Cairo, Egypt – The opening session of Egypt’s post-revolutionary parliament, as it has come to be called, was widely greeted with hope. Even non-supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) could not help but express satisfaction with a parliament headed by prominent MB member Saad El-Katatny, who was detained under the Mubarak regime and sat outside of the previous parliament’s sessions as a protester. However, the swiftness with which the MB distanced itself from its reformist role and its history of political suffering and allied itself with the ruling military regime came as a surprise to even the group’s critics.
In recent history, the MB has been a strong reformist voice. It is a skilled political group, and to its credit suffered under the Mubarak regime for its demand for the sort of democratic institutions that would allow it to harness its popularity and gain power. A principled and patient group however, the MB was willing to wait as the situation changed to the extent needed rather than risk its survival by pushing too hard when the political future was uncertain.
Under the Mubarak regime, rumours often circulated of deals made by top members of the Brotherhood with the government to secure silence on part of the MB in exchange for measured freedoms for the group. In the years leading up to the revolution, young members of the group accused their leaders of turning a blind eye when they were detained in exchange for benefits from the government. Along with a realisation that the MB was not dedicated to change to the extent that they had in mind, this was one of the reasons that many young members split from the group prior to the revolution.
The saddle and the donkey
The historical memory of the MB and its leaders is often painted to suit their interests. In the weeks following the revolution, Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian went from mosque to mosque telling audiences of the group’s suffering under Mubarak and giving the MB overstated credit for the revolution when in fact it was the young dissidents of the Brotherhood who were among the key instigators of real change.
This selective history-making is not new to the Brotherhood; in a reflection of the group’s history, former Deputy Supreme Guide Mohamed Habib suggested that the MB’s suppression under the Presidency of Gamal Abdel Nasser was due to their support for democracy, where in fact there is no evidence of the group’s advocacy for any sort of democratic measures prior to more recent decades.
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A current case engulfing parliament, surrounding MP Ziad El-Eliamy, one of the few young revolutionary representatives, illustrates the MB’s quick stray from justice. In a speech he made in Port Said, the city where nearly 100 soccer fans were killed during a match a few weeks ago, Eliemy used a common Arab saying to question the approach that was being taken to address the massacre: “Why do we always leave the donkey, and hold on to the saddle?”
The point that Eleimy was making was clear to those present – he felt that excessive concern with the local governor and security officials of Port Said would not tackle the root of the problem, but that higher powers should also be questioned. When asked by an audience member who the “donkey” was, Eleimy responded with: “The Field General”.
In addition, Eleimy criticised the salafi sheikh, Mohamed Hassan, who has gained recent fame for his suggestion that the Egyptian people should gather money and give it to the government to replace a need for military and economic aid from the United States. Hassan has been gathering this money for over a week; donation boxes for his cause can be found around Cairo.
Hassan’s nonsensical proposal comes in the context of a current case against American and Egyptian non-profit workers for a series of charges, including illegal financing. State media has used the case inaccurately to illustrate negative US influence on Egyptian sovereignty and to distract audiences from more pressing issues facing the country.
During a recent parliamentary session, MP Mustafa Bakri pointed out the statements made by Eleimy and demanded that he publicly apologise; Katany backed Bakri. Since the round-about apology that ensued was not considered sufficient, the case of Eleimy was referred to a higher committee that will hear his defence. This decision was greeted by a thunderous applause from parliament members.
The case of Eleimy may not have been as significant were it not for the fact that Bakri, the same MP who forcefully demanded that Eleimy be held accountable for his remarks, had stood in parliament days before and slandered former Presidential Candidate Mohamed El-Baradei as an American agent. In response to the spectacle, several MPs suggested that it would be inconsistent with parliamentary guidelines and unjust to hold Eleimy to his statements in such an aggressive manner, while disregarding the slanderous statements made by Bakri.
The request for an apology from Bakri was overwhelmingly voted against by Parliament. The difference between the statements made by Bakri and Eleimy is that Bakri was not criticising a member of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which the MB has seemingly formed a close alliance with, nor was he criticising an Islamist. Rather, Bakri was slandering a symbol of the Egyptian revolution in the same way that the Mubarak regime had and that SCAF and state media continue to.
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The case illustrates the height of the MB’s hypocrisy and its lack of dedication to democratic principles. When the popularity of the revolution and its imminent success became evident, the MB was quick to express support. It soon became clear, however, that SCAF had not hastened the resignation of Mubarak for the sake of the revolution, but rather for its own self-interest.
The ruling body has been using its tools to rather successfully slander the image of those who instigated the revolution and continue to fight for its cause. As it became evident that the more powerful force is SCAF as opposed to the revolutionaries, the MB has distanced itself from the youth and their causes and is rumoured to be negotiating with SCAF behind the scenes on many issues, including the future form of the Egyptian government.
The MB was one of Baradei’s earliest supporters when he expressed interest in running against Hosni Mubarak for presidency in 2010 and founded the National Association for Change (NAC). In fact, Katatny himself was a signatory of the NAC on behalf of the Brotherhood. As SCAF and state media spread propaganda about the revolutionary figure, and his resulting decreasing popularity among segments of the population became clear, the MB distanced itself from the leader.
Silence on part of the Brotherhood as an MP echoed a slander that had been created and used by the Mubarak regime against a man who they had closely associated themselves with before again highlights the hypocritical nature of the Islamist-run parliament.
It has become increasingly clear in recent months that SCAF did not remove Mubarak so that it could support the revolution, but so that it could protect itself and secure its own power and interests; in this they have thus far been successful, partly due to the near-majority parliamentary election of the MB, a group that has used the power that the people have entrusted it with to form alliances, make deals and emulate the previous regime in manipulating its position to further entrench its authority.
SCAF has been steering the Egyptian people away from a path to democracy and has been distracting citizens with superficial issues, rather than working to establish a proper layout for a democratic state. The Supreme Administrative Court recently deemed Egypt’s parliament unconstitutional and referred the case to the High Constitutional Court; the additional failure of the MB-dominated parliament to prove itself as a truly democratic body may add to the opposition building against the institution in its current form. As the revolution continues, some foresee the need to break the dominating rule of SCAF as well as the MB before real progress can be made.
Sarah Mousa graduated from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in 2010, and was a 2010-2011 Fulbright Scholar in Egypt.