muhammad al-Baltagi notes, “They are saying, ‘If you back down from your strong political participation, then it’s over. If you persist, then this will persist.’” In this sense, the Brotherhood is a victim of its own success -- the unexpected breakthrough in the 2005 parliamentary elections and subsequent prominence in Egyptian public life has led the regime to step up its harassment.

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Intensified repression notwithstanding, the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to exit Egyptian political life. Indeed, the very fact that the group fielded 19 candidates in the June elections for the upper house of Parliament indicates that the organization will continue its participation in formal politics. The group is adjusting to a new reality, however. As Habib stated in April, “We will continue to work according to our agenda but the tactics will be different…. The repression is as strong and as annoying as in the 1960s and the 1990s but now they [the regime] are much smarter and plan better. They know better where to hit us.”

Among these smarter regime sanctions are the severe financial measures aimed at the organization’s ability to provide social services, which many believe to be the backbone of the Brotherhood’s popular support. Seizing the assets of major financiers such as Khayrat al-Shatir might discourage others from funding the organization. The measures could also have been intended to drain the Brotherhood’s campaign coffers before the June elections (in addition to blackening the group’s image). Yet the impoundment of individual members’ accounts and the effort to normalize the use of military courts bespeak a more enduring strategy of containment.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.