The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Bad Brothers

After the recent days clashes between Muslim Brothers and revolutionary activists, it might do well to reflect on the motives for the Brothers' actions. (For balance here's the MB's version of events.) There are those who see the Brothers are inherently anti-democratic and ready to settle with the military now that they control parliament. There is certainly a lot that pushes in that direction, not the least of which is the lack of a coherent cross-party platform for engaging with state institutions (including the military, security services, senior civil service, etc.) and the rivalries between various political groups.

But I still think it's too early to imagine that the MB will simply end up as the military regime's new NDP, like Sudanese Islamists were first allied and then marginalized after the military takeover. But it is absolutely stupid of them to think their mobilization of young Brothers to form a human shield against protestors (who were not, as some MB press was saying, going to "sack" the parliament building) is an appropriate way to respond. The Muslim Brotherhood's job is not crowd-control, that's something the police is supposed to do. By deploying in that capacity (rather than, say, a counter-protest that did not block those who wanted to protest in front of parliament) they are entering the party militia zone. It's a worrying sign, and the Brothers would be advised to review this kind of action (as well as some of their past statements). Protests are not about to end, and if they decide to send in their boys to block them every time, there won't only be wounded people the next time.

Khalil al-Anani has a take on this, reflecting that the MB's own authoritarianism needs to be challenged before the FJP behaves differently - Old Habits Die Hard! - By Khalil al-Anani | The Middle East Channel:

Paradoxically, despite the outright majority attained by its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the MB is still thinking and acting as an opposition movement rather than a responsible power-holder. It seems reluctant to take full power over the country or as Nathan Brown aptly puts it, "the MB confronts its success." Hence the MB's leaders are grappling with making the shift from long-standing repressed mentalities to those of statesmen, or as one of the MB's defectors has told me "they need a psychological rehabilitation" before ruling the country.

However, the question is not how the MB's leaders will rule the country but rather how will they legitimize and justify their power. The response of the MB's leadership on the disputes with other forces provides a gloomy pattern. Strikingly, the statement the movement issued on Tahrir Square's quarrel alarmed those who might disagree with its political stance. Whereas the movement should have apologized for its stark blunders over the past few months (e.g. disavowing Mohamed Mahmoud's street events, condemning Tahrir protesters during the cabinet building clashes, frequently granting the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) legal and political immunity, etc.), it defied the mounting calls for an immediate transfer of power from the military to a civilian president. Ironically, the MB's newly-issued newspaper al-hurriyya wal'adala reiterated the rhetoric of notorious public newspapers toward Tahrir's protesters when it dubbed them "anarchists [who] seek to destabilize the country."

The conformity between the MB and the SCAF in dealing with the revolution comes as no surprise due to their mutual interests. The MB seeks to consolidate the extraordinary gains it attained since Mubarak's disposal without risking its internal coherence. And the junta wants to maintain their unusual privileges without any civilian oversight. Clearly, both are exemplifying an obsolete mindset. They promote "reform" over "revolution," "stability" not "change," and "procedural" instead of "genuine" democracy. Not surprisingly, they are involved in negotiating, compromising, and brokering the future of the country behind the scene.