Four years have passed since demonstrations started in Tahrir Square and resulted in the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. During these four years Egypt has changed its president four times. The demonstrations that broke out at the time Mubarak was grooming his son to take over from him resulted in him having to vacate his own post.
Following a period where a transitional government was in place, Egyptians voted the Muslim Brotherhood candidate to power in the first free presidential elections in that country. Even if it wasn’t a landslide victory, the candidate was voted in with a democratic majority.
It took less than a year for Egyptians to realize that they were mistaken to have thought that all the changes effected by institutions and cadres of the establishment, while implementing the law, was a revolution, and mistaken in their belief in particular that members of the Muslim Brotherhood were savages. The popularly elected Mohamed Morsi was toppled in a Saudi-backed military coup and the era of oppression and suppression was set to recommence.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s historic experience in Egypt has in one way or other impacted Islamic movements in the Middle East. In the early days of the Tahrir demonstrations the seemingly timid stance adopted by the Brotherhood administration was very understandable; and it was very wary given that it was an organization constantly assaulted by the regime every time a demand for change was voiced.
The Arab Spring was a new experience for the Brotherhood, which continued to remain invisible since it had always been considered illegal despite the occasional approaches it received. It cannot be said that the Brotherhood was able to make the most of this.
In the end, its short-lived rule was ended and all that remained was the masses who were thrown into prison and shot on the streets. Harsh lessons can be learned about how cruel a dictatorial regime can become in such a process and how the West – which holds a monopoly on universal principles in order to preserve the status quo – and other Islamic countries can keep silent in the face of this.
The Brotherhood, which for the first time had become a legal party, was shut down, outlawed, then designated as a terrorist organization and had its members arrested. Thousands of volunteers who opposed this pressure were shot in the streets.
Up until now the Brotherhood has limited itself to demonstrations without resorting to clashes. Even this did not prevent the murder of thousands of people. In any event, in the Brotherhood’s long history, passive resistance has always taken precedence over violence. This is why some groups that favor violence will break away from the Brotherhood in time and shift toward other channels.
With a history that goes back almost a century, the Muslim Brotherhood, which has a clear line about its interpretation of religion, and its political and societal outlook, was never moved to imitate other movements in the Middle East despite rubbing shoulders with them.
For instance the Brotherhood maintained its distance from the Iranian revolution, which had a significant impact in the world. Even if it appreciated it, it wasn’t inclined to try and imitate it. Of course, this purity is a stance that cannot be explained on the basis of organizational rivalry. It was more to do with a strategy that was deeply rooted in conceptions of politics and society, intermingled with other factors such as the interpretation of religion.
The coup carried out by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt has cost the country dearly. Even if it seems like the administration crisis has been resolved with an iron fist, the price is a society divided right through the middle, and even more so, this divide has been marked by spilled blood. The process is not yet at an end; furthermore, it is evolving into a period that will entail more violence.
A reminder about Turkey’s experience in this context is certainly significant: Those who experienced the tensions that arose when the Welfare Party was shut down as a result of the post-modern coup will remember this. Necmettin Erbakan’s stance during that process reveals the difference between Turkey’s make up compared to other regions.
The stance that led him to say that the closure of a political party is “just one dot in the flow of history” and his discouraging of the masses from a display of violence, which would have probably ended in bloodshed, is one that needs to be highlighted.
Absent any consideration of sociological and historical factors, it wouldn’t be possible to understand the choice made by Turkey’s Islamic movements to embark on a long-distance march without giving in to violence.
Regardless of the emergence of modern violence in the region being attributed to interpretation of religion; the fact that Turkey did not experience being colonized most certainly had a role in determining the self confidence, the sense of belonging to the country, and the authenticity relationship.
The Muslim Brotherhood to this point has stood up to the military junta through passive demonstrations that don’t contain violence. Despite this the police spilled blood yet again during mass demonstrations marking the anniversary of the revolution. For the first time demonstrators showed signs that they might resort to violence while the police engaged in blood-letting. Has the Brotherhood, which until this point managed to keep the thousands who have taken to the streets from resorting to violence, abandoned this stance?
In recent events, buses were torched for the first time, and bombings, although minor, were carried out. While such stray actions can always be experienced in such widespread mass events, they might portend other developments this time.
If the broadcasts by television stations based abroad, with close ties to the Brotherhood, suggesting that demonstrators now resist the police have been made with the knowledge of the Brotherhood administration, then it is a warning flare signaling a change.
It is too early to call it a change in strategy since there has been no announcement by the administration yet. However, a shift from passive resistance to outright struggle will impact Egypt far more deeply. Furthermore, if limited violence by marginal groups becomes widespread, the consequences will be far greater than imagined.
There might be a heavy price to pay for the Egyptian junta’s actions that are literally forcing the Brotherhood toward Armageddon. An exit strategy needs to be found to put an end to this animosity that has led to the slaughter in prisons and on the streets of supporters of this structure with such widespread backing in society.