Morsi’s Death Will Shake the Muslim Brotherhood

Competing factions within the movement have lost the one issue on which they could find common ground.

Expert comment Published 25 June 2019 2 minute READ

Dr Georges Fahmi

Former Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme

Morsi in the defendant's cage at the police academy in Cairo in 2014. Photo: Getty Images.

Morsi in the defendant’s cage at the police academy in Cairo in 2014. Photo: Getty Images.

In the wake of the death of former Egyptian president Mohammad Morsi, there has been a wave of solidarity among the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters in Egypt and abroad. Competing groups, beset by a deep divide caused by two strands of leadership each claiming legitimacy and a widening generation gap among its members, have come together temporarily.

But in the long run, the fallout from Morsi’s death will deepen the crises afflicting the Brotherhood, namely the lack of a political vision and the quiet wave of radicalization among the youth.

The Guidance Bureau, the top executive body of the Brotherhood, has failed to formulate a coherent strategy since Morsi’s ousting from government in July 2013. Initially leaders chose to mobilize their supporters in large peaceful demonstrations every Friday to counter the measures taken by the Egyptian armed forces against Morsi.

These demonstrations continued on a weekly basis in many governorates between 2013 and 2014, before beginning to fade in the first half of 2015 as younger members began to question the effectiveness of this approach. They called on their leadership to present a clear opposition strategy with which to face the incumbent political regime and to not push them to join demonstrations without a clear set of goals and demands.

One strand of the leadership led by Mohammed Kamal, a member of the Guidance Bureau, responded to these calls by proposing a new strategy based on the use of limited violence to undermine the stability of state institutions. This approach was rejected by the historic leadership led by Deputy Supreme Guide Mahmoud Ezzat. Both groups failed to offer an alternative approach, leaving the movement with no effective strategy with which to deal with the political situation at hand.

Given this lack of strategy, the demand to bring Morsi back to power appeared to be the only aim that the different groups within the organization could agree on, albeit an unrealistic one. In light of Morsi’s death, the movement’s lack of strategy is more exposed than ever, leaving it with nothing to hide behind.

At the grassroots’ level, the youth of the Brotherhood has undergone a profound but quiet wave of radicalization over the past few years. The same individuals who in January 2011 believed in nonviolent action as a means to introduce political change now openly call this naïve and are questioning the efficacy of non-violence as one of the ideological pillars of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although they still reject the idea of excommunicating members of state institutions, the stance of Salafi jihadism, they believe that violence should be considered as a political option and should not be dismissed ideologically.

Unlike Salafi jihadist groups, who believe in armed struggle for its own sake, this young generation of the Brotherhood see violent resistance more as a means to an end, which means that few are advocating for violence now. The see that under the current balance of power between the movement and the Egyptian state, they would have no chance of winning in armed conflict against the security forces.

But disappointed by the leadership and the lack of strategy, many of the younger generation have taken a step back from the movement. They are simultaneously becoming more passive and more radical in their views about how to conduct political change. Morsi’s death has laid bare the void of political strategy afflicting the leadership and will deepen the process of quiet radicalization among the youth.