Two years since the coup that ended the rule of former President Mohamed Morsi and one year on with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi at the helm, Egypt's largest and most organised opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, faces what several analysts describe as "the worst case of state repression in modern Egyptian history".

In addition to the mass arrests and countless death sentences, the group is experiencing an internal power struggle that threatens its cohesion and unity. Divisions over vision and strategy between the old guard and the new generation have become all too visible.

Such a crisis might force the group to become more revolutionised. As one MB member acknowledged, one of the biggest Brotherhood mistakes was believing that Egypt could be fixed gradually by working within the system.

Al Jazeera spoke to four Muslim Brotherhood specialists about the future of the oldest Islamist group in Egypt and the Arab world.

 

Abdullah al-Arian , Assistant Professor of history, Georgetown University, Doha, author of Answering the Call: Popular Islamic Activism in Sadat's Egypt

Nearly two years on from the coup that overthrew Egypt's first democratically elected president and upended the attempted transition from the authoritarian system of rule under Hosni Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood finds itself the target of the worst case of systematic state repression in modern Egyptian history.

Most of its leadership, including Mohamed Morsi, remain imprisoned and under threat of execution, while its institutions have been shut down and its supporters have been targeted and silenced through intimidation and violence.

The Muslim Brotherhood faces an immense uphill battle in winning back the confidence of other groups and assuring them that it can be a trustworthy partner in the growing opposition to the regime.

There is a strong belief among a significant contingent of the Muslim Brotherhood members that its failures have been a result of the organisation's unwillingness to embrace revolutionary politics.

The traditional Muslim Brotherhood organisation has long been a reform-oriented movement that lacked the appetite for revolution. It has hesitated to pursue a total refashioning of the Egyptian state, which would require it to confront powerful institutions long responsible for upholding the authoritarian system, like the military and the judiciary.

The Muslim Brotherhood's office in exile recently held elections in which it reportedly replaced two-thirds of its leadership with youth leaders embracing the call for revolution.

The organisation now aims to step up its efforts to destabilise the Sisi regime and restore the revolutionary moment that began in 2011.

That has proven to be no easy task. In order to put an end to the current impasse, there must be some change brought on by one or more of several variables.

The deep divisions within the ranks of the revolutionaries ensures that challenges to the regime have been disparate and easy to suppress.

The Muslim Brotherhood faces an immense uphill battle in winning back the confidence of other groups and assuring them that it can be a trustworthy partner in the growing opposition to the regime.

The group has also focused on raising international awareness of the mounting human rights atrocities committed by the regime, but thus far the United States and its Gulf allies have continued to sponsor Sisi with military and financial aid.

Without sufficient international pressure, it is unlikely that the state will cease its violent response to all

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expressions of opposition from within Egyptian society.

Moreover, given that domestic instability through deterioration of the economic and security situations appear to be the only means to challenge the regime, young Muslim Brotherhood members have increasingly endorsed the use of obstructionism and sabotage in the course of their anti-coup activism, while being careful to continue to denounce the use of violence against fellow citizens.

It is too soon to tell whether the current shift into revolutionary activity represents a short-term tactical move for a Muslim Brotherhood organisation that is in severe crisis, or a broader transition towards a new model for its historic mission.

But as the Sisi regime charts its course for a new brand of authoritarian rule over Egypt, the remnants of the Muslim Brotherhood's leadership appears to have recognised that it must adapt to the radically altered conditions or face the prospects of living under a dictator who has extinguished all opposition.


Dalia Fahmy,  Assistant Professor of Political Science, Long Island University

Over the last year of the authoritarian rule under President Sisi, the Muslim Brotherhood has found itself not only politically decapitated and crippled, but also suffering from the structural and organisational implications of the mass arrests, death sentences, and an organisational hierarchy that is increasingly fragmented.

This has also resulted in an asymmetrical ideological and generational power struggle within the Brotherhood that may be the beginning of the end to the Brotherhood as we have come to know it.

Historically the Brotherhood has been the largest and most organised social and political opponent to the

Today the Sisi regime must make a critical calculation as to how it will deal with the Brotherhood. It can either open the social and political arena allowing for greater participation, or it can continue to increase repression that may result in a cycle of violence that will lead to further societal degradation.

state. Since the 2011 uprising, the Brotherhood has undergone several organisational and ideological changes.

In the days following the uprising, when the level of political openness was at its height, the Brotherhood announced the inception of its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party which would bring younger members to the fore.

This moment of openness and engagement began to replace the perception that Islamism was insular, rather it is an ideology that could engage pluralistic approaches to justice and development. The Brotherhood was no longer the opposition to the state.

Yet, in the past two years, the post-revolution pendulum has swung in the opposite direction where Egypt has seen the dismissal of a parliament, the removal of Egypt's first democratically elected president, the increased politicisation of the judiciary, the bloodiest massacre of Egyptians at the hands of the state, increasing media censorship, the incarceration of over 40,000 political prisoners, mass death sentences, the banning of protests, the closing of most Brotherhood social welfare programmes, and most critically, the establishment of a social environment that suffocates any public political discourse.

This has an adverse affect on society, but most critically on the Brotherhood.

Since the election of President Sisi, much of the top three tiers of the Brotherhood hierarchy have either been sentenced to death, life in prison, or are in exile; essentially leaving the Brotherhood with a series of temporary leaders who remain unclear and fluid.

Yet, under the increasing repression facing Egypt, the revolutionary fervour has been replaced with a level of mistrust of the democratic process, and a belief that the Brotherhood hierarchy is not in control, with much of the Brotherhood leadership [in a formal capacity] outside of the country.

With a return to the Brotherhood being perceived as the opposition to the state, the Brotherhood is in a moment of crisis where a lack of clear leadership, coupled with a social atmosphere that limits alternate voices, may encourage the youth of the Brotherhood to resort to violence for they have developed a lack of trust in democratic avenues of change that have been closed to them.

Although the leadership has continued to call for peaceful protests and a continued commitment to the

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democratic process and its foundational ideas of gradualism and peacefulness, members of the disenfranchised youth are beginning to argue for the use of violence against the state repression.

And as younger members find themselves increasingly disenfranchised from their state, as well as, from the Brotherhood core ideology itself, the generational and ideological divide may undermine an already weakened structure. And in a state of alienation and repression and limited choice, violence against symbols of the state may ensue.

Today the Sisi regime must make a critical calculation as to how it will deal with the Brotherhood. It can either open the social and political arena allowing for greater participation, or it can continue to increase repression that may result in a cycle of violence that will lead to further societal degradation.

A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood movement holds a placard showing Morsi during a demonstration [Getty Images]

Khalil al-Anani,  Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, author of  Unpacking the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity, and Politics

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood faces a profound crisis. Divisions over vision and strategy between the old guard and new generation have become visible and could threaten the unity of the old group.

These divisions had been simmering for a while, and it was only a matter of time before they came to the surface.

In February 2014, with many of MB leaders behind bars, in exile, or on the run, the young members of the Brotherhood selected a steering committee in order to run the movement's affairs particularly the weekly protests against Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's repressive regime.

Although the new committee recognised the leadership of Mohamed Badie, the group's imprisoned supreme guide, it  marginalised many heavyweight figures such as Mahmoud Ezzat, Badie's deputy and Mahmoud Hussein, the former secretary-general of the movement.

Ultimately, the Brotherhood’s current crisis will radically reshape the movement’s internal dynamics and ultimately put the future of the movement at a crossroad.

The committee has introduced changes to the movement's long-standing strategy of tolerating regime repression. It embraced a bolder approach by encouraging its members to challenge regime repression by all means including  low-level violence as a self-defence mechanism.  This also includes targeting police vehicles and personnel, and calling for civil disobedience.

The shift in the Brotherhood's strategy angered the movement's old guards who issued recent statements emphasising the peacefulness of the Brotherhood.

Not only did the old generation realise the consequences of using violence against the regime and its impact on the Brotherhood's image and credibility, but it also sought to maintain its control over the movement.

The division inside the Brotherhood comes at a time when Sisi's regime is struggling to survive. Sisi failed miserably in achieving any success economically, socially, or politically.  

Also, the shift in regional alliances and balance of power don't seem to be working in his favour. With the dramatic changes in Saudi's royal court and the improved ties with Turkey and Qatar, Sisi seems to be losing much of the regional backing he once had.

That said, Saudi Arabia remains reluctant to improve ties with the Brotherhood despite their common interests in Yemen and Syria.

And despite these regional changes, Sisi's strategy to divide the Brotherhood seems to be working. The brutal repression coupled with mass death sentences against President Morsi and other Brotherhood leaders have put much pressure on the group's rank-and-file. It might also push many of its young members towards violence,  a strategy that the Brotherhood has avoided over the past two years until the recent crisis unfolded.

Ultimately, the Brotherhood's current crisis will reshape the movement's internal dynamics radically and put the future of the movement at a crossroad.


Shadi Hamid, Fellow at Brookings Institute, author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East

What we've seen after the coup is a shift in a different direction. Is it possible for a gradualist organisation like the Brotherhood to become a revolutionary organisation? That's the key question right now.

You have tensions between the leadership in exile and the younger Muslim Brotherhood activists inside of Egypt. The leadership has been forced to follow the lead of those on the ground.

Younger Brotherhood members inside of Egypt are the ones who are taking this more revolutionary approach that views the Egyptian state as the enemy to be destroyed.

Let’s say you're 60 years old and you’ve been in the Brotherhood for 40 years. That's 40 years of internalising the Brotherhood’s ideas and method of change. If you're 22 and you've been in the Brotherhood for two years, you're more open to alternative approaches that diverge from the Brotherhood's historical approach.

I think the Brotherhood is forced to become somewhat more revolutionary. A senior Brotherhood leader told me that he thinks one of the biggest (Brotherhood) mistakes was believing that Egypt could be fixed gradually by working within the system.

Even the leadership in exile is increasingly using this kind of language. So what does that mean in practice? It means no reconciliation with the regime, it means continuous protests, and it means that there is no faith in what we would call 'normal' politics.

That's where the Brotherhood is at now. Obviously, it's not a great fit for what is and has been a gradualist organisation.

There were internal elections held within the Brotherhood both inside and outside of Egypt. They elected a new secret de facto murshid (supreme guide) who apparently - from what I understand - was elected with the understanding that he would be more responsive towards the youths' revolutionary sentiment.

There were also elections within the leadership in exile. One important shift is that the long-time Brotherhood strongman Mahmud Hussein was effectively sidelined.

And that's a demand that many Brotherhood youth were emphasising for the last year and a half. They saw Hussein as an embodiment of all that had gone wrong with the Brotherhood.

The Brotherhood's options are really limited now. No one thinks that the Brotherhood should think about contesting parliamentary elections. To even propose such a thing wouldn't make sense in the context of where Egypt currently is.

If they can't be involved in normal politics, they have to be involved in extra-legal politics if you will. Naturally, that's going to be more confrontational.

It's going to involve things like sit-ins, demonstrations, essentially trying to weaken the regime and to show the regime that they're not going anywhere.

Going beyond that, you have a portion of the Brotherhood youth that are supporting "defensive violence" and that is something we'll have to watch very closely going forward.

It is also something that Brotherhood leaders in exile are uncomfortable with. But they are limited in what they can do because they are out of the country and the traditional Brotherhood hierarchy has been broken.

Let’s say you're 60 years old and you've been in the Brotherhood for 40 years. That's 40 years of internalising the Brotherhood’s ideas and method of change. If you're 22 and you've been in the Brotherhood for two years, you're more open to alternative approaches that diverge from the Brotherhood’s historical approach.

There are a lot of Brotherhood members now in exile, especially in Istanbul. Having a certain group in exile offers an opportunity to think more long-term away from the day-to-day challenges of living and surviving in Egypt.

A lot of it is a waiting game until the circumstances change. In terms of the day to day operations of the Brotherhood, their role is obviously limited. They have to be careful about not alienating those who are operating on the local level.

Source: Al Jazeera