Omar Ashour
Dr Omar Ashour
Former Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme
The Muslim Brotherhood is weakened, but not dead. The longer its stalemate with the ruling military regime continues, the more unstable Egypt is likely to become.
Egyptians in Giza shout slogans and light flares as they protest the death sentence decisions including Egypt's former president Mohamed Morsi, on 3 July 2015. Photo by Getty Images.Egyptians in Giza shout slogans and light flares as they protest the death sentence decisions including Egypt's former president Mohamed Morsi, on 3 July 2015. Photo by Getty Images.

‘The hands of justice [are] chained by laws,’ said Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi during the funeral of his prosecutor-general, Hisham Barakat. ‘Courts are not suitable for this moment … laws are not suitable for this moment,’ he continued.

A day later, 12 leading members of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed by the regime's security forces, which blamed the Brotherhood for Barakat's assassination. The Brotherhood claimed that their members were killed after being held, searched, and fingerprinted. The security forces claim that they were killed in a firefight, after resisting arrest. Earlier in June, the death sentences of former president Mohammed Morsi and five other leading members of the Brotherhood, including its supreme guide Mohamed Badie, were upheld. Such developments shatter any hopes of de-escalation anytime soon.

Shattered hopes

Since the 2013 coup, the Muslim Brotherhood leadership has adopted primarily civil resistance tactics, similar to those used in the January 2011 uprising. The unstated objective of the leadership was to pressure the military and its allies into a compromise.

But those tactics have their limits. As shown in the dispersal of Rabaa Square in 2013, tanks are more powerful than any protest, regardless of its steadfastness.

In the last two months, there was a spate of reconciliation initiatives led by renowned politicians including former presidential candidate Ayman Nour and former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki. Moreover, Rached Ghannouchi, the head of the Tunisian Ennahda Party, called on the Saudi king to lead the reconciliation in Egypt, in a similar way that Saudi Arabia helped broker the Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon’s civil war in the 1980s.

These initiatives were not detailed, but their bases were rooted in accepting the status quo in exchange for limiting repression and opening up the political space.

A more detailed initiative came from Abdul Momen Abu al-Fotouh, the former presidential candidate who came in fourth in Egypt’s 2012 elections. He called for forming a new transitional government led by an ‘independent non-biased prime minister’, with the ‘president of the republic’ delegating his powers to the head of the new government in a lead-up to early presidential elections, as a way out of the crisis.

Is the regime winning?

None of these calls were heeded by the Sisi regime, where the belief among the most powerful factions is that the eradication of the Brotherhood is possible, desirable and not too costly. These factions believe that the regime is winning, and with regional and international acquiesce.

Even if the calls for compromise were heeded, there is a big gap between what civil resistance can achieve and what the Brotherhood and other anti-coup youth forces demand. The understanding of these forces is that civil resistance can engender revolutionary regime change and bring speedy justice for the dead. This is contrary to most historical cases where civil resistance campaigns led to a political compromise, acceptance of status-quo figures and even a partial or a total sacrifice of justice for peace.

Forms of resistance

Recently, Youssef Nada, a leading figure in the Brotherhood who was formerly in charge of the group's international affairs, called on ‘the Egyptian army's honest sons’ to meet with him and assured that the army does not lack patriotism, ‘but only some of its leadership is corrupt’.

This was interpreted as a call to bypass the current supreme commander of the army − Sisi − and to negotiate with a new leadership; in other words, a coup on top of a coup.

Nada had earlier expressed that the crisis in Egypt needs a ‘Suwar al-Dahab’, the Sudanese general who staged a coup against Gaafar Nimeiry's dictatorship before overseeing free elections and then surrendering power to the elected government of Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1986.

Unlike in 1952, when the Brotherhood was heavily involved in the military coup that brought Gamal Abdel Nasser to power, the group has no armed wing and no significant loyalists in the army. But this has not prevented some of the members from repudiating civil tactics and arguing for armed resistance. So far, the likelihood of these calls to develop into a full-fledged armed insurgency is low, but only due to limited capacity and resources. Both the socio-political environment and the narratives point to violence. 

Egypt is currently in a deadly stalemate. The country cannot reach political stability, and therefore full economic recovery, without a reconciliation process and an institutional, conflict-resolution arrangement between its two major political actors, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood. But the regime is dominated by figures that believe, wrongly, that they can eradicate their foes, and are in no mood for discussion.

The Muslim Brotherhood opposition has undoubtedly incurred major losses that have weakened its capacities. But it is still alive, and resisting.

A version of this article was first published by Al Jazeera.

To comment on this article, please contact Chatham House Feedback