In the first parliamentary elections after Mr. Mubarak’s overthrow in February 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood’s newly formed Freedom and Justice Party had won nearly half the seats in the People’s Assembly. The Muslim Brotherhood, had, over the two previous years, gained political expansion in parliament. The Brotherhood entered into a coalition with other Islamist parties including two Salafist parties, forming an Islamist bloc, but their experience ended with their removal from power and significant changes in the structure of the Brotherhood.
Based on the political programs of the Islamist parties in Egypt, this article seeks to analyze the experience of Islamists in power by focusing on their practical perceptions of the Islamist political system.
The article concludes that the political Islamist organizations lacked a coherent mechanism to propel them from the stage of the organization’s (political party) management to a stage of state administration. Egyptian Islamist groups had no specific perception of the nature of the state, or of an applied model to implement the “Islamic state.” Although these groups had a declared project, which they had been attempting to establish for decades, their focus was solely on discussing the expected outcome they had hoped to achieve, while neglecting to elaborate on how their affairs could be run, once in power. This shortfall was due to an accumulation of the multiple problems the groups had faced, whether they be conceptual reasons of state, power issues, or the organizational obstacles strewn along the paths of the components that comprised the group, which had prevented them, over decades, from overcoming them. Hence, the traditional mechanisms they continued to apply while in power proved inadequate in responding to the crises inherent in the experience of government. They failed to introduce new mechanisms to address the issues as dictated by the necessity for practical experience and solutions once they had attained power.
EGYPTIAN ISLAMISTS IN POWER
From an analysis of the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood, as a model that had reached the height of power, it is evident that this organization could not maintain the pillars of state left over from the Mubarak era, since it lacked the competent administrative framework and corps necessary to competently carry out the duties involved. This resulted in an effective control by the state of the framework that guided political decision-making and in a lack of innovative solutions, exacerbating the increasing problems inherited from the Mubarak regime and the absence of a practical program of effective governance. That being the situation, the Brotherhood sought to domesticate the positions of power by attempting to introduce a gradual reform of the organization, the most salient features of which were the absence of any revolutionary decisions.
In light of this, an analysis is necessary of how the Muslim Brotherhood, as the largest Islamist group, was able to reach power in the first instance, how it responded to the affairs of state once power had been attained, the factors that affected the crisis the Brotherhood experienced while in power, its interactions with other Islamist groups throughout the experience of power, the most prominent repercussions of this experience, and the issues the organization faced.
The Brotherhood’s political experience has given the opportunity to identify more closely—theoretically and practically—the nature of the Islamic state model, in accordance with the understanding of Islamic components on the issue of Shari’a and the modality of its application in the light of Islamists’ experience in establishing parties that obtained the majority of parliamentary seats in 2011. In general, the experience of these groups in power has put calls for the Islamic project and its subsequent recognition into question. In analyzing the programs of Egypt’s Islamic parties in terms of the application of Shari’a, the following aspects become apparent:
The requirements of the political system: The positions of the Islamic parties varied according to the type of system they sought to implement, although some parties, including al-Wasat al-Nour, and al- Bena’wal-Tanmiya did not specify their positions; al-Hurriyah wal-Adalah, al-Asalah and al-Fadyla agreed that the parliamentary system was the optimal one (Shalata 2012, 104–8). However, when looking at references to the parliamentary system, the parties did not disagree on the importance of applying Shari’a, but rather about the proposed formula of its application. The parties of al-Nour, al-Asalah, al-Fadyla, and al-Bena’ wal-Tanmiya agreed that the principles of Islamic law were the main sources of legislation.1 The party of al-Wasat did not explicitly admit to the Islamic reference, choosing instead to focus on the content rather than the form, and to include the higher goals and objectives without referring to the referential assets of these formulations.2
The role of the state in the application of Shari’a: Islamic parties were divided into two groups in their visions for this application. Al-Hurriyah wal-Adalah and al-Bena’ wal-Tanmiya assigned the issue to the elected legislatures on the basis that any change in the state must respect the constitutional legitimacy3 By contrast, al-Nour and al-Fadyla assigned the issue to the state’s religious, cultural, and media institutions after legalizing their role in protecting Islamic identity and monitoring the entire society.
Community mechanisms in the application of the Shari’a: Views have varied on it. There are those who called for the need to prepare the community to implement Shari’a through educational and cultural programs, as pointed out by al-Bena’ wal-Tanmiya, which argued for the important role of religious institutions and called for community development. In turn, al-Asalah called for the reform of conceptual and social values, as well as achieving social justice, in line with al-Hurriyah wal-Adalah.
THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD AND THE CRISIS OF POWER
Numerous conceptual and organizational issues impacted the coalition’s political performance during its time in power. These issues contributed to the state of controversy that arose between its followers as well as between the parties that made up the coalition itself. An integral aspect of the crisis suffered by the Brotherhood while in power was an inability to manage community diversity. Hence, instead of opening up to the civil forces in general and Islamic parties, in particular, they closed onto themselves and antagonized most political components both Islamic and civil groups alike. This was the result of two decades-old opposing trends within the extreme Salafi components that continue to prevail over the group’s conceptual path. The controversy is longstanding and existed even prior to the revolution. The beginning of the public debate on the changes to the Brotherhood’s reference was in a television interview with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi concerning Sayyed Qutb (Rashwan 2009) in which Sheikh Qaradawi pointed out that the ideas about takfiri (unbelievers) found in Qutb’s writings do not conform to the approach of the ahl al-Sunnah and Jama’a groups. Al-Qaradawi confirmed that these writings do not correspond to the thinking of the Muslim Brotherhood, as it does not include the principle of takfir (disbelief). This discussion resulted in a controversy storm, wherein the group’s leaderships commented on Qaradawi and refuted his words, confirming that Islam, not Qutb, governs people and classifies them, that the issues of takfir and governance are stable among scholars, and that Qutb’s writings were not in contradiction with Islam4; thus, Qutb did not deviate from the ahl al-Sunnah and Jama’a’s approach. Therefore, Salafism became not only an active movement, but even the most effective and influential of the movements within the Brotherhood (Tammam 2010a). Over the past five years, the group produced some so-called Salafist discourses, and used them politically to promote its policies between the components within the Salafist community spectrum in more than one instance and throughout different stages. In addition, the group used the Salafist movement’s symbols (Shalata 2016a, 260–73) to promote its candidates during the second round of parliamentary elections, as well as to respond to the opponents of Salafism and to raise the issue of whether Mohamed Morsi was a legitimate governor. The group also used the identity discourse indirectly at varying stages, despite the fact that Salafists defected when they did so.
Another aspect that contributed to the crisis the Brotherhood experienced relates to the interpretation and understanding of concepts and theories and the repercussions these had on political practices; this relates to the organization’s tendency to distinguish between the idea of the “nation” as the basis for achieving the Islamic Caliphate (the Succession) and the National State project, which was at various times at variance with the immediate political positions the organization took (Tammam 2010b, 8–15). The group initially represented a movement for social change. Hassan al-Banna was interested in developing and reforming the social system before changing the political system, as he believed that reforming the latter depended on first reforming the former. Hence, attention was directed mainly to the nation and not to governance (Habib 2009, 27–28), although the idea of the nation as a goal towards the realization of the Caliphate project or the Islamic state dominated. Moreover, some of the external positions were based on the organization’s stance on certain issues, while others were linked to the negative attitude of foreign countries towards the group, which was reflected in the foreign countries’ policies towards Egypt. Other positions were conservative about the idea of the revolutionary movement changing the regime, seeing it as posing an internal threat in the event of expanding the revolution. Therefore, the failure of foreign policies resulted from interference between internal and external affairs, whereby the vision and positions of external parties were reflected internally on the parties in conflict so as to tighten the screws on the Muslim Brotherhood and their international project. Hence, the foreign policy outlook in the near term was concerned about “reshaping the system of foreign alliances according to the group’s ideology and values” (Zaid 2014).
Later, developments in the political scene during the post-Morsi period prompted internal intellectual controversies relating to rules about the nature of change and how change should be implemented and represented a setback to the group’s constants. Awareness of change was both general and abstract.5 Objectives were clear but they were general and lacked the appropriate strategies and mechanisms to be achieved. Discussions about change were unclear as were the priorities of the moment on other issues. However, the sudden change in the political scene after 25 January 2011 forced the group to come to grips with the situation. This was not understood by all levels of the group since revolutionary change was not on its agenda and that division was reflected in the political interactions of the group when its positions collided with the aspirations of the revolutionary elements within it. The latter saw the need to undertake revolutionary steps to bring about reform and change, but unfortunately, this did not happen as the group worked at a slow pace. This had its impact on Morsi’s political performance throughout his reign. However, after the confrontations in the post-isolation phase, it was normal that the gradual reform approach would be extinguished, as it was overtaken by the immediate moment and required decisive confrontation.6 The time was no longer one of call but of movement and was in line with the revolutionary ideas of Sayyed Qutb, which extended between the group’s sectors. The ongoing intellectual dispute led to a disagreement within the movement and created a continuous organizational division for the third year running.
EXPERIENCE AND INTERACTION
Experience in governance is important since it represents an opportunity to put theoretical narratives and reflections on the conceptual framework for the implementation of ideas and perceptions to a practical test. Hence, when the Brotherhood reached power and the experience it had gained came into play, the organization entered the third phase of its life cycle: the phase of administrative “bureaucracy.” How they interacted at this point as a result of their experiences is discussed on several levels as follows:
Relationship with the Salafist Movement
The manifestations of group’s intellectual transformation and the political repercussions it had in relation to the most salient components of Salafism, specifically the Salafist Call, led to existential conflicts between the Brotherhood and the Salafist Call and to a notion of mutual superiority, as manifested in two ways.7 First, the Salafist Call considered itself as the most righteous organization and the one that adhered most closely to the proper approach, as compared to the Muslim Brotherhood whose approach and doctrine they considered exaggerated (Shalata 2016b, 49). Secondly, this matter primarily concerned the Salafist tributary, one of the intellectual components of the Muslim Brotherhood. This tributary strengthened the Muslim Brotherhood’s wish to understand the thought of the Call in consideration of the Salafist approach that they shared. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood acted as the chief group. This prompted the Salafist Call to systematically differentiate itself politically in its positions from the Brotherhood, whereby it “always sought to clash with the Muslim Brotherhood’s positions in order to consolidate the idea of differentiation.”8 In practice, the Muslim Brotherhood reflected this in their use of a clear Salafi discourse during their governance to attract direct support from Salafist factions, as was the case for al-Fadyla, al-Asalah, and their supporting sheikhs, Mohammed Abdel Maqsoud and Fawzi El Sa’eed, as well as indirect support from the revolutionary Salafist groups such as Hazemun. Their relationship suffered many successive shocks that sometimes resulted in enthusiasm from some elements, and reservations from others, ending with the participation of the al-Nour party in announcing Morsi’s isolation. This rendered Morsi unable to justify his position.9 He was subjected to severe criticism from his popular base and by the majority of Islamists, in general. Many resignations from different administrative levels were presented.10
Official Religious Institutions
A state of crisis prevailed within the official religious sphere between the state and the Islamist groups who sought to gain greater control and direction. This was a significant area where social ideas are easily expanded in spite of their diverse references and objectives. Al-Azhar adopted a calm stance in the face of the political Islamist groups, since its grand sheikh wished to be recognized as the “reference,” not only as an imam of “ahl al-Sunnah” but as an imam of “all Egyptians.”11 However, in reality the group’s hostility towards the person of al-Tayyeb, al-Azhar’s grand sheikh, had been escalating since Mubarak had stepped down and this continued up to the isolation of Morsi. Therefore, given this weakened relationship and the symbolic excesses against al-Azhar, the situation seemed to be an attempt to reduce the role of al-Tayyeb, either isolate him by the authority, or to undermine his role such that he would resign and be replaced by the minister of Awqaf. The strategy adopted was to ignore him in the protocols and in the membership of the First Constituent Assembly of the Constitution, and to direct a position of disregard towards the Tamarrod movement. After Morsi’s isolation, al-Tayyeb initiated a peace initiative, but the group’s attack against him escalated. The group described al-Azhar as having been kidnapped by its sheikh and declared that any initiative he proposed would not be acceptable.12 A similar conflict of a political nature occurred in the Ministry of Awqaf and Dar al-Ifta’, although the situation in the latter assumed a personal character, especially given the intensity of confrontations that they had had with the former mufti Ali Goma’a. These confrontations increased between the two parties as a result of the incitement by the mufti in his positions against Islamists in response to the latter’s views of his actions.13 Attempts by Islamist groups to control this institution were evident from their actions and from the political escalation against the mufti.14
The Coptic Church
During the period when the Muslim Brotherhood held power, its relationship and that of the entire Islamic bloc with the Coptic church was a test for preachings of tolerance and the civil state, especially given the Islamic jurisprudential view toward the Copts and the absence of a modern political and civil perspective based on citizenship and the rule of law. This rendered the fate and the rights of the Copts subject to the religious interpretations of the Islamists (Rumman 2013, 148). Therefore, the relationship with the church and the Islamic bloc was rife with confusion and skepticism resulting from an extremist religious heritage among some of them, and a political heritage that saw the church as a state within the state enjoying privileges that were not available to the majority of people. Thus, there were calls for the imposition of taxes on Copts, and for the limiting of public posts available to them, thereby relegating them to a status of second-class citizens (Borhami 2012; Rahman 2013; Fawzi 2013). These facts prompted the church to participate in demonstrations, despite its previous refusal to participate in those of 25 January 2011. Despite the rumors about the pressure exerted by the Muslim Brotherhood and the presidency to prevent the Copts’ descent onto the streets and to use the old system itself to reduce the Copts in their religious symbols, Pope Tawadros, stressing the Church’s spiritual role, settled the situation by confirming that the Copts were not a flock to be “directed” in demonstrations (Habib 2016; Suleiman 2013).
Isolated from power, the Muslim Brotherhood entered a phase of “retreat” that was reflected by the Islamist components in general and on several levels:
In terms of the Brotherhood’s administrative cohesion, its political performance in the pre- and post-Morsi period was reflected in the organization’s rules. There were several organizational changes most notably in the rise of the younger generation to the top of the movement. This change reflected the difference between the project of both parties and their proposed strategy for an ideal movement suited to the ongoing political crisis, and the question was posed of whether it was a peaceful movement or a revolutionary one. One of the repercussions of this situation was that there were two parallel leaderships and two conflicting media programs, with each of them having their separate websites and media spokespersons to express their projects.15 This organizational fragmentation continued as long as the official position of the state refused any reconciliation with the organization.
With regard to the Islamist bloc, despite the participation of a Salafist component and the Salafist Call to isolate Morsi, the facts were that the Islamist bloc was not in a position to either accept or reject. It was left with two options: either to agree and then to continue without constraint, or to be in confrontation with the regime, and be arrested. This interim predicament was due to two things:
The regime sought to refute the Islamists’ claims that this was a war on Islam and was not a political conflict. The presence of the al-Nour party, being the second largest Muslim parliamentary force after the Muslim Brotherhood, was therefore necessary.
The Salafist Call insisted throughout Morsi’s governance on the political presence of a religious representative in Egyptian politics as an alternative to the group that “overstated the law of God.” Therefore, by removing the Muslim Brotherhood, its goal was almost achieved. The future of the Salafist movement was related to developments that would take place—positive or negative—on several variables, the most important of which were the nature of the crisis, the political solution, the authoritarian attitude of the religious movement in general, and the ability of the principal Salafist components to institutionalize their organizational work and to develop their movement, as well as the position of the Salafist bloc in regard to both the regime in place and the political action to follow (Shalata 2016b, 175–82).
For decades now, the jihadist discourse has been determining its view of how to achieve change faster and better by focusing on the idea of armed and secret action as a means to an end. The group had reservations about the possibility of change ever coming about through political action, seeing how the Arab revolutions had been crushed. Hence, organizations such as Al-Qaeda had “ideologically adapted” Arab revolutions, finding that even the minimum gain was a better “opportunity” for action to reach the greater goal, as long as the jihadist movement’s ability was weighted to action and prominence. With the state of revolutionary openness and its organizational implications for various groups, the jihadist mood continued to be dominant among Islamist groups, despite attempts by some jihadists to form a political party (Habib 2012). Subsequently, Islamists’ practices after 25 January 2011 have fed this jihadist mood in one way or another. This has been illustrated by the following:
Mohammed Morsi’s isolation granted the jihadist groups the kiss of life. They reaffirmed their previous view that what happened was a war against Islam, and that jihad is the only means to struggle.
The confrontations between the revolutionaries and some of the toppling regimes and the calls for jihad created an atmosphere that allowed the practice of jihad on a large-scale and in a somewhat formal manner (Kamel et al. 2012).
The practices adopted by both the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists supported the pre-jihadi convictions that it had been a mistake for them to enter the political arena in the first instance and justified their subsequent abandonment of participatory politics as seen in practice.
In general, current jihadist developments reflect the actual threat of qualitative change in the jihadist scene and the nature of those who join it, especially since some of them had no Islamic background, unlike previous generations who fluctuated between Islamist groups, and who then settled in different jihadist organizations. This refers to the role of political paths at home and abroad in feeding these violent ideas to young people who had no previous ties to any Islamist groups (Kassab 2014).16
STRUCTURAL AND ORGANIZATIONAL ASPECTS
There were many aspects to the changes that affected the Muslim Brotherhood’s structure after their experience in power and what accompanied and ensued from their conflict with the “state.” The main internal challenges are those associated with traditional organizational constants, as follows:
The experience has led to the question of the continuity of the group’s central ideological constants, such as its comprehensive nature as a “pan-Islamic body” representing an important source of strength for the group at large, especially in the face of the criticism that has been leveled against it and the call for the separation of its political, advocacy, and social roles. Furthermore, its jurisprudential position about women, in a context in which the phenomenon of “activity sisters” is considerable, especially with their mutually intensive confrontation with the system for the first time in attempting to raise a debate about whether the group intends to adhere to the old relationship of management and the limited political role afforded women, or to enact a religious law that would allow more women to be integrated into the group’s senior administrative positions, in light of the success of the “sisters” in keeping the group’s body active, despite all the constraints.17
The Muslim Brotherhood has suffered from internal divisions and from the limited geographical extent of their anti-street activity, their weak operational activity, a declining volume of support, and numerous funding crises. In addition, there has been a split over the notion of the use of violence, especially as the relationship between the group and the regime worsens, thereby further fueling the motives for violence. We believe that the notion of the use of violence and its expansion is present in the ideology of the Islamic movement in general and that and at the heart of it is the Muslim Brotherhood; the potential areas of violence—theoretically or practically—are inversely linked to the political and societal spaces open to the organization. Hence, the lack of space as regard the organization and the narrow options it has available to it have increased the chances of breaking the organizational grip on its members, thus increasing the chances of further outbreaks of violence that we believe will be individualized, even if the number of these individuals increases. In other words, organization is likely to return to what it was in the 1960s, with the revival of private organizations, especially now that the political sphere has gone further beyond this idea than it was formerly. Therefore, the most optimal and logical options for those who left the organization would be to link up with jihadist groups such as the supporters of the so-called Islamic State (Da’ish) in Sinai or other groups of the interior as well as outside groups, in light of the available supportive contexts such groups offer.
The group’s central challenge is in its ability to create a political vision that governs its course, especially since this vision is related to the modality of the group’s management of its internal conflicts, as well as its ability to conduct its negotiations with the regime in light of the ongoing battle between them. The basic question that remains to be answered in regard to its popular bases relates to what has been done in terms of retribution to the victims of the current confrontations. In addition to this is the problem of the nature of the group’s interaction with the local community and how acceptable the group is in its position on political/community work.
The issue of whether the organization is able to construct a political discourse that goes beyond the decades-old “plight” of the group’s discourse is a major challenge, as is its ability to manage its external movement in the light of growing demands for religious rights, freedoms, and changes in the balance of international and regional powers and their discourses on the fight against terrorism and religious groups, which has become the priority of the current US administration and its allies.18
In light of the presentation above of Islamist groups in Egypt and their experience of more than six years of continuous clashes with political life in that country, it seems evident that their practices have confirmed the continuation of their shortcomings and the impact these have had on their Islamic project and performance in more than one dimension. This represents tremendous challenges for them, on several fronts, as follows:
On the intellectual/conceptual front, experience has confirmed the crisis of the Islamic movement in terms of diversity in the consideration of state tools, roles, and purposes, and this has extended to the concept of Shari’a, the practices of which have shown lack of clarity in the determination of frameworks and the modality of implementation. This was the result of the absence of concepts of law governing the modern state with its role, place, and function in social and political organization. In practice, the perception of the Islamic state was absent, and this was demonstrated in the constitutional experiences, in which the practical conception of the constitutionality of law was absent, except in the preaching discourse that they relied upon for years to incite their popular bases. There was confusion in practice between the constitution and the law, with hopes of legalizing the details in the constitution—disregarding the natural position of both law and constitution.
In the face of this confusion in their interaction, Islamists’ attempts to reconcile what they wished to achieve in terms of their visions, the heritage of their preaching and past practice, with what could be achieved in the context of the political and religious transformations under way, without the existence of clear rules and standards governing these positions, hindered the Islamic sector’s desire for political continuity. A good example to illustrate the dilemma is the status of the application of Shari’a in 2012 and 2013 and the practices and interactions of Salafist components in both experiences.
The Islamists bore the brunt of the major part of the intellectual crisis. The Call emphasized the superiority of Islamic laws without much awareness of the existence of quantitative and qualitative weaknesses in the upper echelons of these movements. This was the result of long-established negative attitudes towards the social sciences, which impeded them from maturing their vision in a way that enabled the presentation of any in-depth research appropriate for contemporary reality.
As for the practical aspects, the ideological confusion that emerged from Islamist practices has had implications on their constitutional and executive practices as follows:
Despite the negative attitude of Islamist groups towards Iran, they still sought to replicate the Iranian experience in their “reference of the religious state” as represented by al-Azhar al-Shareef—an institution about which they have many basic reservations, and which they had previously rejected on the pretext of the absence of any organized church existing in Islam—as an alternative to the modern constitutional frameworks represented by reference institutions such as a parliament and the supreme constitutional court.
The absence of Islamists from the higher state positions led to the lack of any opportunity to develop a clear vision of state administration, in that they had no knowledge of its practical structure. A large part of this deficiency was due to security/political strategies of preventing the promotion of anyone who had an Islamic orientation to senior management positions. Hence, this was reflected in the lack of high-level competent executive officials who could replace those in the former regime, and this lack was reflected in the performance of the Islamists when they progressed politically and subsequently took over the reins of government.
In addition to these challenges, the most prominent one of all is to improve and enhance the mental image of Islamists in society at large after their negative performance while in power. Furthermore, with openness to the knowledge and benefits from the contributions of Islamists in similar experiences, they may in the future review and reissue the application of Shari’a to suit the community.
In respect to how the Muslim Brotherhood’s shortcomings during their experience in power led to their failure, this study has revealed the following:
The priority of the Muslim Brotherhood on maintaining the primary consideration of the organization as the most important capital of the Islamic project dominated the way it ran state affairs, as though the state should be run according to the same logic as running the organization itself.
Islamists were seen as being the key group that must lead and that others must support. Hence, this brought about the fragmentation of the Islamic bloc; some components of which were used against others. Even though some components did come close to the higher circles of power, they still remained on the periphery.
Various aspects of the experience of Islamists in their short time in power need to be further investigated both in terms of the performance of their deputies in parliament and the analysis of their laws and the projects they presented. The same applies to their performance in senior administrative positions in the presidency, ministries, and governorates. Evaluation of their experience in service jobs, in the future, will help to better understand their experience in a dispassionate manner. Ending the crisis the group is experiencing with the current system is a prerequisite to such an evaluation.