"Be like the fruit tree," advised Hassan Al-Banna. "When people hurl stones at you, off-load your fruits on them." This was one of the guiding principles that the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood instilled in its members during the formative years. It is perhaps one of the reasons why successive Egyptian dictators were unable to destroy the movement. It is certainly a principle that has become increasingly important today, as it faces its first "inquisition" of the 21st century.
In some respects the current wave of persecution seems like textbook tactics. An anecdote recorded by Abdul Latif Al-Boghdadi in his memoirs (Vol.1, p.146) explains this vividly. He was one of the original ten members of the Free Officers Movement and Egypt's minister of defence in 1953-54. At a meeting convened by Gamal Abdel Nasser on 21 March 1954 attended by Al-Boghdadi, Hassan Ibrahim and Kamal Hussein, Nasser revealed that he was responsible for six bombings of public installations. He claimed that a return to parliamentary rule at the time was pointless and that it was necessary to create a climate of chaos and uncertainty so that people would feel a need for someone to protect them.
Was last week's bombing of the security building in Mansoura a similar "false flag" operation? We may, perhaps, have to wait for some time before an insider writes his own memoirs to find out. Whatever the motive, it is evident that Egypt's new military rulers are failing to impose their authority on the country. Their decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a "terrorist organisation" was, in the grand scheme of things, a reflection of the despair that has overtaken the junta as its members try to assert their absolute control over a people who refuse to be subdued. More importantly, it was also a belated admission by the military of its political bankruptcy and inability to learn from its own history.
If Nasser, with all his charisma, ruthlessness and acclaimed popularity, could not eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood, it is hard to imagine what chance the current shadowy military junta have. In March 1954, when Nasser's campaign of terror failed to produce the desired results, he sent missives to Hassan Al-Hudaybi, the then supreme guide of the Brotherhood, who refused to leave prison unless the false charges against the Brotherhood were dropped. On 25 March 1954 the Revolutionary Command Council issued a public statement allowing the Brotherhood to resume all its activities and restored its confiscated wealth and property.
The Brotherhood went on to play a crucial role in resisting Britain's ambitions over the Suez Canal in the run up to and during the 1956 tri-partite aggression known in the UK as the "Suez Crisis". The movement's political differences with Nasser were put to one side for the greater national good.
By declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation the present junta has played its final card. The leadership has done everything to quell the ongoing popular protests against the coup which robbed the people of Egypt of their democratic choice: detentions, extra-judicial killings, charity closures, media censorship and shutdowns, and the seizure of assets and bank accounts. All, it would appear, to no avail.
Without a credible investigation the charge of terrorism will be, and is, viewed with scepticism. Instead of caches of arms and explosives, all that has been confiscated from the Brotherhood are its schools, hospitals, charities, businesses and financial assets. Their closure will no doubt add to the misery of millions of Egyptians who are impoverished by the corrupt establishment that mismanaged the country for decades and is back in business under the junta.
Politically, the situation is set to become worse. With the terrorist designation the junta has effectively cleared the way for the notorious baltagiya – the government-endorsed thugs to attack, burn and loot the property of Brotherhood members and other opposition forces.
If the measure was intended to clear the way for the junta before the upcoming constitutional referendum, it is likely to fail. There will be no endorsement "mandate" for what is an act of political banditry.
Even the once pro-coup 6 April Movement has condemned the measure and defended the Brotherhood. This is only one indicator of how the junta's policies are backfiring and winning more support for the Islamic movement. The much publicised mantra that Al-Sisi and his cohorts want all political forces to participate in their road map to democracy and reconciliation has now been damaged beyond repair. Once again, they have misread the Muslim Brotherhood. Initially, they hoped that after the coup the Brotherhood's members would walk away and count their losses. Neither they nor the Egyptian people who voted for the movement adopted this course of action. Instead, they have resisted from day one.
In the absence of the rule of law, freedom and democracy in the country, a solution to the Egyptian crisis remains remote. Regretfully, the great champions of democracy in the West have been complicit in the subversion of Egypt's nascent democratic transition. Hatem Azzam, a leading member of Egypt's Anti-Coup National Alliance, reported that European officials at a recent meeting threatened opposition groups in Egypt to accept the fait accompli or face an "Algerian-type scenario". Neither scenario is likely, for the simple reason that members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been well-schooled over many years: as the junta and its accomplices hurl their stones, they will be swamped by the movement's many fruits.