Are there any red lines in the relationship between the Egyptian State and the Muslim Brotherhood group? Reality shows that the Islamist group is not proscribed from staging demonstrations, participating in protests or running in the elections, or in what ensues in contacting the public, organizing marches and printing and distributing advertisements and hanging posters.
In addition, the banned group’s figures would have to appear in official media outlets, while they have high chances in appearing to the public through the satellite channels’ programs and party-affiliated and private newspapers. If someone from the group is to pass away, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood guide can freely eulogize him in Al-Ahram pan-Arab newspaper, but without revealing his identity as the group’s leader.
Recently, the Muslim Brotherhood group has conducted open elections to choose new members for the Guidance Bureau and a new Guide, after which the new Muslim Brotherhood Guide Dr. Mohammad Badie held a press conference attended by tens of reporters from local and international newspapers and media outlets. Besides, the Muslim Brotherhood group which is “banned” by the state, practices a broad and open political activity that surpasses the activity exercised by other “unbanned” political parties. As for the red lines imposed on the group, they are the same ones other political parties are committed to.
On the other hand, the state – whose media outlets incessantly describe the Muslim Brotherhood group as a “banned group” – realizes the size and power of the group and how it extensively infiltrates various sectors and how widespread it is in Egypt’s provinces, from Aswan to Mersa Matruh. Since 1995, the government has adopted an approach that rests on directing preemptive strikes against the group every now and then, based on the premise that it is a “banned group.” It monitors the [group’s] meeting, gatherings and camps and arrests some participants and refers them to the prosecution, which either releases some of them or refers others to the judiciary. The latter might acquit them later or imprison them for various periods of time.
Therefore, all the lines seem green for the Muslim Brotherhood and the state at the same time; however, the question remains: why do the authorities continue to arrest the group’s figures regardless of their organizational ranks, except for its guide? This question is not aimed at inciting the Egyptian Government against the Muslim Brotherhood group’s first-in-command. In fact, pundits following the Muslim Brotherhood’s activity since the era of former President Anwar al-Sadat realize that the last Muslim Brotherhood guide who was imprisoned was former Guide Omar al-Talmasani. After that, security apparatuses continued to pursue the group’s figures in all provinces, and the judiciary issued imprisonment sentences against them, while Mr. Mohammad Hamed Abu al-Nasr, Mr. Mostapha Mashour, Mr. Ma’moun al-Hadibi, Mr. Mahdi Akef, and finally Mr. Mohammad Badie all remained free and untargeted by the security campaigns. Even though the history of each of them is filled with years that they spend behind bars, once they assumed the position of the guide, they cut their relationship with prison cells once and for all.
Is the guide a red line for the government then? It appears so. Although the group is “banned” by the government, this does not deny its existence, and it seems that the government realizes that the guide occupies a high-ranking position among the group’s members - although he is not the one who controls the group. The guide might be a forefront for the Muslim Brotherhood group, and he might also contribute in controlling the group’s pace of activity, while preventing the breakdown of its members.
What is definite here is that the authorities do not want the Muslim Brotherhood to go out of control, regardless of its kind or size, and perhaps this is why the government responds whenever the guide “crosses a line” by arresting his deputies or his high-ranking aides or important figures within the group. On the other hand, and remarkably, whenever the Muslim Brotherhood participates in union elections for example, they focus their competition on the union’s seats, and not on the position of the union’s chairman. In the parliamentary elections, they seek to increase the number of parliamentary seats they occupy, and in the last presidential elections in 2005, they espoused a vague position when they left it for the group’s members to participate in the voting or choose one of the candidates. Most likely, they will not back any specific candidate against the National Democratic Party’s candidate in the coming elections, so that the red and green lines between both sides remain known and fixed.
*Published in the London-based AL-HAYAT on Feb. 15, 2010.