After the second hearing session into the case, an Egyptian administrative court in Cairo has issued a decision to ban the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s biggest and most organised social and political group, with branches all over the world. The decision includes a ban on any entity affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood and all their activities. It also ordered the closure of all offices and imposed a freeze on all the group’s finances and assets.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s offices, properties, members and leaders have been under attack ever since winning the majority of the Egyptian parliament and presidency in democratic elections, as well as a majority in the referendum to approve a new constitution in 2012. After the 3 July military coup toppled the freely elected President Mohamed Morsi, who was the head of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the group, all TV channels and newspapers affiliated with the Brotherhood were closed and a large number of their journalists were arrested.
Supporters of President Morsi launched a peaceful protest against the coup across Egypt, but a fierce defamation campaign spearheaded by the pro-coup mass media paved the way for a brutal crackdown by Egyptian security services. The security onslaught reached its peak on 14 August, when around 1,000 members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood were killed and thousands more injured or detained after the army and police attacked peaceful protesters in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda Squares. Most of the group’s leaders, including the Supreme Guide, Dr Mohamed Badie, were arrested later on.
Calls to ban the group emerged immediately, however the Egyptian coup authorities reacted slowly to give the imminent ban a veneer of legality. The banning application was filed by Al-Tajamu Al-Nasiri, an Egyptian party that fully supports the military coup. It had previously gone to great lengths to undermine President Morsi’s rule. None of the recent accusations against the group or it leaders based on inciting violence or issuing death orders has been proven true.
All indications show that the new decision to ban the Muslim Brotherhood is an attempt to exclude the group and keep it away from political and social life, fearing that it will oppose Israel’s existence when it finally obtains real power in Egypt. This means that, whether the anti-coup protesters were peaceful or not, General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi would have cracked down on them anyway.
Excluding the Muslim Brotherhood from political and social life in Egypt is not a precedent by Al-Sisi, as he is merely following his predecessors, who either banned the group or recognised banning it. The question here is: will the group vanish from the Egyptian society, which is the aim of the ban, or will it survive despite being illegal, according to the military Egyptian law? To answer this question, we only have to look at the history of the group since it was established.
Hassan al-Banna, teacher and preacher, founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, aiming to revive Islamic rule in the Arab and Muslim countries. He recognised that the group would face great difficulties in future, but he continued on. He predicted that he and his followers would face the anger of the rulers of their countries. “Now, you are OK, but in the future, when your rulers recognise your goals and see how your number increases, you will face great ordeals. You will be fought, detained and killed,” Al-Banna told his followers during a speech in the 1930s.
Between 1936 and 1947, Muslim Brotherhood fighters fought side by side with Palestinians against the Zionist attempt to occupy Palestinian lands. In 1947, Arab armies asked them to leave Palestine and let them protect it. When the Muslim Brotherhood fighters returned from Palestine to Egypt, Palestine was occupied and the fighters were detained by King Farouq. In 1949, the group’s founder Hassan Al-Banna was assassinated, most likely by pro-regime assassins. But the group remained strong as it greatly helped in the 1953 revolution against King Farouk.
Egypt’s revolutionary leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser recognised that his strongest popular ally for the revolution was the Muslim Brotherhood and wanted to reach a compromise. However both sides failed to achieve an agreement and in 1954, Abdul-Nasser ordered a crackdown on the group, hanged many of its leaders, arrested thousands and banned all its activities. He announced it to be an illegal group. However, the Muslim Brotherhood continued working with Egyptians and took part in social and political life during Anwar Al-Sadat and Hosni Mubarak’s eras. They achieved very good results in elections despite living between prisons and political exclusion.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood was not the party which ignited the spark of 25 January 2011 revolution, the group was still its backbone. In the wake of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood was the most popular and well organised party, despite living under continuous sanctions while all the other parties were working freely under the sun. It achieved the best results among all the political parties in the parliamentary elections and its presidential candidate won despite a fierce defamation campaign led by local Egyptian and international media.
Throughout the period the group was in power, besides a regional and international cold war, a candid war was locally launched against it. When the Muslim Brotherhood leader was removed by a coup, all opponents thought that it would only take a few days of using force against the popular crowds and the game would end. However, the group and its supporters, from Islamists and non-Islamists, set up a protest that has lasted for more the 45 days despite the killings and the defamation campaigns against them. Today the anti-coup demonstrations continue despite the fact that most of the group’s leaders and a huge number of its effective field coordinators have been arrested and are behind bars.
After this historical overview of the Muslim Brotherhood, throughout which time the group was not allowed to freely work, and in the light of the free and easy access to mass media despite the media blackout imposed by the Egyptian government, I can predict that today’s ban will only increase popular sympathy for the Muslim Brotherhood and it will smoothly survive this latest ordeal. How and why? Simply the same way it has survived throughout all the time that it was banned. And when the next chance of democracy is posed, it will again do best among all opponents.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.