The view from the palace’s window
The Brotherhood resorts to different tactics to quell the wave of dissent
From the presidential palace’s window, the view ahead of the planned 30 June protests is different.
The protests, set to challenge the one-year rule of President Mohamed Morsi, alongside the Tamarod petition campaign have overwhelmed the streets of Cairo and beyond, prompting the ruling regime to grapple with a response.
From support protests for the president to social media campaigns and media appearances attacking the planned protests, to a Morsi address promising some reforms, to messages attracting the army to their side, the ruling elites have been deploying their resources in an attempt to hijack the wave of dissent against them and preserve their electoral legitimacy.
For Abdel Rahman Mansour, the administrator of the “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook group, which steered much of the protests of January 25 2011, Islamists supporting the president have reached a peak in their attacks against the opposition. This comes from a feeling that the next battle is one of “life or death,” he explains.
This has led Islamists to resort to demonizing their adversaries, calling them apostates, with the hope of discouraging people from joining their calls to protest.
Islamists also propagated the idea that the anti-president mobilizations are mostly engineered by remnants of the old regime, in collaboration with internal and external forces whose goal is to see the political Islam project fail.
For Abdallah al-Keriony, one of the youth leaders of the Brotherhood, the Brotherhood has benefited from the unorganized counter campaign led by young Islamists who have been acting on their own to defend the president and his group. He argues that confronting Tamarod should be staged from outside the Muslim Brotherhood and not from inside.
Ramesh Srinivasan, professor of media studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, shares Keriony’s argument, explaining that Tamarod’s decentralization has made it impossible for the regime to confront it.
“The ideal solution to confront Tamarod was to make use to have a decentralized counter-mobilization like the one we see on online social media sites now,” Srinivasan says.
For Mansour, the Brotherhood was smart to hide behind support campaigns led by other Islamist groups such as the Jama’a al-Islamiya, which has called for the collection of signatures, dubbed “Tagarod” — a diversion from “Tamarod” — to endorse Morsi. The campaign called supporters to protest on June 21 to call for the protection of the legitimacy of the elected president, and most attendees were actually from the Brotherhood.
Khaled al-Sherif, spokesperson of the Building and Development Party, the political arm of the Jama’a al-Islamiya, says the party’s support for the president reflects its desire to protect his legitimacy, its respect for the democratic process and its fear of chaos.
But the decentralized counter campaigns were not enough to stand against Tamarod and the June 30 protests. Other political solutions had to be pursued.
Moves from the upper levels of government were prompted by protests supporting the army in front of the Defense Ministry, calling for a military takeover to end the rule of the Brotherhood. These have raised questions about the army’s position.
In a recent statement, the defense minister confirmed the army’s commitment to protect the legitimacy of the democratic process and its standing by the people. This has rushed interpretations by both the regime and its adversaries that the military is siding with them.
On June 16, Morsi announced a surprise governors’ shuffle. Keriony says the move was smart and came at the right time.
“The move sends messages that confirm the positive stance of the presidency toward the military with the appointment of seven governors from the army,” Keriony says. “The move also confirms the president’s readiness to involve his supporters in managing the country, and that’s showcased by the appointment of a governor from the Jama’a al-Islamiya.”
Keriony adds that no governors were appointed from the institutions of the judiciary and the security, and this indicates a lack of trust from the presidency.
He expresses his admiration of the president’s intelligence, particularly with the timing of the governors’ move, which has somewhat distracted the opposition ahead of June 30.
Amr Adly, researcher at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law at Stanford University, agrees with Keriony that the governors’ move was a way for Morsi to fish for the army’s support, by keeping its traditional slice of the cake in the management of the state. The move was also a reward for allies like the Jama’a al-Islamiya and the Ghad al-Thawra Party.
But he argues that “in reality, it is a move that doesn’t hold real meaning, because the army already has all what it wants from the Brotherhood-controlled Constitution, and the current crisis is only benefiting it whether the Brothers will stay or go.”
“It is a zero-sum game for the Brothers now. They have no intention to negotiate or make concessions because they are betting on the fact that the next crisis is a repetition of the November and December crisis, which they were able to surpass, so long as they are able to win elections,” Adly says.
In November and December, anti-Brotherhood protests raged and ended violently, before fizzling out.
“The plan of the Brotherhood to surpass the next crisis is to preserve a solid base of its clan, while playing with the theme of the Islamist project versus secularism, to allude to the fact that Morsi’s removal will lead to social violence and terrorism in case the army stepped up and took over,” says Adly.
“This is the message sent during all protests staged to protect [Morsi’s] legitimacy. These are messages to the army before they are messages to the opposition, because the latter is betting on the ability of the June 30 protest to break the alliance between the Brotherhood and the army. This alliance is fragile and unstable, and is easily breakable. This will return the situation to what it was like before, under the leadership of the army, in what can be considered a victory of the military arm of the counter-revolution over the Brotherhood arm of the counter revolution,” Adly adds.
A return to military rule is an anxiety openly expressed by the Brotherhood.
Gehad Haddad, a spokesperson for the Brotherhood, explains to Mada Masr that the Brotherhood will push its members to protect the Ettehadiya Presidential Palace, fearing clashes could erupt with the Presidential Guard. He says that the group can intervene to stop the Presidential Guard from potentially using their legal right to deter protesters by resorting violence in case they attempt to storm the palace.
Haddad says the Brotherhood’s job is to stand together peacefully to prevent protesters from reaching the Armed Forces and the Presidential Guard. He doesn’t rule out the possibility of clashes between the Brotherhood and the opposition, adding that it is expected and that there is no other alternative.
Violence, even if it comes with a cost to the group’s reputation, would be inevitable to prevent a potential military return to power.
Haddad says the group knows its popularity is waning, but it is ready to sacrifice it to preserve the democratic process in Egypt and save it from total collapse. According to him, the Brotherhood is endangered, given the absence of control over angry youth within the group, but it is ready to lose the organization and sacrifice it for democratic change in Egypt.
The group is capable of restoring its popularity later, given its presence in the street and its focus on social work, which aims at peaceful social change, he maintains.
Haddad adds that the Brothers and the youth supporting their project are ready to sacrifice their lives to protect the president’s legitimacy.
He confidently opines that the president won’t fall, saying no protests in history have led to the fall of an elected president, no matter how big or strong they are.
The organizational failure of the Brotherhood is a prediction others share.
Adly expects the collapse of the Brotherhood in a matter of days if the state of chaos persists and social violence prevails. But will the organizational failure trickle down to the presidential palace? The turn of events shall answer.