Last week, Egyptian courts sentenced 18 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to imprisonment for inciting pro-Morsi riots. Punitive actions, including classifying the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, have become commonplace in Egypt after President Morsi’s deposal. Indeed, thousands of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood members or sympathizers have been arrested, injured and killed as the government seeks to eliminate Islamist influences from Egyptian political and social life. Such actions have drawn the ire of NGOs operating in Egypt as well as sectors of the international community.
As General Al-Sisi seeks to become Egypt’s next president, it seems likely that the Muslim Brotherhood will face further crackdowns. While the Muslim Brotherhood certainly is an organization that should draw suspicion – especially after its poor performance while leading Egypt briefly under President Morsi – the military-backed government’s harsh treatment is likely to incite greater internal conflict.
Throughout the past year, the Muslim Brotherhood has been the victim of severe crackdowns by Egyptian security forces. In one notable case, 529 Brotherhood supporters were sentenced to death on charges of assaulting and murdering police. While this particular court ruling may be overturned according to human rights lawyers, judicial proceedings regarding Brotherhood members have been generally suspect. Numerous NGOs have protested the use of military tribunals to charge Egyptian civilians, including Muslim Brotherhood members, with attacking military units. If these NGO reports are accurate, the Egyptian government is risking the integrity of the judicial system in favor of stability and short-term political gain. This imprudent strategy will likely encourage the Brotherhood to take extreme actions and have long-term negative effects for Egypt’s civil society.
Before discussing the potential effects of this crackdown, it is necessary to touch upon the history of the Muslim Brotherhood. First, in the past, the Muslim Brotherhood has used violence to advance political objectives. By the late 1940s, a division of the Muslim Brotherhood named the “Special Apparatus” committed violent acts against British occupiers to force a withdrawal. After the British exited Egypt, the Brotherhood faced persecution under Egyptian Presidents Nasser and Sadat. Since then, the Muslim Brotherhood has recognized the benefits of maintaining a low political profile and focusing on developing a social services apparatus to gain grassroots support. As the Brotherhood’s desire to gain political influence increased, the Brotherhood began to denounce violence and promote politically expedient ideas, such as equality for all Egyptians. Before assuming control, the Muslim Brotherhood actively de-emphasized its Islamist ideology in favor of democratic norms to gain parliamentary seats. Even when parliamentary participation was restricted, the Brotherhood refrained from violence and continued to build support among the Egyptian people through its vast social services network including hospitals and schools.
Now that the Egyptian military has initiated a total crackdown on the group, including the Muslim Brotherhood’s well-developed and non-political social service infrastructure, the Brotherhood is left with no political voice. I, and many area experts, believe that political silencing combined with a violent crackdown by government officials will drive elements of the Muslim Brotherhood to terrorism. If so, Egypt is vulnerable to greater instability, since the Muslim Brotherhood maintains a sizeable membership and influence. Although the Muslim Brotherhood may represent a threat to social order during the current political transition, utilizing violent suppression is unjust and shortsighted.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.