The military sentences issued against some members of the Muslim Brotherhood represent a turning point in the relationship between the group and Mubarak regime. This is not only because they are harsh, as they are the harshest rulings against the group since the trials that took place in the 1960s during the Nasser era, but also because they are not commensurate with the political weight of the group, which occupies 20 percent of the seats in parliament.
These sentences represent the highest degree of political exclusion to hit the MB over the past three years. The regime has been trying with full force to stop the group from carrying out political and social activities since their victory in the late 2005 parliamentary elections. I will not comment on the court sentences, for they must be respected. However, the problem lies in politicizing this trial and taking it as a pretext through which the regime will try to liquidate the Brotherhood as an important actor in the political game. This was evident through the charges leveled against them. They were accused of belonging to a group that practiced terrorism and money laundering. This is not true at all, as they have denounced violence more than half a century ago. Moreover, none of its members was proven to be involved in money laundering activities. Such charges are naive and unreasonable.
The regime should have been honest and courageous and should acknowledge that it rejects the group s political action on the grounds that it is a religious group instead of imprisoning innocent people and torturing their children and families.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political and ideological discourse is not impeccable, just like any other political party, including the ruling party, but this shall never mean excluding the group from the political arena and depriving it of its constitutional rights simply because it is a real force in the Egyptian street.
The National Democratic Party should have attempted a fair competition with the group to prove that it deserves the majority. Nevertheless, the problem is that the regime is panic-stricken that the Brotherhood will sweep any elections, which I doubt very much.
I believe there will be many grave consequences to that exclusion. Perhaps, the first of these consequences is the fact that exercising more pressure and repression against a peaceful group may increase frustration and wrath among Brotherhood youth. Although they are patient and calm, they are suffering, like all Egyptian youth, from the miserable economic and social conditions. They are also suffering from extremely difficult political conditions that may lead some of them to lose patience.
Some of them may deviate from the moderate discourse of the group towards isolation or joining Salafist organizations, which are obviously increasing in Egypt. Here lies the danger, for this may lead to the birth of the Salafist Jihadist ideology, which combines two basic points, namely the closed Salafist thought and organized militant thought. We should remember that Sayyid Qutb emerged under similar circumstances, but with a different degree of repression by the authorities.
Second, the political exclusion of the Brotherhood is bound to exacerbate the already existing tension in the Egyptian street, which will not be in the interest of any side, whether it’s the regime, the Brotherhood or society at large.
Third, excluding the Brotherhood politically will strengthen the conservative trend within the group, which does not seem much affected by the failure to exercise political work. The main objective of this trend is to keep the Brotherhood alive even if the price is alienation and lack of communication with other political forces.
The wise men of the Egyptian regime must review the relationship with the Brotherhood. Repression and suppression against should stop before it is too late and everybody pays a high price.
Khalil Al-Anani is an expert on Political Islam and Deputy Editor of Al Siyassa Al Dawliya journal published by Al-Ahram Foundation.