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Politics, religion, and culture where East meets West

Breaking the Muslim Brotherhood

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It is tempting to see the Egyptian military’s violent reaction to recent protests as a function of the interim government’s fear or weakness. After all, it would seem that those in transitory power need only sit idly by and wait for the rabble to acknowledge their de facto legitimacy—if they were in fact legitimate.

Legitimacy is a misleading word in these circumstances, however, and gauging political “legitimacy” in Egypt is nearly as meaningless as arguing whether Morsi’s ouster was a coup d’état or not. The facts of the matter are unchanged, and the fact of the matter is that the military is still in control.

So, as long as we refrain from reverting to our ever-present Disney caricatures of megalomaniacal villains, starved for motherly love and secretly insecure; we are left with a strange, perhaps unintuitive, calculation by the Egyptian military elite. Indeed, conventional wisdom says that shooting and bulldozing the opposition only enrages and unites them, so what could possibly be the military’s aim here?

The answer lies in the unique, and wretched, current circumstances of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. It could have been said of the Brotherhood in the ’50s and ’60s that they were the unfairly maligned political group, the victim of Arab socialist autocracy. Brutally suppressed, the Brothers were never given a chance to govern. It was thus that they remained beyond reproach, and their reputation remained relatively untainted. It was also thus that they remained united.

But that has since changed, and Morsi’s decisive failure—contrived though it may have been—has resulted in a crisis within the Brotherhood itself. Robbed of their long-awaited victory, the Brothers must now choose between violent resistance and patient acquiescence; and for an organization so long maligned and so recently delivered from its decades-long torment (only to be returned), further patience will not come naturally.

The Egyptian military is exploiting this historic juncture. By inciting anger and violent responses, the military turns this crisis within the Brotherhood into an ideological rift. Many of the once-hopeful, especially the youth, will arm themselves out of despair and join the violent resistance. They will be killed or marginalized, and to the extent that they fight in the name of the Brotherhood, they will defame the organization further. Those who silently acquiesce will either fall by the political wayside or, if they are truly patient, crystallize into a more mature, smaller organization capable of another shot at democratic governance. But this time, with a modicum of restraint.

This is, I should emphasize, merely an extension of what I’ve already described as a deliberate “pruning” process by the Egyptian military elite and a few necessary international collaborators. It was a foregone conclusion that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood was in no condition to lead the country post–Arab-Spring, and their painstakingly demonstrated failure was not only a deliberate blow to the Brotherhood itself, but also a clear message to other illiberal organizations and would-be ruling parties—”you’re doing it wrong.”

As the military consolidates its claim to the future of Egypt in this way (for better or worse), it is worth noting, I think, the irony of the Arab Spring’s once-hopeful appeal to the “Turkish model.” Today’s Turkish AKP—which still has ample trouble with the concept of “liberalism”—was itself born out of a long, bloody history of military intervention. Why should its imitators expect differently? If any Arab Islamists saw a model in Turkey, they are now seeing—or experiencing—exactly what that model entails.

At this point, I would have said, “You gotta break a few eggs to make an omelet.” But I decided not to turn this post into an extended egg metaphor. You’re welcome.

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Written by M. James

August 17, 2013 at 5:03 am

Posted in History, News, Politics, Religion, Turkey

Tagged with , ,

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