The Original Rebels

by Zane Preston

Egypt may not have reaped the benefits of modern democracy, but it has inherited one of its curses: a short memory. The revolution has not taught Egypt’s most influential parties how to deal with opposition effectively. Most recently, the militaryarrested Muslim Brotherhood members and closed down their media outlets, despite overwhelming evidence that such draconian methods are not sustainable.  Systematically repressing the Brotherhood will undermine the country’s fragile democracy and poses a threat to other Arab countries.

Years of repression have taught the Brotherhood how to not only survive oppression but thrive in the Arab World. Since it was founded in 1928, The Brotherhood won support from the Egyptian populace by maintaining charity organizations, schools, and hospitals for Egypt’s poor. The Brotherhood made an attempt to kill Gamal Abdul Nasser, leading to a major crackdown on the organization, but the 1967 Six-Day War turned the Arab world against secularists and spurned an Islamist revival reestablishing the Brotherhood’s influence. Hosni Mubarak attempted to stymie their influence, but despite his best attempts, the group won eighty-eight parliamentary seats in 2005. Following the revolution, they successfully utilized their grassroots movement to claim the presidency.

None of the ruling parties have made peaceful efforts to bring the Muslim Brotherhood back to the negotiating table. The military has proven time and time again they have neither the capacity nor the desire to rule the country. The interim government has fallen into the same trap, impatiently stuffing the government ranks with liberals and exacerbating the divisions between the military, the Tamrod Movement, and the Brotherhood.

Other Arab governments with a significant Brotherhood opposition movement are already starting to feel the effects of the Egyptian army’s crackdown. One of America’s closest allies and most stable countries in the region, Jordan, has already started to feel the Brotherhood rumbling. The Jordanian branch, the Islamic Action Front (IAF) has condemned the coupclaiming it was orchestrated by the United States. They see the crackdown by the Egyptian military as a U.S. action and condoned by the Jordanian government. Other specifically Jordanian issues, such as the unpopular deployment of U.S. Marines and planned price hikes following Ramadan, have given the IAF fodder for civil disobedience later this month. If the situation in Jordan comes to a head, it could spill over into Palestine and Lebanon where political situations are already tense.

In order to halt region-wide disorder, compromise must occur at a grassroots level. If the Tamarod Movement prides itself on being the voice of Egyptians, it must take steps to ensure the Muslim Brotherhood feels they are part of the political process as well. The same people who gathered signatures for Morsi’s ouster should also extend the olive branch to his supporters. Otherwise, they risk perpetuating the same exclusionary activities they accused Morsi of pursuing.

I left Egypt on July 6th. As I drove to the airport, my taxi was stopped by a Brotherhood blockade. A metal fence with barbed wire lined the main road to the airport while members filed into ranks and began performing military exercises. Their message was clear: they are here to stay, and any attempt to remove them would be met with violence.

About the Author

Zane Preston is a Masters Student at The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy studying International Security and Southwest Asian Studies. Zane previously worked in Amman, Jordan for two years as an English Instructor. Most recently he worked for the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime in Cairo.

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