The Muslim Brotherhood’s Fatal Mistake

Brotherhood's Fatal Mistake
(via the Washington Post)

In his recent article for Foreign Affairs, Eric Trager says the Brotherhood miscalculated at Rabaa, and in post-Morsi policy in general.

It certainly hasn’t worked out well for them, but I have one small quibble, perhaps:

Indeed, from the moment of Morsi’s July 3 overthrow, the Brotherhood’s leaders understood that they were in a kill-or-be-killed struggle with the new military-backed government.

A ‘be-killed’ moment, maybe. There were extensive negotiations going on at the time, between both international and domestic forces. The official discourse held that there was a way for continued Brotherhood political participation.

Trager outlines the pre-Rabaa violence against Brotherhood protests, though. Many, perhaps including the Brotherhood, didn’t really believe the official discourse.

But the possible quibble is with ‘kill’. Did the Brotherhood realize success depended on their violence? That was not part of their official discourse, nor did it seem an underlying reality, as Trager notes:

Although the Brotherhood mobilized violence against its opponents multiple times during Morsi’s presidency, its leaders called for nonviolence following Morsi’s overthrow, with Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie infamously proclaiming, “Our peacefulness is stronger than bullets.”

The article is full of great quotes, with links. But why is this ‘infamous’? It seems honorable. The Brotherhood was certainly willing to ‘be-killed’:

“If they want to disperse the [Cairo] sit-in, they’ll have to kill 100,000 protesters,” Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad told journalist Maged Atef two weeks before the massacre. “And they can’t do it [because] we’re willing to offer one hundred thousand martyrs.”

If honorable, it was still tragic, and tragically wrong. Several hundred died, thousands more jailed. But tens of thousands were not willing to pay the price boldly promised.

And it is honorable to risk so much blood? Maybe. Many senior leaders are in prison, but others fled to safety abroad. A good number had family members killed. They bet their organization, and perhaps the prize was worth it.

But Trager shows some were willing to bet more, perhaps undoing my quibble:

From the younger Brothers’ perspective, this was a dangerously naïve strategy, leaving them and their comrades defenseless during the assault that followed.

“Our dear brothers were saying, ‘we are peaceful,’” Amr Farrag, a prominent Brotherhood youth based in Istanbul, later lamented in a Facebook post. “‘Our peacefulness is stronger than bullets.’ Fine, so we got smacked on our necks.”

Another prominent Brotherhood youth, Ahmed El Moghir, later revealed that the Cairo demonstration site was “sufficiently armed to repel the Interior Ministry and possibly the army as well,” but that most of these arms were removed only days before the massacre due to senior Brotherhood leaders’ “betrayal.”

So maybe the ‘kill’ is appropriate to go with ‘be-killed’. Take all testimony with a grain of salt.

A good number of policemen died clearing the square. The great majority of protestors were not armed. When the Interior Ministry displayed weapons captured after the operation, they were not that many.

But is that because they were removed? Why? Cold feet? Conscience? Facilitation of martyrdom and political sympathy?

Much more is needed to understand, but the quote is clear.

The Brotherhood is complicated. But they also miscalculated. What next?

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