On August 9, 2014, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt began another chapter in its besieged political life. The highest administrative court in Egypt, the Supreme Administrative Court, dissolved the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Court also liquidated all of the FJP’s assets in an effort to quash any further political ambitions and activities that the Brotherhood might have in Egypt. The ruling—a calculated move conducted prior to upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for later this year—was an attempt by the Sisi government to remove the Brotherhood from the Egyptian political scene. The question remains: will this measure derail the Brotherhood from future political activity in Egypt?
The Brotherhood and the Sisi government have a toxic relationship. The Brotherhood has been branded as a terrorist organization by the Sisi government, Egypt’s former President Mohammad Morsi of the FJP has been jailed, and the Brotherhood has been formally accused of using violence to destabilize the country after Morsi’s overthrow. Clearly, then, the Brotherhood is seen as a political threat.
The decision to dissolve the FJP appears to be a temporary stopgap measure to keep the Brotherhood out of politics for the short term to allow the Sisi government to grow stronger and to stabilize. If, and more likely when, the Muslim Brotherhood re-appears on the Egyptian political scene, it will have to deal with a much more fortified national government. By working as negotiators and intermediaries in the current Israeli-Palestinian flare-up, Egypt is building credibility internationally and regionally. The Sisi administration is still in its early stage, and it needs to establish credibility.
It would be wise, however, for the Sisi government to remember the Brotherhood’s history. After its founding by Hasan al-Bana in 1928, it was officially dissolved in 1948, then banned as an organization in 1954 under Nasser. Nevertheless, the group has continually re-invented itself so as to remain alive and involved in Egyptian politics; one measure of its success was the election of one of one of its own as president in 2012. The Court’s action represents, then, the third time in Egyptian Brotherhood history that it has been severely handicapped. Hence, simply dissolving the FJP may not be the blow to the Brotherhood the government intended; rather, it seems part of a cycle that the Brotherhood is used to.
Dissolution and even banning has never stopped the Muslim Brotherhood before. Depending on how quickly it reorganizes and through how many legal hurdles it must steer, the Brotherhood could conceivably construct another political party or parties and have its affiliated members stand for parliament. In fact, it maintained its political survival throughout its history by creating political parties that were “aligned” with Brotherhood ideology by people who were in fact members of the Brotherhood, but who denied any involvement or association with the Brotherhood itself. This use of political loopholes and deniability as a political survival strategy has served the Brotherhood well.
The Sisi administration should remember that simply dissolving a political party of the Brotherhood neither dissolves the Brotherhood itself nor the ideology the Brotherhood espouses. Indeed, the dissolution of the FJP could potentially enact a very dangerous situation. The FJP, as the face of larger Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, ensured that essentially all of the differing ideologies present under the Brotherhood’s umbrella were relatively consolidated into an identifiable group. Hence, save for breakaway groups such as the Gamaat-i-Islamiyyah, all elements Egypt’s oldest and arguably most powerful Islamist political organization were contained or centrally located. With the dissolution of the FJP, the Brotherhood’s prominent Islamist ideologues might be driven underground, making them extremely difficult to locate even if/when the Brotherhood reconstructs its political segment.
The Court’s action has also created the potential for internal dissention among the Brotherhood, therefore giving voice to those on both the conservative and radical poles of the spectrum who believed that Morsi’s government was not a true representation of the Brotherhood itself. Internal schism might result in great difficulty in the prompt identification of new groups that could cause harm to the Egyptian people and to the West. Groups may splinter away from the main body of the Brotherhood and form their own groups with more radical overtones in their political ideology. When this happened with the Gamaat-i-Islamiyyah, some of its members assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981 and killed tourists at Luxor in 1997.
Will violence ensue as a repercussion of the Supreme Administrative Court’s ruling? Will the FJP’s dissolution create another Sayyid Qutb, arguably the Brotherhood’s most infamous thinker and theorist, or create another Tariq Ramadan, representing a voice of moderation in Islam? Both are possibilities. What is evident, however, is that the Brotherhood clearly wanted, and wants, to be a voice in Egyptian politics, and by extension, world politics. Has the Court’s dissolution of the FJP initiated the end of the Brotherhood in politics? Using history as our guide, we cannot count them out just yet.