Outlawing the Brotherhood reflects a total failure to understand the historical complexities of the group’s evolution.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is in an abysmal state. The movement, which was for decades the most powerful opposition party in Egypt, is now facing tremendous challenges and struggles not only to survive, but also to maintain its unity and coherence.
The unprecedented repression and elimination policy of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi‘s regime against the movement has tremendously affected its influence and public image. However, the most significant impact is on the movement’s internal organisation and integration. The Brotherhood has been largely paralysed and lost much of its organisational and mobilising capabilities.
Historically, a moderate level of repression would play in favour of the Brotherhood, which utilises it to maintain solidarity and loyalty of its members.
The mihna (adversity) narrative, that is: the collective sentiment of victimisation and suffering under regime repression helped the Brotherhood to draw support from society and enabled the leadership to control the rank-and-file and sideline dissident voices.
However, this narrative failed to achieve its mission after the removal of the Brotherhood from power in July 2013. In fact, it led to opposite effect,s as young members are increasingly feeling disenchanted with the movement’s old leadership.
Leadership rivalries and splits
Since the coup of 2013, the Brotherhood has seen myriad organisational, political and ideological divisions. Sisi’s repression has divided the movement and created significant differences among members over several issues, ranging from the position towards the regime to its political, ideological and religious views.
These divisions have shaped the Brotherhood’s strategy and tactics on how to respond to Sisi’s repression. Organisationally, with many of its senior members in prison and exile, the Brotherhood is facing a crisis of leadership. The gap between the older and younger leaders is increasing and affecting the movement’s strategy.
The current crisis within the Brotherhood is likely to continue and escalate given the current circumstances. The critical question now is not whether the movement will break apart or not but rather when.
Over the past three years, the Brotherhood has been divided into two camps: the old and conservative leaders versus the young and revolutionary members. The latter have gained influence over the movement because of their tendency to confront the regime.
In February 2014, a few months after the Brotherhood was designated as a terrorist organisation, the movement witnessed an intense power struggle and divisions over who should lead the movement and which strategy it should follow to respond to regime repression.
The new and relatively young leadership formed a committee called “The High Administrative Committee” and was led by Mohamed Kamal, a former member of Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau who was assassinated by security forces last October.
The new committee claimed leadership over the movement against veteran leaders such as Mahmoud Ezzat, the acting General Guide of the Brotherhood, who is believed to be hiding in Egypt, Mahmoud Hussein, the secretary-general of the movement, and Ibrahim Munir, who was appointed Deputy of the General Guide and has been in London since the late 1980s.
In December, the High Administrative Committee was dissolved and the formation of a new Guidance Bureau declared, which was rejected by the old leadership.
Also, for the first time in its history, the Brotherhood is divided between internal and external leadership. Senior members who fled to Turkey after the coup have formed a new office called the External Office to run and supervise the Brotherhood’s members and activities overseas.
Exiled members of the Brotherhood are also divided between the old and new leadership. These divisions have created many problems for the Brotherhood and affected its image, not only publicly but more importantly in the eyes of its members.
Political and ideological shifts
Politically, the Brotherhood is divided on how to deal with regime repression and which strategy it should adopt to remain relevant.
While the new leadership has adopted a confrontational and non-compromising position, the old leadership tends to accommodate regime repression and keeps the door open for bargaining and reconciliation with the regime.
The new leadership of the Brotherhood finds support and appeal among young members, as they see it as more revolutionary and willing to challenge the regime.
While the new leadership believes that reinstating ousted President Mohamed Morsi is a must and can’t be negotiated, the older leadership views this as a compromising issue.
Ideologically, despite the pragmatic and moderate views of the Brotherhood, the movement is witnessing some changes in its ideological and religious views.
For example, the role of religion in shaping the Brotherhood’s strategy and tactics was less visible when it was included in the political game. However, since the coup and the ensuing repression, the movement’s statements and discourse have become more conservative and zealously religious.
Nevertheless, despite the differences and divisions within the Brotherhood, the movement, at least until now, did not break apart or split, as happened in the case of the Jordanian Brotherhood. The movement in Jordan was broken up into two groups, and each one of them claims to be representing the Brotherhood.
To be sure, this is not the first time that the Brotherhood in Egypt has witnessed divisions, but it is the most significant and serious one so far.
The current crisis within the Brotherhood is likely to continue and escalate given the current circumstances. The movement is in a soul-searching moment and the critical question now is not whether it will break apart or not, but rather when.
Khalil al-Anani is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies in Qatar. He is the author of Inside the Muslim Brotherhood: Religion, Identity, and Politics.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.