Egypt: Islamists call for rejection of army coup

Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Picture: Reuters
Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Picture: Reuters
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EGYPT’S Islamists have called a “Day of Rejection” for today in an effort to harness support against what they view as a military coup, even as the army detained the leader of deposed president Mohammed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood movement.

The dramatic exit of Mr Morsi on Wednesday was greeted with delight by millions of people on the streets of Cairo and other cities overnight, but there was simmering resentment among Egyptians who opposed military intervention.

An Islamist coalition led by the Muslim Brotherhood last night appealed to Egyptians to demonstrate across the nation in a “Friday of rejection” against the military’s move.

The National Coalition in Support of Legitimacy “calls on the Egyptian people to take to the streets and mobilise peacefully” after Friday prayers “to say ‘no’ to military detentions, ‘no’ to the military coup”, a statement issued by the group read.

Perhaps aware of the risk of a polarised society, Egypt’s new interim leader, constitutional court chief judge Adli Mansour, used his inauguration yesterday to hold out an olive branch to the Brotherhood.

A technocratic interim government will be formed, along with a panel for national reconciliation, and the constitution will be reviewed. Mr Mansour said parliamentary and presidential elections would be held, but he did not specify when.

But a senior Brotherhood official said it would not work with “the usurper authorities”. Another of its politicians said Mr Morsi’s overthrow would push other groups, though not his own, to violent resistance.

The sweep against the Muslim Brotherhood leadership included the group’s top leader, a figure venerated among its followers, supreme guide Muhammad Badie.

There are fears of a violent backlash from Islamists against the army move, particularly from hardliners, some of whom belong to former armed militant groups. Clashes between Islamists and police erupted in several places around the country after the army’s announcement of Mr Morsi’s removal on Wednesday night, leaving at least nine dead.

According to security officials, also arrested were Mr Badie’s predecessor as general guide, Mehdi Akef; the head of the Brotherhood’s political party, Saad Katatni; one of Mr Badie’s deputies Rashad Bayoumi; and ultra-conservative Muslim figure Hazem Abu Ismail, who has a considerable street following.

Authorities have also issued a wanted list for more than 200 Brotherhood members and leaders of other Islamist groups. Among them is Khairat el-Shater, a businessman and another deputy of the general guide who is considered the most powerful figure in the Brotherhood.

Egypt’s armed forces have been at the heart of power since officers staged the 1952 overthrow of King Farouk.

The protests that spurred the military to step in this time were rooted in a liberal opposition that lost elections to Islamists, but their ranks were swollen by anger over broken promises on the economy and shrinking real incomes.

The downfall of Egypt’s first elected leader to emerge from the Arab Spring revolutions raised questions about the future of political Islam, which only lately seemed triumphant.

The toppling of Mr Morsi divided the Middle East yesterday, with Tunisia’s ruling Islamists denouncing it as a coup while Gulf Arab leaders celebrated.

Qatar, the only Gulf Arab state that backed Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, switched tack by welcoming the new leader.

Ewan Stein: Fate of Muslim Brotherhood tied into web of circumstances and ambitions

DOES the ouster of Mohammad Morsi, Egypt’s first elected and first Islamist president, spell the end for the Muslim Brotherhood, the world’s oldest Islamist movement? Will Islamists opt for violence in place of discredited democracy?

Much will depend on how the military deals with the Muslim Brotherhood. At the time of writing, Mr Morsi and other senior leaders, including supreme guide Muhammad Badie, have been detained, and many other leaders have been issued with travel bans.

Some in the secular camp are keen to see the Brotherhood buried once and for all. However, more heavy-handedness on the part of the military would be a mistake.

The worst-case scenario is an Algerian one, where Brotherhood members and other Islamists respond to the military’s usurpation of power with violence, viewing it as clear evidence that democracy does not work. This could see Egypt plunged into a civil war even more deadly than that in Algeria, which may have claimed some 150,000 lives.

The military’s current strategy appears to be to placate Egypt’s Islamists by turning to the official voice of Islam in Egypt, al-Azhar, as well as to other Islamist parties, most importantly the Salafi Nour Party.

Nour Party representatives co-operated with the military in drawing up its “roadmap” for transition and look forward to continuing this close relationship as intermediaries between the generals and the Islamist camp.

Many are already accusing the Nour Party of betraying the Islamist project by falling into line with the generals so quickly.

However, while the military’s coup may have decapitated the Brotherhood, the organisation’s substantial membership, and even larger latent support base, cannot so easily be neutralised.

Much will also depend on how lower-level members of the Brotherhood respond to the military coup. Morsi supporters are on the streets, railing against the subversion of democracy on the part of the military, but spokesmen nonetheless counsel restraint.

It is important to recognise that the Muslim Brotherhood has been a rigidly hierarchical organisation that demands complete compliance from its members. As an organisation forged under dictatorship it perhaps inevitably adopted secretive, exclusionary and hierarchical attributes.

For many Brotherhood members, the 2011 revolution offered the promise of internal reform as well, but that was not to be. Dissenters were ostracised or silenced.

It may be possible, if the military and transitional administration approach the Brotherhood in a spirit of inclusion and respect, that the organisation – or its political appendage, the Freedom and Justice Party – will reinvent itself as a more open and inclusive Islamist party. This could mirror the Turkish experience, where the ruling AKP emerged following the suppression of its predecessor by the military. There, too, that party had been democratically elected.

This would, in some ways, be the revolution that some within the Brotherhood were hoping for two-and-a-half years ago. But for Egypt to follow Turkey, and not Algeria, will require humility and restraint on the part of the military and Egypt’s secular politicians and activists.

• Dr Ewan Stein is programme director, MSc international relations of the Middle East at the University of Edinburgh