An internal review of the Muslim Brotherhood: Reform, militancy or politics?

The Mohamed Kamal wing of the Muslim Brotherhood issued a report on Tuesday in which it took stock of the organization’s wider policies and strategic decisions in the leadup to the January 2011 revolution and the role it played afterwards. However, what is at stake in the document remains unclear, due to difficulty in situating calls for reform within a political wing that has urged an end to the Brotherhood’s policy of non-violence. Does the document represent a change in course, or is it simply a means to gain support from a political base?

The post-2013 faction of the Islamist group, which follows the tenets articulated by Guidance Bureau member Mohamed Kamal, who was killed by security forces in October, presented the document titled “Assessment Before Vision: A Look Back at the Past,” as the first step in its plan to formulate a holistic political and organizational vision. The report interrogates the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship to the 2011 revolution and the state, the absence of clear political priorities and contradictions among the group and the Freedom and Justice Party it birthed.

The group published a statement on its website on Sunday titled “Evaluations that precede the vision,” stating that the review was the outcome of research and workshops conducted by experts, as well as leading Muslim Brotherhood figures in Egypt and abroad.

However, Mokhtar Awad, a research fellow at George Washington University’s program on extremism, sees these revisions as a tactic for the group to be more able to enforce its project rather than as a progressive push from within the group. Awad thinks that the review continues to propagate the group’s historic project but with a different approach, while researcher Mohamed Mokhtar Kandil called the announcement an attempt to win over opposition.

Nonetheless, much of the document’s content marshals criticism of the Brotherhood’s old guard — led by acting Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat — for what the Kamal wing calls its excessively conservative stance in the leadup to the January 2011 revolution and its lack of preparation for the role it played afterwards.

The criticism maps onto the group’s divisive internal conflicts, which center on the validity of non-violence in the face of a state-led violent crackdown, in which Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been imprisoned and hundreds of loyalists killed.

With this framing in place, Mada Masr has distilled the principal aspects of the Kamal wing’s document below.

Moving from charity to politics

The document criticizes the group’s focus on charity work and its providing of services at the expense of a political vision for change. Since the Brotherhood was established in the 1920s, it has prioritized charitable initiatives over the development of political leaders within the organization and has reduced its support base to those who benefit from its services, the report reflects, which has alienated others. It also highlights a lack of relationships with other organizations that may have provided funding opportunities and protection.

Accepting the imposed ceiling

The group accepted the state’s imposition of red lines, the document suggests, referring to the 2005 parliamentary elections, in which it won 88 seats.

“Because the group didn’t present itself as a replacement for the ruling regime, it didn’t get enough seats to be able to form the government alone, or even in alliances with other blocks in parliament, even as a sort of political play, testing the waters or a calculated adventure.”

Nor did it challenge the state’s position regarding it, leaving it vulnerable to direct confrontation with security forces after 2011, the report asserts, adding that it could have taken more advantage of the political openness of 2005 to better integrate members into state institutions.

Between the group and the party

There was a lack of preparation for inaugurating the party after the revolution, leading to confusion over the roles of the group and the party.

“The party was closer to being the political arm of the group than to being an independent entity,” the document argues.

This led to distraction from the group’s original purpose as a tool for political competition, as it became more involved in charitable projects and the provision of other services. It also wasn’t fully prepared for entry into political competition, the report asserts.

The group won a majority in the first post-revolution parliament, and its candidate Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first freely-elected President in 2012. However, the group’s popularity tanked throughout its time in power. In 2013, Morsi was removed from power by the military, following large popular protests against him.

Reform versus revolution

The last section of the document discusses the group’s relationship to the revolution, arguing that it gave up on the founding ideals of Hassan al Banna, adopting a reformist approach that “was limited to disciplined political battles within the limits permitted by the regime.”

This, according to the document, “created an organizational framework that translated the revolution into procedures and contradicted the notion of a free-flowing, interactive and decisive revolution.”

In December, Kamal’s wing called for a meeting that ended with the election of a new Guidance Bureau, which announced its commitment to the “revolutionary path” last December, without clarifying what that entails. The next step, the group announced, is to clarify its forthcoming strategic vision, a move which may prompt a formal split in the Brotherhood.  

Mohamed Hamama 

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