The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged muslimbrotherhood
The Egyptian Muslim Brothers' media war

Mokhtar Awad, for POMEPS, on how the divisions inside the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have played out onto their media outlets:

Both traditional and new media have been critical tools in this internal struggle. Different satellite channels compete to “set the tone” for the group’s struggle against the regime and the rhythm of the organization through their programming and guests they allow on air. Rival factions now operate two different websites and have two different spokesmen on social media. Each first and foremost concerned with securing the loyalty of the MB rank and file. Senior leaders post rival statements on websites and followers instantly react on their Facebook walls, sometimes arguing with each other. Other members have also set up independent Facebook pages to assert their demands or act as privateers on behalf of one faction to land blows against their rivals.

This fascinating new environment naturally allows forces outside the MB’s traditionally rigid structure to interfere in this internal struggle with either their financing or through media activism. This has significant consequences for the organization and the Egyptian Islamist movement overall as different Imams and ideologues—ranging from the “moderate” to the outright Takfiri—can compete for ratings and as a consequence possibly influence. The new diverse media environment also provides a useful tool to help analyze internal MB dynamics and help answer the fundamental question of who speaks for the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s dissident Islamists.

In Translation: Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brothers

Over the last two years much has been made of the splits within the Egyptian Muslim Brothers and prospects, or lack thereof, for reconciliation between the group and the military regime in Egypt. Many obstacles stand in the way of reconciliation: the regime’s official rejection of anything short of total surrender, an elite Egyptian opinion that can be more intransigeant than that of security leaders, splits within the Brotherhood including some radicalization, the often-voiced preference of some Brothers that Sisi’s departure should be a precondition for any deal, the legacy of the Rabaa Massacre and the brutal crackdown on the organization, and more.

The article below, from the Lebanese newspaper al-Akhbar (generally pro-Hizbullah, pro-Assad/Iran/Russia, anti-Saudi and vaguely “anti-imperialist left”, whatever that means) has a scoop that, through the auspices of Saudi intelligence, members of the Brotherhood’s “organizational” wing (an older generation of leaders who control the bureaucratic structures of the Brotherhood, have a history of accommodation with successive Egyptian regimes and care mostly about the long-term survival of the group) met with Egyptian intelligence to discuss reconciliation prospects. The news is surprising in the context of the current chill in Egyptian-Saudi relations, and of course predates the recent attack on Cairo’s St Mark’s Cathedral last week (after which the Brotherhood’s Istanbul-based “Crisis Office”, the more revolutionary trend opposed to the old leadership, put out an ill-worded statement essentially accusing the Sisi regime of having carried out a false-flag attack) which makes such reconciliation even more unlikely.

Nonetheless, the reconciliation story never quite dies down, and it is likely that channels of communication remain open, through proxies or directly, between the Sisi regime and some Brothers. The time may come when it will be needed, as both the military regime that has ruled Egypt in one form or another since 1952 and a Muslim Brotherhood that has reinvented itself several times since its founding in 1928 are nothing if skilled survivors. Watch this space.

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Brotherhood moving towards "painful" settlement with Sisi: Preserving what remains of the organization

Mahmoud Ali, al-Akhbar (Lebanon), 29 November 2016

At a time in which media discourse is in conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood, the group is seeking reconciliation or settlement with the Egyptian state and is having repeated meetings outside Egypt with Egyptian intelligence chiefs in order to look for a settlement satisfactory to both parties. Such activities may well cause surprise within Egyptian public opinion in the coming days.

The Muslim Brotherhood was forced to disclose a few details regarding the nature of the communications between it and the Egyptian authorities over the past few weeks, in light of the controversy that has arisen following statements last week from the Deputy Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ibrahim Munir. Munir, who lives in London, had stressed that "there shall be no reconciliation with the Sisi regime that has killed thousands of Muslim Brotherhood members and there shall be no concessions regarding Mohamed Morsi's return to power, not to mention the return of the Shura Council and the People's Assembly, which were dissolved following the decision of then Minister of Defense, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi."

However, two days ago the «Brotherhood» published a report that was more like a press statement on a site close the London office, in which they stated "communications have been received from figures close to the regime, and others from within it, in order to attempt to envisage an end to the crisis in some shape or form, or at the very least, to achieve de-escalation between the different parties." The group said in the message that these communications were conducted with prominent Brotherhood leaders inside Egypt and also with some of the major leaders outside the country, revealing that there have been communications undertaken by former and current military figures in relation to this.

The Deputy Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood and his delegate Mahmoud Ezzat have striven over the past few days to stamp out opposition movements led by the organization’s foreign office to take control of the organization. He has conducted elections through which he has been able to increase the power of all of those obedient to him and those who prefer a settlement with the regime in exchange for de-escalation, the release of prisoners and an end to the current zero-sum conflict.

More than one leader of the Brotherhood has revealed the "news" -- details of the meetings and communications that have taken place with them during the past few days inside and outside Egypt. According to a Brotherhood leader from the office of the Brotherhood in the Saudi city of Jeddah, it was an official from the Brotherhood office in Riyadh that met a delegation from the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate in the past few days to discuss a political settlement.

Although Saudi Arabia did not publish any details of those meetings, the Brotherhood leader made it clear that the meeting was sponsored by Saudi intelligence services, while the Brotherhood delegation consisted of three members, headed by an official from the Riyadh office who was following directives from the Brotherhood office in London. At the forefront was Ibrahim Munir, a supporter of Mahmoud Ezzat's stance in Egypt.

At this time, Egyptian government sources have said that there is conflict between security factions within the regime regarding the settlement with the Brotherhood. Despite difficult political conditions and the shutdown of the general political climate in Egypt, security factions close to Sisi think that the Brotherhood will eventually submit to authority and that there is no need for attempts at reaching a settlement with them. In contrast, other security factions think that the Brotherhood issue needs to be resolved with a settlement in light of the domestic situation, as well as European and American pressure on Sisi to put the Brotherhood back on the political agenda, including an end to the execution of "Brotherhood" members. Mohamed Morsi was a product of American pressure, especially that of Secretary of State John Kerry to involve the Brotherhood in political life, as was the case in the days of Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Given the fierce reactions of the Brotherhood’s base regarding the meeting, which provoked insults and accusations of treason directed at the organization’s old guard, Saudi Arabia believed that the news leak was to its detriment, especially as it had included the Muslim Brotherhood on terrorism lists for more than a year. This is what prompted the Kingdom to threaten Brotherhood leaders in Saudi Arabia with deportation in the event of similar leaks regarding Saudi efforts to sponsor a Brotherhood settlement with the regime in Egypt, according to the leader of the Jeddah office.

Domestic supporters of the Brotherhood were not far from the scattered details regarding the crisis and the efforts of historical leaders to seek a political settlement with Sisi's regime. As news of the Brotherhood leaders' meeting with the Egyptian General Intelligence delegation in Riyadh came in, large sections of Brotherhood supporters in the Middle Delta, Greater Cairo and some Upper Egypt governorates such as El Minya, Qena and Sohag expressed their support, on the condition of prisoners being released and an end to the current state of suffering endured by those being pursued and the organization as a whole, according to an account given to al-Akhbar by a Brotherhood leader in a Middle Delta district in Northern Egypt.

A Brotherhood leader in Istanbul went even further than this, saying that Saudi media personality Jamal Khashoggi has met with Brotherhood leaders in Turkey in the past few months, commissioned by Riyadh to gauge the attitude of the Brotherhood regarding a settlement with the regime. This is in addition to Saudi Arabia's advice to the Brotherhood to disappear completely from the forefront of the political scene and allow liberal or even independent Islamic personalities to occupy this position in Egypt so that the Brotherhood can avoid provoking regional and international parties.

Although the efforts by historical organization leaders to clear up the current crisis could be considered a positive step, there are obstacles between the Brotherhood and the regime that will serve as sticking points, blocking any attempts at a settlement in the near future. That is, unless the Brotherhood is able to accept a large number of losses. Of course, chief of these is its withdrawal from the political landscape, as well as accepting Sisi in power, and remaining silent regarding the Rabaa massacre and the thorny issue of Mohamed Morsi's trial.

With regard to the precise timing of the Brotherhood leaders' meeting with the Egyptian intelligence delegation in Saudi Arabia, a Brotherhood leader from Menufiya in northern Egypt told al-Akhbar that the meeting took place at the condolences for Prince Turki bin Abdulaziz, the brother of the Saudi King Salman, who died on 12 November. This leader revealed that the Egyptian delegation asked the Brotherhood’s representatives to let the historical leadership know that the Egyptian security services would like to meet and discuss a solution satisfactory to all. This was welcomed by the Brotherhood delegation, which admitted that it had gone to the condolences on the orders of Ibrahim Munir after communicating with Saudi intelligence.

In this context, the Crisis Office abroad – which is more in touch with the youth current within the Brotherhood – is glaringly absent from the question of settlement with the Egyptian regime. As such, it seems that Ibrahim Munir is heading toward a settlement that is “painful” for the Brotherhood in order to preserve what remains of the organization within Egypt and guarantee the return of fugitive brothers to their homes without facing prosecution from the regime.

In Translation: The Saudi Transition and an Anxious Egypt

Ever since King Salman ascended to the Saudi throne a few weeks ago, the Arab press has been rife with speculation that he intends to reset Saudi foreign policy. Some, particularly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, are speculating rather wildly that Riyadh wants to make peace with political Islam after financing the Sisi regime in Egypt that decimated the Brotherhood and encouraged similar anti-Islamist clampdowns elsewhere. Others have pointed to a Saudi refocusing Iran, rather than Islamism as the chief threat – particularly as the Arab Islamists have retreated in many countries. The idea of a Saudi push for a "united Sunni front" against Shia Iran and its regional clients makes some sense after the Iran-allied Houthis took control of Sanaa, leading Riyadh to once again reach out to the Yemeni Muslim Brothers as a counterbalance. 

The Sisi regime and its media has reacted quite badly to all this, particularly since so much of what stands as "ideology" of this regime is based around building the Brotherhood into some all-powerful bogeyman. The dependency of this regime on Gulf financing makes it doubly nervous to see a rapprochement between Salman and Turkey's Erdogan, who is perhaps the only regional leader that continues to call Sisi a putschist. In cutting through all the wild speculation surrounding Salman's intentions and the dual summits he held over the weekend with Erdogan and Sisi, some of the more plausible readings of Saudi intentions have come from Saudis themselves. Khaled al-Dakheel, a prominent columnist in al-Hayat, penned an interesting piece on this a few days ago, which we translate below. Note in particular the paragraph in which he lambasts the Sisi regime's obsession with scapegoating the Brotherhood and its inability to build a coherent alternative around which Egyptians could rally. 

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The Saudi Transition and an Anxious Egypt

By Khaled El-Dakheel, al-Hayat, 1 March 2015

After the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Egypt has clearly been vexed with anxiety, and the source of this anxiety is obviously Egypt’s worries about the political orientation of the new Saudi monarch Salman bin Abdulaziz. The biggest mouthpiece of this concern and anxiety has been the Egyptian media, which expresses doubt that the position of King Salman toward the Muslim Brotherhood is not as firm or decisive as that of the late King Abdullah, and that he may incline toward a rapprochement and possibly alliance with Qatar and Turkey. As a result, his stance toward Egypt would come with boundaries, conditions and requirements that did not exist under King Abdullah. In other words, there is anxiety that Saudi support for Egypt will decline, or that this support will be part of a new political package that the new Saudi crown deems important. Most likely this anxiety was present among Egypt’s leadership before the death of King Abdullah and before it was expressed by the media.

It is only natural and to be expected that Egypt would be worried about a change of leadership in an ally as important as Saudi Arabia and at a time as turbulent as this, especially amid the difficult political and economic circumstances in Egypt. However, what is not natural is the way that this concern has been expressed in the media, where it has reached a level of hysteria.

This was noted by Egyptian writer Mostafa al-Naggar in Al-Masry Al-Youm on 23 February, where he drew attention to the Egyptian media’s complicity in “vile slander against Qatar and in hitting the Saudi regime below the belt.” This indicates that at least some of the Egyptian media is still hostage to the discourse of the 1950s and 1960s, when vile words, veiled threats, and hitting below the belt were used to exert pressure and engage in blackmail. It did not occur to those responsible for this that resorting to such discourse provokes anxiety outside of Egypt, first because it means that Egypt – or at least some people in Egypt – have not changed since the region and the world have changed after the first popular revolution in Egypt’s history.

The second reason it provokes concern is because it suggests that the Egyptian media at least harbors a deep-rooted sentiment that the choice made by the Egyptian state after the 30 June Revolution may be more fragile that it appears. If this is the case, it really does give cause for concern. Amid the current unrest in the Arab world, Egypt’s stability, and before and after it the stability of Saudi Arabia, are no longer just a strategic interest for these two countries alone, but they are a strategic interest for the Arab world as a whole, as well as for the international system. It was on this basis that King Salman Abdulaziz offered reassurance that Saudi support for Egypt would not change.

Where’s the problem then? As I indicated, the problem seems to be in the manner and framework of this support. Some in Egypt would like Saudi support to be in the form of an open-ended royal gift or grant: a blank check, as they say. Saudi Arabia should not seek a rapprochement with Turkey, for example, because they sympathize with the Muslim Brotherhood. This view ignores the fact that relations between countries are not based on such a viewpoint, a viewpoint that is sentimental and not political. The more rational, political viewpoint is that Saudi-Egyptian relations should not be contingent upon a certain stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood or a certain stance toward Turkey. 

If the stability of Egypt is a strategic interest of Saudi Arabia – and it is – Saudi Arabia must deal treat the Brotherhood issue as essentially a domestic Egyptian issue, and to approach it from the standpoint of its influence on Egypt’s stability first, then the regional repercussions and thus on Saudi Arabia second. From the same perspective, Saudi Arabia’s continued alienation from Turkey – as wished for by some in Egypt – does not serve regional balances at this stage, as these balances are the main pillar of the region’s stability and thus of Egypt’s stability as well. Turkey is one of the most important countries in the region in terms of economic and military capabilities and political role. This is in addition to the fact that it is a member of NATO and the G20, and enjoys a strategic position between the Arab world on the one hand and Israel and Iran on the other, as a country that possesses a clear political and economic project that is in contradiction with Israel’s settlement project as well as with Iran’s sectarian project. Turkey also is significant as the secular nation-state whose project and regional policies are most likely to intersect with Arab interests. However, before anything else, this presupposes that there is an Arab plan. At this moment, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are the Arab countries best poised to consider launching and sponsoring such a project. This is what Saudi Arabia and Egypt should be occupied with, not Turkey’s stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood.

The irony is that in Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood has become a sort of ideological and political complex, a destructive complex that needs to be deconstructed, and a distinction needs to be drawn against the position towards the Brotherhood and what the country needs on the regional level. Egypt did not accept that Turkey described what happened on 30 June 2013 as a military coup. However, most countries in the world consider it to be a coup. Does this mean that relations should be cut off with these countries too? If it is important for Egypt that the world recognizes that what happened then was a revolution – which is its right – it must back that up politically and constitutionally at home before it tries to do so abroad. Then, if the Muslim Brotherhood issue blows up in this way, it is a natural result of the absence of an Egyptian intellectual and political project for the majority of Egyptians to rally around. In the same context, the scale of the Muslim Brotherhood issue both inside and outside Egypt indicates the continued crisis of governance in the Arab world, and this crisis is the primary reason that Arab countries suffer from stumbling growth and the resulting flare-ups that led to the Arab revolutions and it is because of this that they have hit intellectual and political dead-ends.

Here let us pause and ask: is that everything? Fortunately, it appears that what was impossible to achieve has begun to be achieved at least in part. Today is the second day of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit, and tomorrow begins his official visit to Riyadh. Today (Sunday) Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi also arrives in Riyadh. Is this a coincidence or a prior arrangement? It does not look like there will be a meeting between the two leaders in the Saudi capital. However, their presence at the same moment might imply something. In any case, the Turkish premier’s visit represents a shift in Saudi policy in the right direction, and it will be a first step toward an expected change in the political stances of more than one country in the region.

Finally, let me repeat the conclusion I made to an article of mine here last year about the urgent need for a Saudi Arabia-Egypt-Turkey trio, noting that such a trio “in the current circumstances constitutes a strategic necessity for the three parties. These parties complement one another politically and economically, and coordination between them…would restore some balance to the region after the fall of Iraq and Syria, not to mention that it would form a barrier to Iran’s destructive role…It would also be a starting point to lay the foundations for stability in the current turbulent period.” (Al-Hayat, 13 January 2014) Is Egypt tilting even slightly in the direction that Saudi Arabia has already started down?

Ahmed Mansour interviews Youssef Nada

MB-watchers may be interested in Al Jazeera's Ahmed Mansour interviewing, in two parts, Muslim Brotherhood financier Youssef Nada. Not exactly a hostile interview considering Mansour's pro-MB leanings, but some interesting tidbits including on Nada's role in the MB, his views of Saudi Arabia ("how can entire people be named after one family?") and Sisi (his followers are "slaves").

Part two of the interview here.

Egypt's Judges Strike Back: The New Yorker

My take on the sentencing of over 500 alleged Muslim Brotherhood members to death in a single case tried in the southern town of Minya. (The same court is set to hear similar mass cases with over 900 defendants in the coming month). 

It was alarming, at the end of the largest mass sentencing in Egypt’s modern history, to see five hundred men held responsible, so expeditiously and so severely, for one murder, when there have been no convictions—in fact, there has not been a criminal investigation—related to the deaths of the twelve hundred civilians killed in August. More than eight hundred protesters died during the uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak, in 2011; not a single police officer has been convicted for their killings. (Mubarak himself was convicted only of failing to prevent their deaths, and has won the right to a retrial on that charge.) Although cases against senior officials of the Mubarak regime have meandered through postponements and appeals for years now, the verdict in Minya was handed down after two brief sessions. According to Egyptian human-rights organizations that monitored the proceedings, “Witnesses were not called, evidence was not presented in court, and the accused were unable to defend themselves.”


It is unlikely that the sentence will be carried out. A majority of the men found guilty were sentenced in absentia; the defendants who were in custody, and their lawyers, were not even present when the verdict was delivered. If the conviction is not overturned on appeal, Egypt’s Grand Mufti, a government-appointed cleric, must ratify the decision to put the prisoners to death. But his assent does not guarantee that the penalty will be imposed: during the nineteen-nineties, when the state waged a brutal campaign against Islamist militants, some were held for years in prison, with death sentences hanging over their heads, as a kind of leverage. The judgment in Minya may be a similar deadly warning, but it represents something even more significant: it is a sign of how deeply Egypt’s judiciary has been compromised by the government’s onslaught against the Brotherhood.

Read the rest here

Masoud: MB's sin was that it failed to work with felool

Tarek Masoud, writing in Foreign Policy: 

Though there is some truth to this narrative, June 30 was less a revolution than a counter-revolution, carried out not by the photogenic young people who made Tahrir Square a household name two-and-a-half years ago, but by the orphans of the regime that those young people had overthrown. Morsy's sin was not that he sought to Islamize the state -- Hosni Mubarak had done a pretty good job of that himself, and the temporary constitution issued by the new interim government includes all of the shariah-talk that liberals supposedly found so objectionable. It wasn't even that it tried to exclude liberals like Hamdeen Sabahi and Mohamed ElBaradei from governing. According to Sabahi himself, Morsy offered him the vice presidency shortly after coming to power last year. And although ElBaradei has just been named vice president for international affairs, it's safe to assume that the number of protesters who took to the streets to put this widely (if unfairly) maligned man in government is vanishingly small.

No, the sin of the Muslim Brotherhood was not that it failed to work with liberals, but that it failed to work with the old regime. For the almost the entirety of its time in power, the Brotherhood has demonstrated a remorseless, unyielding obsession with rooting out Mubarak's National Democratic Party from Egypt's political life. This extent of the obsession was on full display in one of the last speeches of Morsy's presidency. Before a crowd made up of equal parts dignitaries and rowdy Muslim Brothers from the provinces, he railed against the remnants of the ancien regime -- commonly called the fulul -- and then took a few minutes to tell an unflattering story about a man named Kamal el-Shazly, who was Mubarak's parliamentary enforcer -- and who has been dead since 2010. This odd detour into what is now ancient history reveals the extent to which Morsy and his Brothers viewed as Egypt's primary problem as not the crumbling of its economy or the decay in public order, but the continued presence of Mubarak's allies and appointees in almost every corner of the state apparatus. "One year is enough," the president declared, suggesting that the gloves were soon to come off and a full-blown purge was in the offing. In the end, he was the one who was purged.

Another way to see it was that Morsi and the MB completely failed to understand the fragility of their situation, their need for allies (and thus concessions to those allies), and that neither the army nor the Americans were reliable partners to maintain them in power.

Houdaiby: The Bureaucracy Wins

Ibrahim Houdaiby writes on the "bureaucratization of Morsi" (I prefer to use "statification" to mean the same thing), the success with which the Egyptian state has imposed its rules on the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the reverse. But he makes an even stronger point in discussing the Brotherhood's response to being in power — creating the impression that it is in fact under siege by an opposition it at once inflates and belittles:

Today, the focus on survival, the tendency to resort to vague formulae, a lack of political savvy, and a willingness to compromise are key factors in Morsi’s positions. Maintaining unity requires no more than the (re)creation of an external threat to divert attention from political and strategic failures and deficits. The group’s new threat is created through the reintroduction of the notion of conspiracy. The organization has attributed its failure to push forward a relevant legislative agenda to deal with questions of economic development and distribution, judicial reform, and security sector reform to the government’s “irresponsiveness,” which it says is meant to embarrass the Brotherhood-led parliament.

The Party’s parliamentarians also blamed SCAF for misusing its de facto presidential legitimacy to counter democracy, claiming that filing a presidential candidate became the only remaining solution to curb the military’s power. After Morsi became president and dismissed senior SCAF leaders and abolished the declaration that gave SCAF legislative authority, he continued to blame the judiciary for his failures though he retained both executive and legislative powers until the new constitution was ratified in December 2012. Even now—with the presidency, a majority in the legislative body, and the ratification of its approved constitution—the Brotherhood blames the opposition and the media for its lack of achievement.

Worth reading, keeping in mind that Houdaiby is a former member of the Brotherhood once close to its leaders (Khairat al-Shater in particular) and comes from a family that has produced two General Guides.

Prison break

One of the many annoying things about following Egyptian politics these days is the sheer amount of disinformation and ridiculous stories out there. The compounded result of the state of the Egyptian media these days is to create a daze in which nothing appears true, and everything appears suspicious. It's psychological warfare based on information overdose, designed to soften minds and heighten the general sense of hysteria. Nour The Intern, whom I frequently reproach for spending way too much time reading sensational stories, has dug up this implausible gem below from al-Watan newspaper — to be read in the context of allegations that Hamas broke Mohammed Morsi and other senior MBs out of jail during the uprising against Mubarak. This is her summary.

Testimony of truck driver, Ayoub Othman, who supposedly saw Morsi and friends escape from prison. 

He was transporting 50 tonnes of sugar on Jan 28, when he got a flat tire and had to spend the night by the truck waiting for his aid, who left to fix the tire, to come back. He was right by the Natrun Prison. On Jan 29, around 3:30 am, he saw four microbuses with their number plates partly covered with duct tape. Two of them stopped behind him and two before him. No one came out of them and he started to worry. A while later, 27 other microbuses without number plates showed up.

Four armed men came out of one the microbuses, they spoke with a Palestinian accent. They asked him to get out of the way, he said he couldn't. Suddenly four microbuses took off and the armed men told him to follow them back to a microbus to get a phone. That's when he saw [Wasat Party politician/former MB] Essam Sultan come out of one the microbuses, holding a black phone with an aerial coming out of it and it flashed a green light. He was followed by [pro-MB preacher] Safwat Hegazy and [current head of Shura Council and MB] Ahmed Fahmy. Inside the car, he saw the Supreme Guide, Mohammed Badie. 

Then he heard gunshots, which lasted for 20 minutes. Then he saw [top MB figures] Morsi, Katatni, el-Erian and others run out of prison. When Morsi got into the microbus, he kissed Badie on the forehead, praised the "Brothers 95" (MB's alleged military branch) and changed into a suit like the others. 

The man then sent telegraphs to the then-Field Marshal, Tantawi, telling him that he has information about the MB prison escape, asking him to reply if he loved Egypt, but he was ignored. Finally, a month and a half later he received a letter telling him to go to the Citizen Services and Complaints Office in Cairo, during working hours, to meet the head of the office to see about his request. He went there and demanded to meet Tantawi. A colonel told him to write whatever he has to say to Tantawi in a letter and send it to him. He got angry, yelled at the colonel and left.

A year later, during the presidential elections, Othman went to the General Intelligence where he met General Hisham el-Eissawy, who wrote down his testimony. Three days later, he was asked to come back and to use a different door than the one he used the first time he went there. Once there, his phone and ID were taken. A new officer reviewed his statement him in a room. This was recorded. Near the end, the officer asked him if he has the papers to prove that he was transporting 50 tonnes of sugar at the time. Othman said he will have to go look for it. The officer said he will call him in two hours.

Two hours later the officer called to ask if Othman had the papers ready. "Not yet," he said and then all lines of communication were lost and Morsi became president.

On Egypt's cabinet shuffle

There has been plenty of commentary on Egypt's recent cabinet shuffle around, as well as profiles of the incoming ministers. Much of the takeaway on this shuffle is that it represents a modest expansion for the Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood's presence in the cabinet, and a refusal by the Brothers to reach out to the opposition by including some more neutral figures. While this analysis is correct, I think it misses the broader point of this cabinet shuffle.

When word of an impending cabinet shuffle started spreading a few months ago, it was in the context of the fallout of the crisis over the November 22 2012 constitutional decree (aka "Morsi's power grab" for the opposition) and of the IMF's clear messaging that a) the current cabinet's proposed reforms fell far short of IMF requirements for a loan package and b) more political consensus on these reforms would be required. Along with the evolution of the positions/demands of the National Salvation Front (increasingly centered on setting the right stage for upcoming elections by reviewing the electoral law and ensuring that ministries that have the potential of influential elections are not in the hands of partisans) and the political diplomacy of the Nour Party to resolve the crisis, the outline of a solution was proposed that would involve a compromise pathway to new elections, after which an entirely new cabinet would be formed and a full parliament would have full legitimacy to pass legislation. By that point, elections held before Ramadan were a possibility — but this has not been the case for a few weeks. 

It may be debatable whether such a compromise was reachable. But the more interesting point is why it did not happen, and why the shuffle's initial scope — a big shake-up of government that would  address both economic mismanagement and the political crisis — has been considerably downsized. In my view, it is chiefly the result of the FJP/MB's lobbying with the presidency, and the compromise is between these two camps more than with anyone outside. FJP leaders have made it clear that they resented Morsi's attachment to PM Hisham Qandil and would have liked to see him go. Instead they received a few extra positions, as well as a modest seat (Minister of State for Antiquities) for a member of the Wasat Party, which has faithfully rallied to the FJP since the political crisis began (clearly in the hope of benefiting through future electoral deals and ministerial appointments that Wasat would not get on its own). The FJP is working according to a party logic, where members want to maximize their personal power, that correlates with the MB's wider logic of placing its faithful in positions of influence. This appears to trump what one might assume to be the presidency's need to calm the political crisis.

One result of this cabinet shuffle is that it will become markedly more difficult for anyone to accept the FJP/MB's improbable claim that the government did not represent it and that it is effectively still in opposition. (Indeed, the MB's claim that even this latest cabinet only has 1/3 MB/FJP members is rather moot, Egyptian cabinets have long contained "technocrats" with no partisan affiliation.) The FJP/MB's claim for a presence in the cabinet stems from its electoral success, and it can argue that it still has less of its own in the cabinet than its 45% share of the dissolved lower house of parliament might entitle it to. And, in any case, if the cabinet were supposed to be representative of the political balance, one might ask where are the Salafi cabinet members (some 25% of the dissolve lower house of parliament) and the non-Islamists (another 25% or so). The reality is that the composition of the cabinet remains, as under Mubarak, a presidential prerogative. Morsi and the FJP/MB increasingly "own" this cabinet, and thus its handling of the country in the time remaining to elections. 

It can certainly argued that this is a mistake in light of Egypt's economic deterioration. But there are good reasons for increased FJP/MB control of ministries, and not just those advocated by their supporters, i.e. that these institutions must be purged of ancien regime supporters. The main reason other than the one I highlighted above — that there is intense competition for these posts inside the FJP — is the one provided by the opposition: that control of some of these ministries (information, supply, local administration, interior) will be electorally useful. (This is the same reason that Ennahda has negotiated hard to keep an influence, even indirect, on the ministry of interior in Tunisia.) The name of the game remains "capture the castle".

Beyond that, the identity of the new ministers is secondary, even if there are some interesting additions. Perhaps the most important is Hatem Bagato, a senior judge and legal expert who as minister of parliamentary affairs should be in a position to solve the Shura Council's (currently the only legislative authority, with contested legitimacy since it has full legislative powers despite not being elected to have them and with only an 11% turnout) chronic inability to pass laws that will not easily be countered by a finicky judiciary. His judicial colleague Ahmed Soliman, a judge who support's the FJP's proposed (and widely contested) judicial reform measures, also makes sense as a signal that they are not going to back down on this. (See Nathan Brown and Mokhtar Awad's profiles of these two.) The ministries of agriculture and culture are going to a Brother and a fellow traveler — most probably because these are electorally useful, in reaching out to the rural population and fighting the culture wars that are the Islamists' go-to wedge issues. The appointment of a new finance minister only a few months after a new one had been appointed — and that they are both little-known "Sharianomics" experts — highlights the rather worrying lack of high-caliber candidates the MB has access to in the economic realm, as does the appointment of a refreshingly young but clearly under-qualified former presidential campaign spokesman as minister of investment. The respected and very polished Amr Darrag, a professor of engineering and FJP foreign policy committee head, is a more reassuring appointment as minister of planning and international cooperation — on the latter especially his PR skills should be handy.

In short, this is a shuffle to tackle short-term issues facing the government rather than one that changes its direction. There are skirmishes to fight on the way to the big battle of the next elections, and dealing with the opposition (ranging from Salafi to secular, since they are all against this shuffle) will be left until after the elections, suggesting confidence that the FJP and its allies will dominate in the elections.

On the Ultras Nahdawi

Kelby Olson, writing for Muftah: 

Ultras Nahdawi was formed in April 2012 by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party to rally support both for the party’s platform, the Nahda Project, and President Morsi’s presidential campaign last year.
Like the original Ultras, Ultras Nahdawi use high energy, coordinated chants to convey their message. They also produce videos featuring pro-Muslim Brotherhood songs, modeled on older Ultras’ songs. Their shorthand name ‘UN12’ copies the Ultras Ahlawi’s ‘UA07’ formula, abbreviating the name of the group and the year in which it was founded.
The Ultras Nahdawi has also mimicked Ultras-style violence. On April 19, 2013, the group’s members were responsible for much of the violence between protestors and Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the High Court in downtown Cairo and in nearby Abd al-Mounim Riyyad Square.

It's interesting how the MB has a tendency to appropriate the forms of contestation of its opponents, which it often decries. It has been critical of football groups and other types of youth activist groups like the "Black Bloc" yet forms its own form its own Ultras. And it continuously denounces the National Front for Salvation and has formed a parallel, largely MB, National Front for Conscience as an answer. In both cases, these groups provide distance between the organization but amount to not much more than a remote-controlled political arm of the Brotherhood.

New sectarian fault lines drawn in Egypt

Don't get this logic from the Brotherhood:

The Salafist Front asked President Morsi to consult with Muslim scholars before attending the Easter mass, and banned its own officials from acknowledging the Coptic Easter holiday. Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Office member Mufti Abdel Raham al-Barr, who is also a professor in the Al-Azhar University, said that congratulating the Copts on the Orthodox Easter is “religious haram [taboo],” adding in a statement that “it is illegitimate to offer greetings for something that blatantly contradicts our creed….Our creed, as Muslims, is unequivocal: Christ – peace be upon him – was neither killed nor crucified, as Allah protected him from the Jews and elevated him to His presence. [Prophet] Isa – peace be upon him – was not crucified to be resurrected. Accordingly, there is no need to congratulate someone on something we know to be a falsehood, even though we do not deny our partners in the nation the right to believe or act as they please.”  
Al-Barr, who is an influential Muslim Brotherhood member, went on to distinguish between offering acknowledgment of other Christian holidays (like Christmas) and doing so for Easter: “Congratulating our Christian partners in the nation on their various occasions and holidays is an expression of charity ordered by Allah and of righteousness from which He has not banned us as long as it is not at the expense of our religion, and does not pronounce… any religious slogans or expressions that contravene the principles of Islam, and does not constitute any admission or acceptation of their religion or participation in their prayers. Rather, these would merely be words of courtesy common among people and would not entail any religious contraventions. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, in greeting [Copts] on Christmas, as we believe that Isa – peace be upon him – is one of the primary prophets, that he is human and that his birth was one of Allah’s miracles.”

Surely if you can greet them at Christmas, which celebrates the birth of the son of God (in Islam Jesus is a simple mortal prophet), you can also greet them at Easter. The lack of logic in the differentiation between the two suggests that al-Barr is either doctrinally a Salafi or that he does no want to offend Salafis. Like President Morsi's decision not to attend the mass, it is a striking lack of understanding of the symbolic value of having even an Islamist president pay respects to the church and the Christian community, which can only be explained by intolerance.

In Translation: The road to fascism

This is the final catchup in our In Translation series, in collaboration with Industry Arabic.

In the last few months as the rhetoric has heated up in Egypt’s political landscape, there’s been much talk of fascism. Mostly, the word has been bandied against the Muslim Brotherhood, and sometimes the reverse to accuse secularists of favoring the return of the military to power. As is almost always the case, it is used rather carelessly.

In the article below, Mohammed Aboul-Ghar, a respected physician and the head of the Social Democratic Party, gives his take on the Brotherhood’s mode of operation, which he labels as “fascist”. It was part of wider discussion of the “fascism” of the group early last month, in the context of attacks on freedom of expression.

There is continued debate as to whether the Brotherhood was a fascist movement — strictly speaking, the fascist movement in Egypt in the 1930s was represented by Misr al-Fattah and its blackshirts greenshirts. But other political movements, included the Brotherhood and the Wafd Party, had their own colored shirt movements and some ideological overlap with what was after all, at the time, a relatively mainstream political ideology and a method of operation also shared with the pro-Soviet left. I don’t think, however, Hassan al-Banna can be described as a fascist thinker or that the Brotherhood or other nationalist movements that sympathized with European fascists against the British (or Jews) are simply run-of-the-mill fascists. These movements have their own, illiberal to be sure, origins in nationalist and religious ideals. (I once had a big argument with Bernard-Henri Levy on the subject, but he tends to see a lot of things as fascist simply because they are anti-Semitic.)

My own take on fascism is somewhat controversial the few times I have raised the issue. Most people like to avoid the word, perhaps rightly, as empty of meaning because in everyday parlance it is used as an insult or a way to tar an opponent (George W. Bush is fascist, Margaret Thatcher is fascist, etc.) But when it comes to Egypt, I have long felt that the 1952 regime was in many respects fascist in that it was militaristic and corporatist, with grand ideas about the mass mobilization of society and its division into sectors of production (that’s why Cairo has a neighborhood called “engineers” and another called “journalists”, etc.) The Mubarak regime, in my eyes, was what I like to call “late fascist” — in the same vein as 1970s Spain or Portugal under Franco and Salazar. It’s not comparable at all to Hitler, and you can’t even call it totalitarian. But it is a flavor of fascism, and bears many of its hallmarks, notably in the omnipresence of the national security state and its routine subordination of individual freedom in the name of a collective supposed higher good. Until there is a wider acknowledgement of that, I don’t think Egypt will change that much.

The Road to Fascism

Mohamed Aboul-Ghar, al-Masri al-Youm, 8 April 2013

Egypt has gone through long periods of dictatorship. If you operated as part of an opposition party like the Muslim Brotherhood, you would face outright repression and restrictions, while opponents of Mubarak like us were simply not allowed to form parties, though the restrictions were less severe. It was the same case with courageous journalists. The bold journalist Ibrahim Eissa was sentenced to prison for exposing the Mubarak regime. This dictatorial regime was draining Egypt of its skill base, and most posts were held by pet favorites, relatives and sycophants, although the regime also made use of some talented individuals that maintained its performance at a reasonable level in a few critical posts.

When the revolution first broke out, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it would not participate in an official capacity, and they did not participate on 25 January. However, they did support the revolution in force on 28 January and then stole it for themselves thereafter. They acted as if they were the entirety of the Egyptian people and that the rest of the Egyptians were on the margins and had no value.

All those who study the history of the Muslim Brotherhood are aware that with the exception of a few individuals in the higher leadership who can be counted on one hand, their members are closed in on themselves. Their information from outside the organization is limited, they are not allowed to mix with society, they speak only with one other, eat only with one another, and marry only one another. This has limited the thinking of the vast majority of them and left them without any culture except for a religious culture limited to studying a single, certain type of jurisprudence. Even Islamic history is not allowed to them in its widest sense, lest they reflect on certain terrible events that took place within the heart of Islam. Naturally, they do not watch movies or plays, they do not listen to music or read literature, and their knowledge of history is limited to what is dictated to them. The product of this is someone who is very obedient and self-controlled, who believes what he hears and reads from childhood on and who is unable to think outside the box.

I can cite the example of my nephew, who was a recently graduated doctor and who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. I made many attempts to invite him to a very serious and important play at the National Theater, but these attempts failed because of orders from the Brotherhood “do not go to the theater.” Thank God my nephew was successfully cured of his Brotherhood disease and became a distinguished doctor of medicine in the US and opened up on the world. He became a normal person with the right to think and agree or disagree according to his own conscience and not the conscience of the Brotherhood’s leader.

It is wrong to make an absolute generalization, since every rule has its exception. There are a few individuals in the Muslim Brotherhood whom you sense are different and feel that they have humanity and taste, such as Drs. Essam Hashish and Amr Darrag of the Faculty of Engineering in Cairo University. Although many of them are professors of medicine, engineering and science, it is difficult for any of them to be a pioneering or innovative researcher.

It is impossible for an actor, director, novelist or real intellectual to emerge from the Muslim Brotherhood, and when the Brotherhood now undertakes in all seriousness the “Brotherhoodization” of key positions in the state, this means that they are placing a committed Muslim Brother in every sensitive post, one who listens to what he is told and upholds order forcefully. But the Egyptian administration will collapse under Brotherhood rule and lower-level functionaries will rise up violently against the Brotherhood figure who is in control. I will not go into details, but take the example of the Education Minister, who has been handed a disastrous legacy and needs innovation, reflection, activity and funding to raise the level of education. What has he done so far? His first decision was to make philosophy an optional subject starting next year in order to pave the way to abolish it altogether – for one simple reason: because philosophy makes you think and thinking in the Brotherhood’s view is a catastrophe. The Minister is not able and not allowed to do it, so how can he allow students to do it?

What the Brotherhood is doing in the media realm is a scandal by every measure. I wished the person who summoned Bassem Youssef for questioning and released him on bail would have consulted Dr. Essam al-Haddad, since it is clear that he at least has a “brain.” He would have prevented this scandal that threw the Brotherhood into confusion and made the President Morsi a laughingstock before the whole world. If the opposition spent a billion dollars to insult the Brotherhood, it would not have been able to achieve a scandal one-tenth of the size of this one. Do you know that 20 million Americans watch Jon Stewart and that what he said about the Brotherhood, the President and the old videos was a riot? Strangely enough, when I was in Sweden at the beginning of this week I imagined that Egypt will call for the arrest of Jon Stewart and notify Interpol! I hope that al-Haddad will get ahold of them and there will be no more such scandals. Hunting down opposition journalists is nothing but fascism and will lead to continuing disasters. Post-revolution Egypt will remain free and will keep on criticizing the Brotherhood and non-Brotherhood forces as well, as long as we believe that they are in the wrong. Be reasonable, Muslim Brotherhood…Egypt doesn’t need any more disasters.

Rise, Egyptian, Egypt always calls on you.

In Translation: At Muqattam

We are still playing catchup with a backlog of translations I have been late in putting up. To test the mettle of Industry Arabic, which makes our In Translation feature possible, I sent them a widely-read piece that appeared shortly after the “Battle of Muqattam” — the clashes that took place as an anti-Brotherhood protest outside their headquarters in Muqattam, a hilltop suburb overlooking Cairo. Penned by revolutionary journalist/blogger/poet Newara Negm, it’s full of aameya expressions and popular culture references. And as always they did a very good job of it.

It’s a partisan account of what took place, to be sure, although Negm is not among the most rabid critics of the Brothers. But many of the incidents she mentioned check out and have been detailed in reporting and investigations since then. It’s written in her trademark convoluted, meandering style but it’s worth getting through — and the translation does capture some of what makes her writings so popular among many Egyptians.

The notes and extra parenthetical clarifications were added by the translator and myself.

Magic is the key to happiness[1]

Nawara Negm, al-Tahrir, 25 March 2013

To recap: a very small group of activists went along with a few journalists, and some activists started spraying graffiti on the asphalt of the street and the valiant men of the Brotherhood – who fled on the Friday following the incident – dragged Ahmed Douma on the ground until they scraped his face, and hit the activist Mirfat Moussa so hard her feet were lifted up off the ground and she fell on the pavement, and they struck a number of journalists as well. The valiant men of the Brotherhood did not stop there: their e-committees proudly flaunted the video, saying: may the same thing happen every day. Moreover, the Brotherhood leadership celebrated the achievements of its young members. [Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mahmoud] Ghozlan said that the activists had “provoked” the MB youth, and that the journalists had taken part in the provocation.

It was only natural for people at home to be outraged, as people had decided to exercise their legal right to protest in front of the MB headquarters in Muqattam, and instead of containing the situation, calming people down and apologizing for what happened, they opposed us like Riad al-Bantalooni in the film Illi Bali Balak, and kept shouting at us: it’s a new era…what was before is over! “We’ve been very patient,” “We’re not going to exercise restraint yet again,” “We’re going to spark a civil war,” This is our home, our dignity and our honour“…and similar nonsense said by MB leader Saber Aboul Fotouh and Sabry Amer, a leader in the Freedom and Justice Party, about civil war, ”We’ll show you good," and the like.

Naturally, people got more fired up. People who hadn’t intended to go to the protest decided to go see what exactly they would show us. Likewise, those who had intended to go began to prepare their minds for battle and confrontation. We were all in a good mood and started saying to one another: “We’ll meet at the civil war ‘event’ next Friday.” Even I was joking with [January 25 organizer] Sally Touma, whom I met at the opening of the film Winter of Discontent: “Are you going to the civil war event, Sally?” She responded seriously: Yes, of course…we’re all going. We’ll be in a good mood and bringing placards and banners with us, good food… it’ll be a nice day."

I’m not lying to you, I took Saber Aboul Fotouh and Sabry Amer’s words very seriously. I was glad and I felt that the chance had finally come to realize my lifelong dream to be a martyr (of course, I won’t tell you that after the Moqattam incident, I despaired of the whole martyrdom thing) to the point that I started to dance at home by myself and sing: “I’ll finally be a martyr and I’ll no longer want for anything”… I got ready on Friday, said all the necessary prayers, drank water from Zamzam so that it would be the last thing to enter my stomach before meeting God, and that’s it… I’ll be martyred, I’ll be a hero, I’ll no longer walk in funeral processions, I’ll go to heaven and I’ll stop getting injuries.

Then we went to Moqattam and stood with people in Nafoura Square. I saw many faces I knew well that day, ones I had always seen in the front ranks at any confrontation, but I noticed a bitterness and rage I hadn’t seen before in those eyes that had boldly confronted armored vehicles. Expectant faces were sputtering with rage, asking some of the organizers: “Why are we standing here? Why are we not at the headquarters?” And to tell the truth, I joined my voice to their chorus. Some of the organizers and veterans responded that our numbers didn’t allow us to go to the headquarters at the moment, especially since MB elements had occupied the mosques and side streets. This meant that they were determined to attack, and our numbers did not suffice for a confrontation. We were not small in number, but we were much fewer than the MB elements deployed in the streets and mosques. We had a large number of women with us of various ages, which angered the young men who like to engage in confrontation. They addressed themselves to the women, saying: “What brought you here today? The Brotherhood has bad intentions and we don’t want to be preoccupied with you.” Sometimes I would smile at some of the faces I recognized from the confrontations, but they did not return the smile, because they were preoccupied monitoring the situation, inspecting the street entrances and exits. We heard the call for the afternoon prayer and someone called out: "Nobody pray in the mosques… the mosques are all Brotherhood members.” So some of us prayed in the park and no sooner had we finished the prayer than we were overtaken by our brothers in faith from the Muslim Brotherhood, who came out of the Nafoura mosque firing shotgun pellets and hurling rocks in no time…they didn’t even wait to finish the prayer.

But then, you see…the youths saw the Brotherhood members firing pellets at them – would you say that they were throwing presents at them? The MB then attacked, and the youths shouted “hurrah!” and fell upon them like Tatars. Meanwhile, some of them are shouting: “Women and girls get back!”…It seems that our brothers in faith who replaced their prayer beads with shotgun pellets were not expecting that the youths would run toward the source of the pellets like a horse runs after a lump of sugar, and so they were greatly confused. Because of the youths’ extreme swiftness in running towards the Brotherhood members – who in turn ran away in flight – some of them had not managed to emerge from the mosque, and the youths were forced to cordon off the mosque to prevent MB elements from getting out. Now these elements trapped in the mosque, although they did not lack for weapons and shotgun pellets… they were trembling in fear. Anyway, the kids kept running after them all the way to the mountain.

In fact, the MB leaders committed an “abominabllllle” act – as the Interior Minister put it — when they placed their poor and deprived members from the countryside in the front lines of the clashes, as they were more numerous and better equipped with lots of ammo. One of them told me that some of the youth protestors had shotgun pellets with them as well, but I swear that I didn’t see any of our ranks armed with shotguns. Although I can neither confirm nor deny this, what’s certain is that even if some youth protestors were armed with shotgun pellets, the MB had much more. In any case, I don’t know how the frightened MB elements fled with such fantastic speed… Why are you running, you crazy guys, when I’m all ready to be martyred! The youths managed to catch some of the MB elements, and no sooner did they catch one than they proceeded to give him a beating that bloodied him from head to toe. Meanwhile, I’m making my way among the youths screaming: “No…no…No one hit him!… Let him go, shame on you!… We’re not like them.” Lawyer [and former presidential candidate] Khalid Ali tried to defend one of the MB elements that had been captured, and his shoulder was dislocated and he was transferred to the hospital. [Prominent activists] Rasha Azeb and Nazli Hussein also tried to defend the captured Brotherhood members, as did I, and the youths angrily replied: “It’s none of your business.” I saw one of the MB youth that I’ve known for a long time slip in among the protestors to monitor the situation, but when I stepped forward to speak with him, he quickly ran away from me. If he’s reading this article, I say to him: “Shame on you… I’m not so ill-bred that I would turn you in to the youths, even if I didn’t know you before. Did you think that I am a Muslim Brother? Along with others, I tried to defend the Brotherhood members who were caught – to the point that one of the youths screamed in my face: ”It’s none of your business… When I was at the Presidential Palace the Brotherhood electrocuted me so bad I can no longer get married or have children…leave me alone!" So I left him alone.

While fleeing, some of the MB elements attacked some of the youths with switchblades. When the MB disappeared into the mountain, the youths returned feeling suspicious: why did they flee so fast? Surely they’re laying an ambush for us…Could they come at us from the side streets? Come on, let’s go to the headquarters.

While we were walking toward the headquarters, Nazli Hussein caught up with me and told me that the youths were confining some of the Brotherhood members in Nafoura mosque. Some of them wanted to storm the mosque, but then a Christian youth stepped up and said: “You’ll enter the mosque over my dead body.” He showed them the cross on his hand and said, “Nobody storm God’s house… I’m a Christian and I’ll stand up to protect the mosque.” The youths were greatly affected by the stance he took, and they stood protecting the mosque with Brotherhood members inside.

In all these clashes, I never saw the sons of [Brotherhood leader] Khairat al-Shater who had been stirring up the MB elements against the protestors, I never saw [prominent Brotherhood MP Mohammed] El-Beltagi’s son, I never saw El-Beltagi himself, the “Lion of the Square”! I never saw the president’s son, who “spits on the people” on his webpage. I never saw Abdel Rahman Ezz, who wrote this morning: “Slaughter before flaying, and the way to honor the dead is burying them”! But honest to God, “Al-Mogheer” was there…hiding in the headquarters taking pictures from the window… Come here, chubby wubby. In these clashes, I only saw poor, deprived people coming from the governorates confronting youths with conviction who wanted to exact retribution for themselves and their friends… How could poor outsiders who came for no other reason than because the Supreme Guide told them to stand up in a battle against people with conviction whose motto is: “Anything but the revolution — over my dead body”? How could the MB leaders – who lack conscience, character and religion – throw in poor outsiders as fodder for a battle they don’t know the meaning of? Why didn’t they make the MB leaders who instigated the whole thing take up the front lines along with their sons? Or is their job just to foam at the mouth?

We reached the corner that leads to the street where the headquarters is located. We found Central Security Forces protecting the headquarters as they never protected the Interior Ministry before, firing gas canisters in rapid succession on the protestors. Their intervention was like a life preserver for the MB. We stood there a while, then I called my father’s wife who lives in Moqattam and found out that she was stuck in Nafoura Square and couldn’t get back home. So my husband and I went to her to take her home. To be honest, we were starving, so I suggested we go eat something, but we couldn’t find a way to reach my father’s house except by going all the way around the Moqattam corniche. We then found ourselves right behind the MB Headquarters, while the street was occupied by thousands of MB members carrying knives and sticks, but they were “posh” youths – by whom I mean MB elements from Cairo. You could tell by their clothes that they were upper middle class and not from the rural poor like those who had been in the front lines of the clashes in Nafoura Square. These “chic” elements were standing by the Central Security Forces and did not join the clashes the whole day. It seems they were just holding sticks and knives for personal protection and they had not received orders to engage in confrontation. My husband asked me to get down on the car mat, since he was afraid that if the MB members saw me, they would wreck the car – when we still have monthly payments on it until 2016. They can kill me if they like, but no one better come near the car, which is all I own of the flotsam and jetsam of the world – and it’s still owned by Nasser Bank. Like any authentic Egyptian state employee, I fear for the car more than I fear for my own life… may I die before it does.

No sooner had we arrived at my dad’s house than we found out that the Interior Ministry had gone to free the MB members from Nafoura mosque. Not only that, the MB members were given the chance to detain those who had stood protecting them inside the mosque… decent people all their lives, then the situation reversed. After the activists had been exhorting the youths to make sure the MB elements inside the mosque were protected, the youths were seeking people’s help to rescue them from inside the mosque – all thanks to the Interior Ministry.

This is not the first time that MB elements got beat worse than a thief at a moulid. The MB were previously defeated in the battle at the Presidential Palace, although they greatly outnumbered protestors. Then they were defeated in the Alexandria battle, after they threatened that they were going to El Qaed Ibrahim mosque to talk about politics, and “just wait and see what happens if so much as a dog tries to stop us.” Finally, they were defeated in the Moqattam knife battle, which took place after threats of civil war, that the situation in Egypt would become like that in Syria… and finally, the legend of the Brotherhood militias collapsed.

So why these bad manners? Hmm? Why would you attack a woman, isolate someone to beat him up and attack journalists? What would happen if the MB leadership apologized for the acts of its members and said: “Who was the one who hit Mirfat? That one? That kid there? We’ll give him hell… our deepest apologies… this kid is being treated and his family is poor…but no…no of course we don’t approve of it? What need is there for threats and menacing words and ”civil war,“ and ”You’ll see another side of us,“ and ”We were holding back the youths from you, but forget about it, we’re no longer going to hold them back so that you know your place“ – and other inappropriate discourse? Will they not be quiet?…No the MB comes out against us with a statement: ”We could have put an end to the scene in Moqattam in half an hour, but we exercised restraint"! You guys again? You’re really addicted to conflict.

Then Dr. Ahmed Aref of the Muslim Brotherhood stated that the protestors have sorcerers and snakes on their side! It seems that the unfortunate MB leaders believed what Aref said, and concluded their statement with the verse:

When they had cast, Moses said, “What you have produced is magic, and God will make it fail. God does not allows the work of transgressors to prosper.”

That’s right, old man…We’re casting a spell under the lintel of Morsi’s door. Keep him at home, don’t let him go out, because every time he crosses the threshold to go to work, he brings bad luck wherever he goes. Just so you know, I wasn’t holding back the MB elements that gave the youths a thrashing… I was casting a spell on them… nice spell, right?

An MB youth wrote: “I’m saying to President Mohamed Morsi, we’re a nation of 92 million. It’s not a problem if 10 million die so that the other 80 million live well!”

Fact is, the previous statement is one of the Brotherhood’s clichés that they are constantly repeating. Even Todary affirmed it in his latest speech, saying “It’s no big deal if we sacrifice a few people for the good of the nation”![2]

Hmmm… why don’t we sacrifice you, Mr. President, for the good of the entire world, instead of you bringing bad luck wherever you go?

Why is the Muslim Brotherhood an expert at creating enemies? Or, as my father says citing a proverb of my grandmother’s: “Like the lizard when he sprays in the salt, he doesn’t poison you but he stirs up animosity.”

The sit-in at the Presidential Palace could have gone peacefully, or even have broken up quickly, if the Brotherhood had not made a poor assessment of its own strength and the strength of the opposition and decided to launch an attack that roused those who had been staying at home to go out to confront the Brotherhood. The incident in Alexandria could have been avoided if the MB had employed a less condescending discourse. For example, if the MB and its “Hazemoun” allies said that they were just going to restore the honor of Sheikh El-Mahallawy, the incident would not have happened. What need is there to say, “Just wait and see what happens if so much as a dog tries to stop us”? Huh? The “Friday of Restoring Dignity” would not have happened if that oaf didn’t hit Mirfat, and the incident could have passed peacefully if the MB had apologized and expelled that young man. The MB could even have not apologized and not expelled the young man, but also not bandied threats of civil war and warnings to the protestors that “We’ll fuck you up”! Then you unexpectedly get beat badly? After all these clashes in which MB elements have been defeated, the MB is still not aware that it’s better to be agreeable? And that if they have shotgun pellets, then others are able to buy them as well, and that if they boast of their ability to mobilize supporters from the governorates, they should also boast of their ability to mobilize their enemies through their provocative behaviors, their haughty tone and their continuous threats? As a kindness to yourselves, if the Egyptian people “think your walls are low,” you would be unable to walk in the street and become the butt of every joke – and here you are doing everything to provoke people and make them think your walls are low.[3]

The MB never wants to take it easy, so the president delegated by the Guidance Bureau comes out to threaten us that he will sacrifice a portion of the population, since we’re “on a downward slope.”

One day a historian will write a book entitled: The Organization that Screwed Itself.

Note: this article contains a secret spell that will make every Brotherhood member read it and try to comment on it…is your body tingling yet? You’ll be metamorphosed to a couch leg in half an hour.

  1. Plays off of an Egyptian proverb that “Patience is the key to happiness.”  ↩

  2. A reference to Morsi. Todary is a character in the play Hawwa’ El-Sa’aa 12, who is known for giving ignorant answers to questions that are outside his depth.  ↩

  3. This expression evokes the Egyptian proverb, “Everybody jumps over a low wall,” meaning that no one will respect you if you degrade yourself.  ↩

Note: updated so that footnotes display properly on 2013-Apr-30 at 3pm.

Sukuks and not very halal Islamists

The Economist's Pomegranate blog writes about the travails of Egypt's sukuk law, championed by the MB but blocked by al-Azhar in one of the many unintended consequences of the shoddy constitution:

Egypt’s finance minister, Al-Mursi Al-Sayed Hegazy, says sukuk issuance could generate $10 billion a year for the country. That is highly unlikely any time soon, considering the current junk status accorded by ratings agencies to Egypt’s ordinary bond issues. But given the severity of the country’s economic situation, the protracted IMF negotiations over a possible $4.8 billion loan (which Salafists have also attacked despite a proposed interest of only 2%), and growing global demand for Islamic banking, the scholars of Al Azhar might be wise to spare the hair-splitting. Egypt right now needs every piastre of money it can find.

Sukuks are a fine investment vehicle, but I differ on the view that al-Azhar is hair-splitting. The issue al-Azhar has taken up is that sukuks, by their very nature, involved the lender taking as collateral the investment project itself. Azhar opposes their use in state projects (as opposed to private ones) because public goods would risk falling into lenders' hands. Since this is precisely the kind of situation that led to Egypt coming under British overlordship, Azhar's position is not surprising — especially considering that considering the state of Egypt's finances, a default on sukuks is not unlikely. The real problem here is that the Muslim Brothers want to change the terms of sukuks so that such collaterals are avoided in the case of public projects. Except if that's the case, in Sharia terms this is not a sukuk anymore. It's something else. The Brothers cannot have their cake and eat it too, by claiming to implement Sharianomics and then bending these supposedly holy rules.

Perfection itself assaulted by vile, envious Baradites

Some hilarious language in this Brotherhood defense of Egyptian Ministry of Supply Bassem Ouda — which the opposition would like to see replaced by a neutral figure to prevent the MB from getting an electoral advantage through control of the ministry, particularly after allegations that state property was being distributed by the MB in electoral campaigning in January — but that is being spun here as an attack on a stalwart and heroic figure. Like all propaganda pieces, it sounds very silly, particularly when it claims Mr Ouda "invented" popular committees, to have "solved" the problem of flour smuggling, etc.