The Brotherhood Admits Mistakes?

One mistake, some say now, was in allying with Egyptians like these. Photo: Getty Images
One mistake, some say now, was in allying with Egyptians like these. Photo: Getty Images

Writing in Carnegie, Nathan Brown and Michelle Dunne say that the Muslim Brotherhood has survived the crackdown and reconstituted itself both inside and outside of Egypt.

Though severely weakened, opportunity has emerged for a new, more youthful generation of leadership that has conducted an internal review of policies during the revolutionary period.

Both before but especially after Morsi’s fall, Brotherhood leaders would admit ‘mistakes’, but not say what they were specifically. Now, there appears to be a list. It surfaces from private conversations the authors have had, so perhaps it is not yet official. But it mirrors the critique consistently directed to the Brotherhood by their one-time non-Islamist partners in revolution:

The substance of the self-critique within the Brotherhood, put forward assertively by younger members, is simply this: the leadership failed to recognize that 2011 was a real revolution in Egyptian society and to act accordingly.

Brotherhood leaders did not make common cause with those who wanted real change, and instead they opted to gain entry to the Egyptian state through rapid elections (agreed upon with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that held control after Mubarak) and then tried to bring about modest reforms—a plan that failed abysmally. “We failed to build on the profound values that emerged during the revolution,” said one young Islamist, “Instead of taking needed time with the transition, we went for superficial political solutions.”

Another added, “It was a problem to move toward elections so quickly, as many parts of the revolution were not represented in the political process.” Youth leaders spoke with regret of compatriots from other parts of the ideological spectrum who were left in the dust as the Brotherhood rushed to reap the reward of elections, only to come up against the immoveable object of the Egyptian state.

The revolution was “not Islamic” and “nonideological,” older and younger interlocutors agreed. One senior Brotherhood member noted with regret that “the Brotherhood had a certain project for a century and tried to implement it after 2011, failing to realize that it was no longer suitable for a nation in revolution.”

The Brotherhood was unable to adapt quickly enough to this need for “broad platforms based on values,” said the senior member, which would have required abandoning a long-standing dogma that the movement was responsible for “carrying the load on behalf of the nation.”

Brotherhood leaders look back at their decision, when Morsi faced increasing, vociferous secular challenges, to tack right and ally with Salafists against secular forces in the parliament elected in early 2012 as a disaster; “This was not what the revolution wanted,” said one. The more revolutionary path would have taken on serious restructuring of powerful institutions—for example, reforming the security sector and civilian bureaucracy—but the Brotherhood opted to placate them.

The Carnegie article is long but worth reading — a walk-through of the last few years. At times it seems overly charitable to the Brotherhood, downplaying Beltagi’s comment about terrorist violence in Sinai, and treating as somewhat marginal the violent rhetoric on Turkey-based satellite channels connected to or sympathetic with the Brotherhood.

But it is an analysis that is well-informed from authors who do their homework. As to what to make of the Brotherhood’s self-critique, and what it means for the movement’s, and Egypt’s, future:

As one of the oldest and most influential Islamist groups in the world, the Muslim Brotherhood bears close watching as it, and Egypt, hurtle toward an uncertain future whose shock waves will be felt throughout the Middle East, Africa, and the Islamic world.

That is, unless, things stay calm. The shock waves then might be in the world of Islamism, but the authors seem to assume there are greater surprises to come.

Update: It is obvious the authors have spoken with many sources in the Brotherhood, and the reputation of the authors gives credibility that, though not mentioned by name or position, these sources are indicative of the group’s main streams.

But is it really true the Brotherhood now sees it as a mistake to have allied with the Salafis at the expense of original liberal revolutionary leaders? If they see the revolution as non-Islamic and nonideological, why do so many of their voices clamor for jihad and paint retribution in Islamic terms? Why did they bring in Wagdy Ghoneim, of all people, to support their Egypt Call project?

Brown and Dunne are established scholars. Brown in particular has tracked the Brotherhood incendiary discourse. Why do they believe these voices over the others?

The Brotherhood needs allies. Whatever self-critique it is engaging in, I suspect it is substantial. But I do not imagine they call a mistake their use of targeted language to targeted audiences. It continues all the same.


On US Policy toward Egypt

From the Washington Post, in an op-ed from Nathan Brown, a respected Egypt expert:

The U.S. message to Morsi should no longer be “We’re with you, watch out for some details around the edges.” Instead, Obama officials should be telling Egyptian leaders: We’re extremely concerned about your violations of core political and legal principles; we can’t be the partner we would like to be, and the partner Egypt needs, if you undermine the fulfillment of Egyptians’ democratic aspirations.

Putting this message into practice will require much sharper, clearer public responses by the White House and State Department to violations of basic democratic and rule-of-law norms. It will mean an end to justifying the Brotherhood’s negative political steps. And the United States should indicate that the possibility of new aid is not isolated from domestic Egyptian political realities.

This tougher line should not be coupled with an embrace of the opposition. U.S. policy should be based on firm support of core democratic principles, not on playing favorites.

Recalibrating the current policy line will require careful nuance. It has to be clear that the United States is not turning against the Brotherhood but is siding more decisively with democracy.

Earlier in the article Brown goes through the litany of Brotherhood illiberal and anti-democratic decisions. Here, he puts forward what is necessary to counter the widely believed Egyptian liberal and Coptic Christian conspiracy which says the US is ‘backing’ Morsi.

Brown’s words seek to hold on to the ideal in difficult geopolitical times. It is always best to do what is right, and call others to do the same. Messy and impractical, often, and with uncertain results. But it is always best.