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Rq cS If reconciliation is impossible, what then? (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt)) - Arab News Network

If reconciliation is impossible, what then? (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

While the Muslim Brotherhood publicly declares that it rejects any form of reconciliation with the Egyptian government, it has ceaselessly manoeuvred to reach a settlement that would allow it to resume its activities, save its organisation and compensate for its immense losses in grassroots support.

It uses the services of supporters, allies and members of its sleeping cells to call for an immediate reconciliation. It simultaneously takes advantage of the shifting positions of certain key Arab states and the Arab concern, in general, over Iranian expansionism. This concern has only grown since the pro-Iranian Houthis seized control over most of Yemen’s territory and Tehran reached a nuclear deal with Western powers.

Last week, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry rejected a call by Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled Al-Atiya for reconciliation between the Egyptian authorities and the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Atiya said that his country is ready to act as mediator for the process.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, Ahmed Abu Zeid, rejected talk of reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, saying there could be no question of dialogue with the terrorist organisation, or of accepting the mediation of any party for talks with terrorists.

The press and media in Egypt and abroad are constantly talking about reconciliation between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Most commentators do little more than proclaim a position on the subject, either for or against. It would be more sensible for political observers to focus on the possibility of a settlement between the Egyptian state, at both the levels of the government and the people, and an organisation that the Egyptian masses felt compelled to rise up against and remove from power after a single year of the presidency of Mohamed Morsi.

Citing a Muslim Brotherhood officer living in Turkey, Al-Shorouk newspaper reported that Muslim Brotherhood billionaire Youssef Nada, former international relations advisor for the organisation, met with Saudi officials in his home in Campione, a small Italian enclave in Switzerland.

Al-Shorouk, which is known to be close to Muslim Brotherhood circles, reported that the meeting took place in the framework of Riyadh’s recent rapprochement with the Muslim Brotherhood and its branches in the Arab world.

Recent signs of this rapprochement are to be found in King Salman’s reception of a Hamas delegation led by Khaled Meshal, after a lengthy period of strain between the two sides, and the meeting between Saudi Minister of Awqaf (religious endowments) Saleh bin Abdel Aziz Al-Sheikh with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood Comptroller General Hisham bin Said during the latter’s visit to Saudi Arabia during Ramadan.

The source cited by Al-Shorouk noted that it was the Saudi minister who asked to meet Bin Said and that talks focused on Saudi efforts to counter Iranian expansion in the Arab region and Islamic world. He said that Riyadh now sees Islamist movements as a possible base for any project to confront Iranian expansion.

The Muslim Brotherhood source stressed that Nada enjoys the fullest confidence among Saudi ruling circles due to his role as mediator between Saudi Arabia and Iran during previous crises, such as the Iranian pilgrims crisis in 1994. He also has close relations with Iranian political leaders, most notably Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

In the opinion of Salem Al-Falahat, another Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood official, in receiving the Hamas delegation led by Meshal, the Saudi leadership conveyed positive messages to the entire world. He noted that the Muslim Brotherhood played a positive role for Saudi Arabia at the time of its discord with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

In an interview with the Jordanian Gerasa news agency, Al-Falahat held that close relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia were the norm while the situation that occurred in 2014 was an exception to the rule. He added that in the era of King Salman, the Saudi leadership has revised its outlook in the hopes of improving Arab and Islamic relations.

Another Muslim Brotherhood leader connected to the administrative bureau of the international Muslim Brotherhood said that, so far, the rapprochement between the Muslim Brotherhood and Riyadh has not been translated into anything in concrete terms for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

He added: “We asked the Saudi regime to take urgent practical and concrete steps regarding the Egyptian case. We told them that time was not in our favour and that they needed to act quickly.”

The reality is, however, that the obstacles to reconciliation are strong and numerous. The chief obstacle is intense popular opposition to a Muslim Brotherhood return to political life, because of the organisation’s determination to mix religion with politics and to confer an aura of sanctity on its political and economic policies.

The Egyptian grassroots uprising on 30 June 2013 was not just directed against individual Muslim Brotherhood leaders. It was a revolt against the entire panoply of Muslim Brotherhood sociopolitical attitudes and agenda: the drive to change Egyptian customs by imposing its own guidelines for personal behaviour, the contempt for and suppression of creativity and the arts, and the systematic intimidation of all who differ with its views, which are based on extremely narrow interpretations of scripture.

The current governing authorities cannot ignore the popular refusal to repeat the experience of Muslim Brotherhood rule, or even to allow that organisation to reassemble its ranks and return to its proselytising activities in mosques, schools and through charity societies.

The very nature of the Muslim Brotherhood, ideologically, politically and structurally, is an insurmountable obstacle to reconciliation. This is an organisation whose members are indoctrinated with the belief that they are the true representatives of Islam, that they are right and that all who disagree with them are wrong and, indeed, sinful.

They also portray themselves as perpetually oppressed while they regard successive governments that opposed their power bids in Egypt as ruled by tyrants who despise religion and God’s Law.

Politically, large numbers of the Muslim Brotherhood’s members are opposed to reconciliation. They believe that continuing the confrontation against the government will prevent the group from fragmenting and will forestall any internal revision or accountability process.

The thousands of Brotherhood members who fled abroad are equally opposed to any thought of reconciliation, settlement or even a calming of tensions with the authorities. They fear that all such processes would jeopardise their personal gains, the various types of funding they receive and the job opportunities that have been made available to them.

Structurally, the Brotherhood, for the first time in its history, is without a supreme chief or a single leadership to which all defer. The organisation is riddled with divisions and power rivalries are rife between Muslim Brotherhood members at home and abroad, in prison and at large, between the traditional leaderships of the international organisation and the members who fled following the 30 June Revolution.

Therefore, even if the government agreed to engage in a settlement process with the group, the internal structural conditions of the group stand in the way. With whom would the government talk? Who would sign a reconciliation agreement on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood?

To which Muslim Brotherhood leaders could we point to with certainty these days and say that these represent all the Muslim Brothers? The leaders in prison would never agree to a settlement concluded without them, and those abroad would never recognise a settlement struck with the leaders in prison. “The captive has no authority,” those abroad would protest, citing an ancient maxim.

In all events, everyone who has been engaged to propose reconciliation has only spoken in the vaguest terms. No specific steps were mentioned. No clear formula has emerged. It is as though their sole purpose is to salvage the Muslim Brotherhood organisation and secure the release of their leaders.

The Muslim Brotherhood opted for the course of violence after 30 June. It leaders deluded their supporters into believing that they could defeat “the coup” even though they knew that Morsi could never be reinstated. But they chose violence for another reason.

They saw it as a means to keep their organisation intact and to keep the members rallied around the leadership, in anticipation of the moment they would negotiate with the state. They imagined that they would gain enough leverage through this violence to revive their organisation and return it to its former level of operation, as it stood during the era of former president Hosni Mubarak.

They saw themselves as fielding their members again in parliamentary, municipal and syndicate elections. They saw themselves regaining control over mosque pulpits in order to disseminate their doctrines. They saw themselves as resuming the charity activities through which they cared for the poor, the widows and orphans, gaining in return resources they could turn to their own political ends.

The ball is in the government’s court. Unfortunately, the government still lacks a clear vision on how to handle Islamist movements in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. Regardless of the successes achieved by our security agencies against this terrorist group, the state must possess a clear and publicised political vision for pressing forward with the dismantlement of the Muslim Brotherhood and the elimination of its existence behind any false facades.

One of the most important components of this vision is the need to criminalise membership in the organisation, regardless of whether or not a given member is led to practice violence. Merely belonging to a clandestine organisation is sufficient grounds for legal action.

At the same time the government should open the door to the thousands of Muslim Brothers who would like to sever their connection with the organisation in order to live a normal life free of the fear of police pursuit.

In the history of the confrontations between the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser and the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the security clampdowns, the exposure of Muslim Brotherhood plots, the prosecution and imprisonment of many of its leaders and the execution of some, the government was always ready to offer an amnesty and release those who, publicly, by means of a written statement, repented having belonged to that organisation and its secret cells.

I believe that the Egyptian government today needs to adopt similar measures. It is not sufficient to leave the Muslim Brotherhood question entirely up to the security agencies. I am certain that a measure such as the one described above would have a major impact on Muslim Brotherhood members, whether inside prison or out.

The writer is a political analyst.