Atlantic Council Middle East Published Articles

Amr Darrag on the Brotherhood’s Mistakes, Sort of

Amr Darrag
Amr Darrag

From my recent article at Egypt Source:

During the lead-up to the June 30 protests demanding early elections through the violent dispersal of the pro-Morsi sit-ins, several Brotherhood members spoke in vague terms of their ‘mistakes.’ It was a conciliatory gesture of sorts, admitting Morsi’s less than stellar performance but arguing this was not enough to undo his democratic legitimacy.

It is a fair enough logic, but it was never accompanied by any details concerning these mistakes. The closest to an admission came from Salah Sultan, who apologized for the Brotherhood’s negotiating with Omar Suleiman, opening channels with the military, not being honest enough about the efforts of corrupt regime figures to sabotage the revolution, and failing to absorb youth and women in their project. His statement was posted on the webpage of the Freedom and Justice Party, but later removed and described as only a ‘personal’ viewpoint.

This has been one of my frustrations in listening to the Brotherhood post-Morsi. They speak of mistakes, but are rarely specific. I understand the political logic, but wish for greater transparency. So I was thankful for an opportunity to press the issue directly:

But Darrag, instead, is put off by the question. “I don’t actually agree on the prescription that there are mistakes that the Brotherhood has to acknowledge and apologize for,” he said. “Of course there are mistakes, I am not saying that we don’t make mistakes. But this has to come through a process that all political forces, if they want to learn from past experiences, acknowledge their mistakes.”

Rather, he anticipates this process eventually coming from those who sided with the removal of Morsi:

“It doesn’t make sense to ask one side to keep apologizing and apologizing and apologizing. I mean, this is not helping.”

Perhaps it is not helping the Brotherhood, but if they tried apologizing even once, it might help the original revolutionary cause. But consistent with his position, Darrag anticipates the reflection coming from the other side. “People think and reconsider,” he said. “I am sure that one day the majority will join us in the same way that happened on January 25th.

“But when, I don’t know.”

Please click here to read the full article on Egypt Source.

Aslan Media Middle East Published Articles

Spinning the Muslim Brotherhood

In politics, spin is inevitable. But in times of great political struggle spin is often transformed into misrepresentation. In Egypt these days, as seen in the press, the Muslim Brotherhood is spun virtually into a dervish.

Consider first this article from al-Akhbar, ‘Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Reassures Washington’, published April 7, 2012. Though it details current Brotherhood efforts to portray itself as a moderate political force, the article opens with a similar effort from 2005.

Muslim Brotherhood Deputy General Guide Khairat al-Shater penned an article in the Guardian following the group’s victory of one-fifth of the parliamentary seats. US President George Bush had been pushing the region towards democracy, but now the West was fearful of the results.

The article carries Shater’s words, saying:

He added that they only ran for 150 seats out of 444 (in the people’s assembly), because they “recognize that the provision of a greater number of candidates will be considered a provocation to the system” and lead it to “falsify the results.”

Here, the picture Shater paints is of the Brotherhood as a keen political player, limiting their rightful ambition for the greater democratic transition. Rather than provoke the autocrat Mubarak, they will do just enough to keep nudging democracy along.

Fair enough. Only it isn’t the truth. Or, sort of. The Brotherhood alluded as such last month.

At the time there were rumors the Brotherhood had ‘cut a deal’ with the regime for partial political representation. The win-win gave a measure of political representation to the Brotherhood, while Mubarak could complain to the West about the results of ‘democracy’ and continue to rule autocratically. If true, it worked. The Bush administration fell silent and dropped its democracy rhetoric.

These days as well the Brotherhood is accused of ‘cutting a deal’ with the military council.

Therefore it is very interesting to consider the new spin the Brotherhood gives to the 2005 elections. Egypt Independent carried the news of their ‘confession’, on June 13, 2012.

According to ‘an official statement’, the Brotherhood:

Confessed to meeting with the State Security Investigations Service (SSIS) in 2005, saying in an official statement on Wednesday that it attended the meeting “in order to avoid a string of arrests that would have affected hundreds of Brotherhood members.”

The Brotherhood said the SSIS had summoned a number of the group’s members to its headquarters after it nominated 160 candidates for the 2005 parliamentary elections.

In its statement, the Brotherhood said that during the meeting, SSIS leaders asked them to withdraw a large number of candidates and to only compete for thirty seats in Parliament. However, according to the statement, the Brotherhood heads refused the request.

“We said, ‘Let the people elect 40, or more or less. This is their right. We do not expect all 160 candidates to win and no one will withdraw.’” The statement went on to say that the group was threatened, but that they were not intimidated by the threats.

There is plausibility to this story, but it is a different tale than was given by Shater at the time. No longer is the Brotherhood the self-limiting democratic champion, but rather a political player negotiating with the regime for what it can get. There may well be spin in this presentation as well, as it fits with the post-revolution acceptability of exposing Mubarak’s ills. The Brotherhood, in this presentation, is a victim – though not powerless. They stood up to authority to the level possible.

It is noteworthy, though, to notice numbers. The Brotherhood confessed to seeking 40 representatives in this ‘deal’, however coerced it was. Somehow, they wound up winning 88.

In light of similar Brotherhood post-revolutionary promises to ‘limit’ their political representation, it is curious to watch the pattern repeat itself. To what extent in both 2005 and 2011 was the Brotherhood pressed to limit their ambition, and how in either case did they exceed the deal/expectation?

Perhaps they simply play the political game better than anyone else.

This fact becomes clear when examining the spin that is marshaled against them. The Egypt Independent ended its article:

The statement came after repeated accusations from presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq that the Brotherhood used to meet with and have friendly relations with the Mubarak regime.

Here, the writer does a good job of not endorsing the accusation, putting it in context, but also leaving the impression in the reader’s mind. It is a slight use of spin, but it is there.

Far less subtle is this example from Aswat Masr, published July 19, 2012. The headline reads, ‘The General Guide Commenting on the Death of Omar Suleiman: God, Save us from the Helpers of the Deposed [Regime]’.

Closer examination of the article, however, shows the Brotherhood statement has no direct relation to Suleiman whatsoever.

An indirect relation is possible. July 19 is the day Suleiman died. He was widely reviled for his alleged roles in torturing prisoners, and especially in his efforts to curtail the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists.

During the revolution Mubarak appointed Suleiman as vice-president, but only a few days later he fell with the regime. When Suleiman briefly resuscitated his political career in a failed attempt to run for president, he fit well into the secular-Islamic dichotomy and was hailed by some as a hero. Upon his death he was given a military funeral.

While some Islamists have praised his death, the Brotherhood has been more cautious. President Morsy permitted the military funeral, but kept his distance and did not attend. It is judicious for them to keep their silence and not gloat over the fall of their long time enemy.

In this light the headline of Aswat Masr is better understood. It paints the Brotherhood as celebrating Suleiman’s death, and wishing similarly for salvation from those still alive.

Perhaps the writer has divined the Brotherhood’s intentions, but he has not accurately conveyed their words. The article takes from a written, weekly statement issued by the General Guide, Mohamed Badie. The text opens with Ramadan and praise of the Qur’an.

Only later on does the headline quotation occur, and Suleiman is never mentioned. Instead, Badie asks God:

Save us from tyrants, the corrupt, and the helpers of the dead, deposed regime. Aid our president in leading the ship of the nation to safe shores.

This statement can very much be read into the current political struggle between the Brotherhood and the military/old regime. The headline, however, makes the reader think it is an attack on Suleiman, painting the group as a vindictive entity worthy of Suleiman’s attempts at suppression.

When spin is present, it is best to find truth, however difficult.

According to my best and current understanding, the Muslim Brotherhood and the old regime danced together, awkwardly. There were periods of oppression and jailing, and periods of limited freedom of operation. On the whole, the group was free to function socially, but restricted politically. The regime always had the upper hand, but the Brotherhood knew how to exploit its limitations and slowly develop its legitimacy.

Omar Suleiman was a loyal employee, tasked with protecting the state from violent Islamists, and protecting the regime from political challenges. I suspect the tales of oppression are true.

What is still unclear, due the presence of spin from all sides, is if the Muslim Brotherhood is a legitimate democratic governing party. There is a great political struggle underway, and nearly all focus rests on this question.

The Brotherhood is spun, but also spins itself. Perhaps soon the dust will clear.

Even a dervish eventually stops.

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Friday Prayers for Egypt: Running in Place with One Shoe


Egypt seems to be both moving and waiting at the same time. It is as if everyone is waiting for the other shoe to drop.

If the first shoe was Morsy’s election, the second is where he will take Egypt. He gave a preview trying to restore parliament, but there has been only static since then. Three weeks and he still does not have a government in place. In fact, Brotherhood outrage over his now ‘interim’ cabinet is what caused them to field a presidential candidate in the first place.

Much of the reason for the waiting is that key issues are now in the hands of the judiciary – a notoriously slow entity in Egypt that has proved its ability to be ‘timely’ several times during the transition. Will parliament be reinstated? Will the military’s constitutional declaration be overturned? Will the Shura Council fall? Will the constituent assembly to write the new constitution survive?

No one knows, and the judgment on all was postponed again. More waiting. Where is the shoe?

The last judgment on the constitution illustrates this period best. Unsure of its ultimate existence, the committee frantically rushes to complete its work. If it can put forward a document it will create a reality less easily dismissed, even if ruled illegal. The military is then likely to form a new committee that will produce the constitution. Egypt may well face a future in which it has two. Will the people accept either?

In the middle of all the activity, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived to greet President Morsy, other political forces, and the military. It provided enough of a distraction for each side to accuse the other of being behest to American patronage.

God, may this be a breather. Give every player to reflect on where Egypt stands. Turn them from their plans and strategies, if only for a moment, to wonder if their personal conduct blesses the nation; if it blesses the other.

How hard it is to do this, God, and maintain any level of integrity. This week Egypt’s long time spy chief died. He was accused of countless tales of torture, with his eye aimed especially at curbing the Muslim Brotherhood.

President Morsy will give him in a military funeral; his colleagues, meanwhile, can hardly suppress articulating he is now accountable to you.

Is Morsy a hypocrite? Are his colleagues judicious to hold back their loathing? Or is Morsy extending honor even to an enemy? Are his colleagues lacking in similar grace?

God, renew their strength. No one stands righteous before you, but give wisdom to Morsy and his advisors to run Egypt well. Do the same for those who oppose them. And in your greater wisdom and will, produce a future for the best of Egypt.

In fact, God, may all shoes fall before you in humility and awe. May Egypt be holy ground and all go barefoot in your presence.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Eligibility


Egypt grows more interesting by the day. The Muslim Brotherhood enters the presidential fray despite earlier assurances otherwise. A Salafi candidate teeters on the brink of disqualification on the technicality his mother may have obtained US citizenship late in her life. Yet all is trumped by the candidacy of Mubarak’s crisis-appointed vice president and long time head of the intelligence service.

All revolutionary forces loudly decry the latter, seeing in him the rebuilding of the old regime. Islamist forces took to the streets against him and filled Tahrir Square. Non-Islamists, however, stayed away, as transition frictions have sullied the relationships of original allies. They call for a protest next week.

May all end peacefully, God. Large scale protests have been infrequent recently, largely because so many have ended in violence.

There are fears for this one, as Salafi supporters of their candidate have remained in the square demanding an answer on his eligibility. Rumors abound a decision is pending.

Fill their hearts with righteousness, God, and protect them if disappointed. Protect them from the danger of their own anger; from the ill application of searching for justice. Protect them from any who would wish to pin such violence upon them and tarnish their image.

So much is confusing, God. May truth prevail.

Even the candidacies of the Brotherhood and Mubarak’s VP are questioned. Of the former, a criminal sentence of questionable validity could disqualify him, though a pardon was recently issued. Of the latter, Parliament passed a law of questionable validity to bar him and others from running.

Yet whereas the revolutionary camps’ divisions are hardening, may this not poison the people. May this rally bring blessing to Egypt, and may the following one do likewise. Subject all soon to the crucible of elections, that popular will be properly gauged.

May this be true even if the candidacy of the VP becomes a referendum on the election itself. Give Egyptians wisdom to make the choice best for their nation, resisting all competing manipulations. Honor their common sense and good nature.

For these and other candidates, God, test their hearts and establish the truest eligibility. May this be in terms of your values, not of rules and regulations. Honor the law, and help Egyptians to craft it accordingly. But give them a man after your own heart, one who will govern wisely, justly, and humbly.

Bless Egypt, God. Hold her steady as the tremors of transition unbalance many. Bring her through this period and establish her as a rock upon which your grace and mercy take hold. They have already enabled so much, including these controversies.

May they also pass, and may all be well.