Looking Forward: Al-Sisi’s Egypt.

Political Islam is a nebulous term that means different things to different people. For some, like the Sunni followers of Wahhabi sect, it is a strict set of political and legal institutions that uses the strictest interpretation of the Quran’s to its fullest potential. While others believe any coexistence of Islamic teachings and governance could be considered political Islam. Political islam has had an impactful relationships with the different regimes over the decades, each creating their own unique definition. I will use the history of the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization that embodies political Islam in Egypt and extrapolate these trends to make a prediction on future relationships between Egyptian leaders, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Public.
Sheikh Hassan Al-Banana originally founded the brotherhood in 1928. Sheikh Al-Banana was a schoolteacher that was interested in reconciling the differences between traditional conservative religious thought and the impending modernization facing egypt. The monarchy was weary of the rapid growth of this organization and accordingly organized the assassination of Sheikh Al-Banana in 1949. While the founder was dead the roots had already been implanted. In just over 21 years the Muslim Brotherhood had 3,000 different cells and a combined membership of 450,000 people. After the 1952 coupe by the free officers the Muslim brotherhood attempted to partner with them. While most of the officers embraced this partnership Nasser was weary of the group due to his progressive liberal views. The brotherhood aware of Nasser’s uneasiness and unwilling to cooperate with them made an attempt on Nasser’s life in 1954. Nasser survived and retaliated with a countrywide ban on the Muslim Brotherhood. While this may seem like a setback in the advancement of the brotherhood’s purpose, it actually gave them an unforeseen advantage. A majority of their members sought asylum in the gulf, which led to increased economic opportunity. This wealth accumulation was a major reason the brotherhood’s resurgence under Sadat in the 70s was so successful.

After Nasser’s death the Sadat administration was eager to embrace the Muslim brotherhood. Sadat viewed the brotherhood as the quickest way to gain legitimacy and widespread support while also purging Nasser supporters. Their comeback was further assisted by the fact that macro-economic conditions in Egypt were poor during this time. The brotherhood, with their wealth gathered from exile, were able to provide a plethora of social services that ensured loyalty and support. Finally, the other major advantage that the brotherhood experienced was partially due to their more moderated message. While they stuck to their religious convictions they also were more welcoming of consumerism. This acceptance led to a subtle shift in the cue taking of media and identification. As opposed to Egyptian’s looking to Paris and England for the latest trends they started to look at Riyad and Kuwait[1].

In the background of all of this there were several military campaigns. Young men would return from battle carrying both a new fanatical belief in Islam and military discipline. This increased militarization created a new sense of urgency for their extreme demands to be met. While some radical Islamic groups took to violence the Muslim brotherhood tended to focus on expanding its infrastructure and network. Great progress was made in recruiting from the middle class and the middle aged men of Egypt. This portrays an expansion of the brotherhood, but also breaks the previously held notion that the brotherhood was just for the poor and uneducated. The brotherhood was eager to capitalize on these gains and started working on their external and international relations, attempting to re-brand themselves as the moderate Islamic choice.

The decades long effort of the Muslim brotherhood to switch from opposition group to party in power finally paid off with the 2011 revolution.  After a dispute with the academic liberals, the brotherhood was able to secure an expedited election and won a major portion of the parliament. However, the brotherhood was now in a position they had never been in before, leadership. Due to their diverse base supporters the brotherhood had issues finding a clear message to lead on. While, Morsi won the election his biggest challenges were yet to come. The election infuriated the liberal portion of revolutionaries because they felt shut out from the process. Their disenfranchisement and disillusion led to another round of protests. Morsi, fighting to maintain control, significantly expanded the presidential powers. This in turn further agitated the people. Worse yet, due to the diversity of opinion within the brotherhood, Morsi was losing support from his core supporters. He governed in a bi-polar manner, desperate to maintain his fragile coalition. The impending crumble came in June of 2013 when the military led by now President Abdel Fattah al-SISI intervened. He was confirmed by an election in March of 2014 with a whooping 95% of the electorate; however, according to international observers the election didn’t meet the criteria for free and fair. Despite these circumstances the international community and traditional Egyptian allies, such as Saudi Arabia, have congratulated Al-Sisi on his election. Since the election Al-Sisi, has focused on economic stimulation and fighting terror.[2]
Looking forward I believe that the influence from political Islam, and accordingly the Muslim brotherhood, will significantly decline. The Egyptian people are currently experiencing a confidence crisis. They have been in an almost constant state of turmoil since 2011 without any real direction or leadership. Politicians who they thought were their allies have betrayed their trust and left them disenfranchised. These assertions can be quantified by the most recent pew research survey from May of 2014.[3]
This survey reports that the level of general dissatisfaction amongst Egyptians with the way the country is currently being run is currently at 72%, higher than it was pre-2011 revolution.

PEW's Latest Survey

PEW’s Latest Survey

Furthermore, confidence in the main Egyptian institutions is down across the board with the Muslim Brotherhood taking the biggest loss between 2013-14 of 25%.[4]

From footnoted Pew Survey

From footnoted Pew Survey

I attribute these major changes in public opinion to the failure of Morsi’s administration to consult all the factions within his base but, furthermore, for not involving his opposition, the academic liberals. Additionally it is worth mentioning that the April 6th Movement, a relatively secular political organization, has had the most resilience in their confidence rating. Beyond public opinion it is also important to consider President Al-Sisi’s strategic vision for Egypt. He has stressed the importance of being a leader for all Egyptians and his unwillingness to work with anyone who resorts to violence.[5]

Given the 54% approval rating by pew in the mid May survey of 2014[6] of Al-Sisi, he is in a position to be a powerful opinion leader. The only hope for the renewal and surge of the Muslim brotherhood lies with his failure. While optimism is low amongst Egyptians, expectations are certainly high. Al-Sisi is in a powerful position to further both his and the secular cause. He must be careful to be the strong and charismatic leader that Egyptians crave without being an authoritarian that they so clearly detest.

It is important to note that Al-Sisi is leading but does not have a clear mandate.

It is important to note that Al-Sisi is leading but does not have a clear mandate.

 


[1] (Osman 103)

[2]  http://time.com/3426794/after-the-revolution-sitting-down-with-egyptian-president-abdul-fattah-al-sisi/

[3] http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/05/22/chapter-1-national-conditions-in-egypt/

[4] Pew Chapter 1, Figure 2

[5] http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/06/08/Abdel-Fattah-al-Sisi-sworn-in-Egypt-s-president-.html

[6] Pew Chapter 2, Figure 2