June 30, 3 years on: The Muslim Brotherhood at breaking point

The month of May witnessed another episode in a series of splits within the Muslim Brotherhood. For many, this seems like a final stop in the fracturing that began with the organization’s fall from power in 2013, when the military deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

In May, Ibrahim Mounir — the secretary general to the acting Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat and the secretary of the veteran International Bureau of the Brotherhood in London — declared a freeze on the membership of a number of prominent leaders and affiliates. Mounir is a chief figure in one of the two opposing camps in the Brotherhood today — he pledges allegiance to the group led by Ezzat.

The freeze impacts members including former Minister of International Cooperation Amr Darrag and former Investment Minister Yehia Hamed, as well as Ahmed Abdel Rahman, who heads the Brotherhood’s Administrative Office abroad, Brotherhood Shura Council member Ali Bateekh, and Abdel Ghaffar Salheen and Reda Fahmy, both former members of Parliament.

Mounir’s decision to freeze their memberships was made after a number of Brotherhood members launched a campaign to collect signatures on a document titled “Through vision — From the grassroots to the leadership.” In the document, they announced their support for a roadmap suggested by Mohamed Kamal, a group leader and main figure in a dissenting camp of the Brotherhood, and others to end internal disputes, to re-elect all the executive institutions in the Brotherhood and to start a discussion of a new draft charter.

The roadmap included an invitation to all current members to take a step back and to allow for a new, younger leadership to hold comprehensive elections in all of the country’s offices and to postpone the adoption of the new general charter until the new Brotherhood Shura Council convenes.

Kamal had published an audio recording announcing his resignation from all administrative responsibilities and to refrain from nominating himself for any executive positions in the future. He called on his “brothers” among the “leaders of previous times” to take the same step, and to “hand the torch to their sons, the leaders of the square and the knights of the current era.”

The Office of the Muslim Brotherhood Abroad announced its “appreciation” of the roadmap and of Kamal’s move to resign. In a statement, the office called “on all Brothers to cooperate in achieving the success of the roadmap and activate all Brotherhood institutions.”

In mid-May, the office director Ezz Eddin Dewidar, who is also a coordinator of the proposed roadmap, revealed on his Facebook page the pressure exerted by the International Bureau of the Brotherhood and its branches in other countries on members who signed the document to get them to withdraw their signatures. He added that some members received threats of dismissal.

What led to the current crisis

Inter-Brotherhood disputes started in 2014 after a crisis management committee was formed that February. It was a time when the group’s traditional leaders — such as Ezzat, the supreme guide’s deputy — had to take a step back given the state’s quest to put them all in jail.

“Contact with them was very limited,” says a young member of the group who asked not to be named.

The roots of dissent grew out of this crisis management committee, with Kamal and Bateekh among its members. They were elected by the group’s Shura Council in 2013, following the end of the mandate of the Guidance Bureau, the group’s leadership body. In the committee’s view, Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie still retains his position despite his imprisonment, while the committee takes on the Guidance Bureau’s responsibilities given the absence of most of its leaders.

By June 2014, divisions in opinion on major issues, such as the group’s position on violence, began to fester. According to a former Brotherhood leader from the Delta who preferred not to be named, Kamal, Bateekh and others called for a meeting in January 2015 to discuss the revolution’s anniversary. At that meeting, they spoke of violence as an inevitable path. The meeting culminated in the formation of two new committees to adopt a violence-oriented strategy: the Revolutionary Punishment Committee and the Popular Resistance Committee.

The constituencies affiliated with Kamal, Bateekh and other dissenters live in the areas where the greatest violence against the state has been waged in the last two years: Cairo, Alexandria, Qalyubiya, Monufiya and the northern part of Upper Egypt.

According to the logic of this group, violence encompasses everything aside from murder — therefore, attacking state establishments is a legitimate act. But for their adversaries, peacefulness is a full-fledged commitment, even in dire times of repression.

Violence aside, Brotherhood members were also polarized over the mandate of the leadership, which has Ezzat at the top as the vice supreme guide. This split led to a conflict that took the form of attempts by both adversaries to control the group’s different bureaus and dossiers in Egypt and abroad.

A crucial battle broke out when members of the outgoing Guidance Bureau announced the dissolution of the crisis management committee in May 2015, according to a source from the bureau that preferred to remain anonymous.

In response, the committee’s dissenters decided to take on the financial matters of the Office of the Muslim Brotherhood Abroad, which until then had been handled by Mahmoud Hussein, one of the group’s traditional leaders and a member of the Guidance Bureau.

In the ongoing tug of war, Hussein announced in May 2015 that Ezzat was the acting supreme guide and that Hussein himself was the secretary general.

The question of who has the right to speak for the group became another cornerstone of the crisis.

In January 2015, Kamal’s crisis management committee announced that one of his allies, Mohamed Montasser, was the official spokesperson of the group.

In a statement made in mid-2015, Montasser said, “the group’s spokespersons are those who represent it and reflect its opinion. The group organized internal elections in February 2014 and elected a crisis management committee, the result of which is the continuation of Mohamed Badie in the post of supreme guide and the appointment of a head for the crisis management committee [Mohamed Kamal].”

But in a message to the Brotherhood’s Shura Council, the traditional leadership said in June 2015 that no elections had been held by the Shura Council or the Guidance Bureau since the pro-Morsi Rabea al-Adaweya protest camp was violently dispersed in August 2013. They also denied the group has a spokesperson at all.

By December 2015, Ezzat’s men moved to dismiss Montasser from his position as a spokesperson through a statement sent to a number of journalists.

But several websites then announced that news was false. In a statement, the group’s dissenters explained that official decisions, statements and messages were to be “issued by the official outlets for the group only. These are the Ikhwan Online website, the official Facebook page of the Brotherhood and the official accounts of the spokesman of the group.” The statement requested that the media “exercises accuracy in what it attributes to the Brotherhood and its institutions.”

Bureaus in a number of governorates — including Cairo, Alexandria, Fayoum, Beni Suef and Qalyubiya — also issued statements rejecting the decisions made by the traditional leadership on its websites and Facebook pages.

The group’s representation abroad was another source of fracture.

According to a member of the group, the Office of the Muslim Brotherhood Abroad was elected in December 2014 with representatives from the four countries to which Brotherhood members had fled, including Qatar, Turkey, Sudan and Malaysia. The election happened at the request of the crisis management committee, and the office worked under the leadership of Ahmad Abdel Rahman, one of the dissenters.

But the office existed in tandem with the London-based International Bureau of the Brotherhood, headed by Mounir, Ezzat’s deputy.

When, following pressure from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Britain announced its decision to investigate the Brotherhood’s activities on its territories, the traditional group’s offshore leaders started deploying some diplomacy through the International Bureau of the Brotherhood. The aim was to thwart any attempt to label the Brotherhood a terrorist group and to restore its international position.

For example, sources told the privately owned newspaper Al-Shorouk that Mounir asked the Egyptian leaders to refrain from any violent activities, who met that request with resistance.

Toward the end of 2015, in a segue to the spokesperson crisis, the traditional leadership issued a decision signed by Ezzat announcing the dissolution of Office of the Muslim Brotherhood Abroad. The tasks that the office used to handle were delegated to the International Bureau of the Brotherhood.

In the latest crisis of May 2016, Kamal responded to Mounir’s dismissal of the group’s members through a statement in which he denied the existence of any Brotherhood offices in London. “Any decision issued by this office does not reflect the Brotherhood, its vision or approach,” he added.

“The only body mandated to speak in the name of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood abroad is the Office of the Muslim Brotherhood Abroad, which was founded in 2013 and headed by Dr. Ahmed Abdel Rahman,” the statement continued. It called on members “to continue undertaking their tasks in a natural way without considering attempts at destruction.”

The future of this fractured group now seems less than hopeful.

Mohamed Hamama 

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