On Saturday, 9 August 2014, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt entered another phase in its beleaguered political life. The highest administrative court in Egypt, the Supreme Administrative Court, dissolved the political party of the Brotherhood in Egypt, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). The Court also liquidated all of the FJP’s assets in an attempt to forfeit any further political ambitions and activities that the party, and more to the point the Brotherhood itself, might have in Egypt.
The ruling was significant, as this calculated move was conducted prior to upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for later this year. It was an attempt by the al-Sisi government to remove the Brotherhood from the Egyptian political scene. But the question remains: will this measure work and detain the Brotherhood from political activity in Egypt, permanently, if not temporarily?
There is certainly no love lost between the Brotherhood and the al-Sisi government. The Brotherhood has been labeled as a terrorist organization by the al-Sisi government, former President Mohammad Morsi of the Freedom and Justice Party has been jailed, and the Brotherhood has had official accusations levied against it of using violence as a tactic to destabilize the country after Morsi’s overthrow. Clearly, then, the Brotherhood is seen as a threat, particularly politically.
The decision to dissolve the FJP appears to be a temporary stopgap measure to keep the Brotherhood out of politics for the short term, but in doing go, it allows the al-Sisi government to bide time for its own growth, strength, and stabilization, as in reality, these are still very early days in al-Sisi’s administration. If, and more likely when, the Muslim Brotherhood re-appears on the Egyptian political scene, it will have to deal with a much more fortified national government.
It would be wise, however, for al-Sisi’s government to remember the history of the Brotherhood. After its founding by Hasan al-Bana in 1928, it was officially dissolved in 1948, then banned as an organization in 1954 under Nasser. Yet despite these setbacks, the group continually re-invented itself so as to remain alive and involved in Egyptian politics – even to the point of having its past president be elected as the President of Egypt. In other words, they are hard to keep down.
The Court’s action represents the third time in Egyptian Brotherhood history that they have been severely censured. Hence, simply dissolving the FJP may not be the blow to the Brotherhood the government intended. It is entirely plausible, depending on how quickly they organize and how many legal hurdles they must navigate, that the Brotherhood could construct another political party or parties, and have its affiliated members stand for parliament.
Dissolution and even banning has never stopped them before; in fact, they maintained their political survival throughout their history via the ultimate political loophole – political parties would be created “aligned” with Brotherhood ideology by people who were in fact members of the Brotherhood, but who denied any involvement or association with the Brotherhood itself. This deniability as a political survival tactic has served the Brotherhood well.
It would also behoove the al-Sisi administration to remember that simply dissolving a political party of the Brotherhood does not dissolve the Brotherhood itself, nor the ideology the Brotherhood espouses. In fact, the dissolution of the FJP could potentially enact a very dangerous situation.
The FJP, as the larger Muslim Brotherhood’s political iteration, ensured that by and large all of the various ideologies present under the umbrella of the Brotherhood were somewhat consolidated into an identifiable group. Hence, save for breakaway groups, historically such as the Gamaat-i-Islamiyyah (IG), all elements Egypt’s oldest and arguably most powerful Islamist political organization were contained or centrally located.
With the dissolution of the FJP, a danger emerges in that the potential has arisen to drive the Brotherhood’s prominent Islamist ideologues underground, making them extremely difficult to locate even if the Brotherhood reconstructs its political wing.
The Court’s action also has the potential to create internal dissention among the Brotherhood, therefore giving voice to those who believed Morsi’s government was not a true representation of the Brotherhood itself, both in conservative and radical spectrums. It may, therefore, prove difficult to expeditiously identify such new groups that could potentially have the capacity to cause harm to the Egyptian people and beyond—the countries of the West.
As happened with the Gamaat-i-Islamiyyah, groups may splinter away from the main body of the Brotherhood and form their own groups with more radical overtones in their political ideology. When this happened with the IG, the eventual results were the assassination of President Anwar Sadat at their hands in 1981, and the killings at Luxor in 1997.
Will such violence reap the repercussions of the Court’s action? Will the dissolution of the FJP spawn the likes of another Seyyid Qutb, arguably the Brotherhood’s most infamous thinkers and theorists, or produce a figure such as the grandson of Hasan al-Bana, Tariq Ramadan, representing a voice of moderation in Islam?
Either is possible. What is evident, however, is that the Brotherhood clearly wanted, and continues to want, to be a voice in Egyptian politics, and by extension, world politics. Has the Court’s action of dissolving the FJP instigated the last of gasp of the Brotherhood in politics? Using history as a guide, don’t count them out just yet.