Islamist’s shrinking political base a year after Rabaa
pro-Muslim Brotherhood at Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-ins - YOUM7 (Archive)
By AMIRA EL-FEKKI

CAIRO: On Aug. 13, 2013, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins at Rabaa al-Adaweya and Nahda Squares were teeming with demonstrators from a range of political parties. One day later, the State dispersed the crowds, setting in motion a process that has gradually removed political Islam from all levels of the Egyptian political scene.

A year later, most high level officials from parties sympathetic to the Brotherhood have been arrested, and The Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, was dissolved on Aug. 9, 2014 by a final court verdict, leaving the National Alliance Supporting Legitimacy (NASL) as the only body still openly calling for the State to restore the pre-July 3, 2013 status quo.

Amr Farouk, the deputy secretary-general and media spokesman of the Wasat Party, told The Cairo Post that the Wasat party, a member of the NASL, will resume efforts to reach a political solution with the State. “The first step is to renounce violence,” he said.

Political demonstrations for those in support of the Brotherhood have become nearly impossible; a protest law that entered into force in November 2013 prohibits any demonstrations without official security force approval in advance.  The NASL announced it rejected the legitimacy of the law, and demonstrations by Brotherhood supporters are often broken up, and protesters arrested by security forces for illegally protesting. The protest law has put many behind bars, mostly  activists, non-MB supporters.

President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the face of the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi, famously declared “the brotherhood will not exist” under his presidency in a CBC interview on May 5, but has also seemingly offered an olive branch; he told a visiting British delegation in June that political reengagement for ex-MB members could be possible, as long as they “don’t have blood on their hands.” In his recent speech on the Suez Canal project on Aug.5, Sisi said, “Those who have different opinions than others are welcome to live among us, and free to believe or adopt different ideologies, as long as they do not harm people.”

“How will a political party be involved in the country’s politics if they do not recognize the legitimacy of the State? We heard about many initiatives undertaken to reach a political solution but no real progress was achieved. It does not matter what these parties talk about, what really matters is their actual activities on the ground,” Salah Abdel Maaboud, a member of the Al-Nour Party‘s High Committee told The Cairo Post.

Shrinking base

The Brotherhood, which once counted on the support of a number of parties, has seen its core members fall away in the past year, including the Separate Brotherhood Youth and the Salafist Nour Party.

The Nour Party supported Morsi’s constitutional decree in 2012, and was very active in persuading people to vote “yes” in the constitutional referendum announced by Morsi.

But, after the ouster at Rabaa, the Nour Party  did not blame Sisi or the army, or put the blame on them. It instead condemned “those who want to spread chaos and terrorism.” It supported the new 2014 Constitution, and declared its support for Sisi in the presidential elections.

In a press conference in Suez in May 2014 supporting Sisi’s presidential bid, party chairman Abdul Aziz Makhioun said the position of Nour in the events of June “saved Egypt from a civil war.”

Salah Abdel Maaboud, a member of the Nour Party’s High Committee does not envision the MB’s return to the political scene without “serious intentions to commit to the well-being of the State and the people.”

“It will be extremely hard to work with people charged with violence,” Abdel Maaboud told The Cairo Post.

The NASL, which includes Wasat, The Construction and Development Party (Al-Bena’ W Al-Tanmeya), Watan and Asala parties among others, is currently discussing with its member parties their political way out. However, their rejection of the current political regime has put them in a political impasse when pursuing negotiations.

A peace initiative launched in July and mediated by renowned Cairo University political science expert Hassan Nafea, whom has been in touch with MB leaders and parties, is a recent subject of dialogue n the NASL, as it seems to be the Brotherhood’s “last resort.”

“NASL must accept the initiative or face exclusion,” Amr Emara, coordinator for the Separate Brotherhood Youth, said in press statements on Aug. 10, adding that NASL could seek adjustments to the initiative, but that parties are eager to accept reconciliation.

Ten agreement terms are featured in Nafea’s initiative, including a mutual signed document between the State and the Brotherhood guaranteeing the right to freedom of opinion and expression in compliance with the Constitution and the law.

But until now, NASL seems firm on its position. Besides renewing calls for widespread demonstrations against the regime, NASL condemned the verdict issued against the FJP, accusing the judiciary system of “politicization.” In a statement issued on Aug. 11, NASL said the decision was “flawed and defective,” and a “clear intention to trample the people’s choices, within the scheme to monopolize or nationalize the political arena.” However, NASL did not provide legal arguments.

Abdel Maaboud said he believes that the FJP’s executive committee violated the party’s founding principles due to its members who incited or engaged in violence, which legally justifies a court decision to ban the organization.

According to former Minister of Justice Mohammed Abdul Aziz el-Gendy, the FJP was banned based on the Constitution. When asked about the existence of other parties founded on a religious basis, Gendy said the court cannot look into such cases unless a lawsuit is filed against the parties. “And that is probably coming next,” he added in statements to The Cairo Post Thursday.

Article 74 of the Constitution states that it is  illegal to form political parties on religious bases.

“The problem with the Brotherhood is that they lost popular support,” Abdel Maaboud said.  Since the MB lost popular support, its politically affiliated organizations resolved to political boycotts, but Abdel Maaboud and Farouq seemed aligned on the near impossibility of MB members to find backing, let alone the effectiveness of their boycotts.

“They boycotted the constitutional referendum in January and the presidential elections in May, but in vain. The Egyptians went through with the roadmap as planned,” Abdel Maaboud added.

Wasat Party Chairman Aboul Ela Mady and Vice President Essam Sultan are in prison awaiting trial on charges of incitement to violence following Morsi’s ouster.

“The State refuses to relax its concentrated efforts against the Brotherhood, in addition to the prohibition of organized rallies. How are we supposed to organize electoral campaigns in those circumstances?” Farouk said, when asked about the party’s strategy concerning the next parliamentary elections.

Islamists’ rise from 2012-2013

Following the Jan.25 Revolution and public pressure on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to end its rule over the transitional period by handing authority to civilians, the Islamists seized an opportunity to enter the political arena, after decades of exclusion and oppression.

On one hand the Muslim Brotherhood, embodied in the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) and on the other the Salafists, mostly represented by Al-Nour Party, won the majority of parliamentary seats in 2012, which together created an Islamist monopoly.

Both parties were founded after the 2011 January 25 Revolution. Former MB Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie announced the establishment of the FJP in February 2011, under the leadership of well-known MB figures such as Mohamed al-Beltagy and Essam al-Erian. Saad Katatny was the chairman of the party until he became the head of the Parliament on Jan. 23 2012.

During the 2012 elections, the FJP won over 40 percent of seats in the People’s Assembly, while Nour Party won over 20 percent of the seats. Other affiliated Islamist parties such as Wasat, Asala and The Construction and Development Party won nearly seven percent.

In the Shura Council, before it was dissolved by the Constitution of 2014, the FJP took nearly 60 percent of 180 seats acquired by elections, which represented two-thirds of the total of 270 seats, the rest of which members are directly appointed by the president. Nour Party won nearly 25 percent of 180 seats.

In March, it was decided by the Parliament to form a committee in charge of drafting a new constitution. Political controversy had begun escalating in objection to the Brotherhood’s control of the government.

On June 14, days before the presidential elections, the High Constitutional Court decided that the Parliament’s elections procedures were not constitutional and ordered its dissolution.

On June 24, the High Presidential Elections Committee announced Morsi won the presidential elections by 51.7 percent compared to 48.3 percent for his opponent, former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.

Thus MB members began being appointed in government institutions, judicial bodies and ministries, in addition to taking over syndicates and maintaining a strong presence in various sectors like health, engineering and education. The MB also controlled the media and launched a dozen pro-regime satellite channels, the most popular being Misr 25 channel.

On Nov.22, 2012, Morsi issued a constitutional decree protecting his decisions as  president from being appealed and forbidding the dissolution of the Parliament. This started a series of demonstrations against his rule, which eventually escalated into the June 30 demonstrations.

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