It’s Not About Morsy: The Muslim Brotherhood’s Blueprint for Victory
"Of course we would love to be in Tahrir Square," Amr Darrag, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official and the former minister of planning and international cooperation, told me last week. "But we don’t want to give the impression that we want to get in fights with anybody, to give anybody the excuse to accuse us ...
"Of course we would love to be in Tahrir Square," Amr Darrag, a senior Muslim Brotherhood official and the former minister of planning and international cooperation, told me last week. "But we don’t want to give the impression that we want to get in fights with anybody, to give anybody the excuse to accuse us of more violence."
It’s not working out that way. Today, clashes broke out near Tahrir Square between supporters of Mohammed Morsy and the deposed president’s opponents. The violence started with the two sides hurling stones at each other, and degenerated into an exchange of Molotov cocktails and gunfire. The bloodshed illustrates the bind that the Brotherhood finds itself in: If it doesn’t take to the streets aggressively, it dooms itself to irrelevance in the new political game. But if it pushes too hard, it risks being blamed for the sort of violence Egypt witnessed today.
So, how can the Brotherhood reverse the setbacks it has suffered over the past three weeks? Paradoxically, Darrag laid out a plan that focuses on winning over the very people Brotherhood supporters are clashing with in Tahrir. This involves reconstituting a broad-based alliance with non-Islamists against Egypt’s military rulers, transforming the national debate from Morsy’s performance to how to preserve democracy, and raising the possibility of another massive uprising similar to the one that toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011.
"Our strategy is to convince everyone that [the military coup] is not just directed to us, it was a scheme that was directed toward democracy. When people understand that, they will raise their voices until this anti-revolutionary move is defeated," Darrag said. "It’s not about us any more, it’s not about the president."
The Brotherhood has good reason not to make this about Morsy. At the time of his ouster, he was broadly unpopular: According to one poll, he enjoyed the support of only 28 percent of Egyptians. Brotherhood officials have tried to get around this conundrum by floating the possibility that Morsy, upon being reinstated, could immediately make concessions to the non-Islamist opposition.
"We do realize that a lot of people are not in favor of the president or in favor of us being there," Darrag said. "We can work on some sort of reconciliation to come up with anything that is satisfactory to most of the Egyptians…Including that the president goes, or calls for [early] elections, or appoints someone on his behalf until elections."
In addition to making plans about the future, the Brotherhood is trying to patch up past disagreements with non-Islamist groups. Many of the Brotherhood’s opponents, for example, accuse the Islamist movement of maintaining a cozy relationship with the military junta that ruled Egypt after Mubarak’s fall — ordering its cadres to stay home even when the non-Islamist revolutionaries were engaged in bloody clashes with the security forces at Mohammed Mahmoud St. and Maspero during winter 2011. Darrag attributed the Brotherhood’s inaction to "information" that the movement had received that the military was planning a "big massacre," which would be used as proof that the Brotherhood was a violent movement.
"What I would say to people, to the revolutionaries, is that we are sorry that we did not join at that time, yes, but we hope you understand why we didn’t join," Darrag said.
The Brotherhood not only needs to get its message right — it needs to reach the millions of Egyptians who are also listening to the narrative of the military and its allies. It’s no easy task: Anti-Morsy protesters hold Tahrir Square, Islamist TV channels have been shut down, and major stations sympathetic to the military’s narrative have plastered a tagline on their broadcast: "Against Terrorism" — a reference to the Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood has countered by scattering its protests across Cairo. Today’s demonstrations in Cairo, for instance, are occurring near Rabaa al-Adaweya mosque in the neighborhood of Nasr City, at Nahda Square near Cairo University, at the Ministry of Defense, at the Republican Guard headquarters, and outside the prosecutor general’s office, and other locations. And the pro-Morsy movement has looked to spread its message even further by reaching out to the international press, which is viewed as more sympathetic than domestic media: For the past two weeks, English-language signs have proliferated at the main pro-Morsy sit-in at Rabaa al-Adaweya. "People’s Power vs. Military’s Might; Democracy vs. Coup," reads a typical sign near the main stage.
"We do believe the international media is playing a very important role at this moment in conveying a balanced view of what is happening," Darrag said. "The majority of the media outlets are giving a good picture of what’s happening — they’re referring to what happened as a coup, they’re referring to [the July 8 attack at the Republican Guard headquarters] as a massacre that was conducted by the security forces."
Nobody, not even the Brotherhood, can be sure whether this strategy will work. But for the Islamist movement’s top officials, the situation is akin to the military-backed dictatorship that existed under Mubarak – and the solution, too, is identical. [The protests] will keep on growing and growing and growing, until it cannot be resisted," Darrag said. "And if nothing is done to regain the democratic path, I believe we will end up with a scene similar to that of the Jan. 25 revolution."
David Kenner was Middle East editor at Foreign Policy from 2013-2018.
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