The Blow to the Brotherhood’s International Reputation

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, May 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, May 2013

Opinions on the Muslim Brotherhood tend to diverge into relatively hardline camps. One says they are an extremist organization willing to utilize violence. They other says they are a reformist organization willing to utilize democracy.

Academic public opinion in the West tends to lean toward the latter. The Egyptian government is aggressively pushing the former. The Egyptian public is notoriously hard to measure, but it is quite clear the Brotherhood has lost much of their soft, sympathetic support after a failed year in power.

Which makes continued Western support all the more important to Brotherhood survival. Michael Wahid Hanna, writing for the Century Foundation, says that due to Brotherhood choices even this is now at risk.

With leaders abroad or in prison, he writes, the youth are radicalizing and the organization must adapt to maintain its coherence:

The Brothers have spent decades normalizing their domestic and international political standing, largely overcoming their past endorsements and employment of political violence. This reputation is now clearly at risk, despite their oft-repeated mantra that “our peacefulness is stronger than their bullets.”

As Morsi was threatened to be removed as president, the Brotherhood risked all, betting on both popular and international support. While core domestic support remains strong, it was not enough to overcome both massive protests and the machinations of state apparatus. And whatever international support the Brotherhood possessed was not able to intervene directly to prevent events as witnessed today.

But still the Brotherhood bet continues, and here is the consequence:

Instead, the Brotherhood’s public statements have explicitly endorsed the legitimacy of all forms of resistance against the repression of the regime, opening the door to further radicalization. A unilateral, sectarian, and radicalizing challenge to the state is out of step with the national mood.

This is particularly so as the Brotherhood strategy proceeds in parallel to the actions of more militant actors and appears to understand such violence as a necessary ingredient to their efforts to bring about regime failure. In this sense, the Muslim Brotherhood will be tainted by militant actions, even if they are not the responsible party.

Both sides are now tied to a destructive dance that will be hard to pull back from. One Brotherhood leader, Ashraf Abdel Ghaffar, recently claimed on air that blowing up electricity pylons is part of the ‘peaceful’ struggle.

On the other hand, the Brotherhood’s Gamal Abdel Sattar said that their group is a ‘safety valve’, without which there would be outright civil war.

But then again, their Gamal Heshmat urged Egyptians not to fulfill their mandatory national military service, saying the army kills its own people. There was no comment on how a depleted army would resist terrorism.

So beyond what these statements will do to their domestic standing, for Hanna, here is the rub:

For the Brothers, however, these steps threaten to undermine their international reputation and bona fides as a legitimate political actor.

All sides have questions to ask themselves, but for the Brotherhood, is this the outcome they desire? Or, is one of the two choices above correct in actuality? What do you think?

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