By Hesham Shafick
On 10 May 2011, I interviewed Khairat El-Shater, the Muslim Brotherhood’s third man at the time, and asked about the rumors around Mohamed Habib’s, the MB’s second man at the time, expected resignation. His immediate response was: ”impossible!” He then took it further into explaining the logic of the MB’s solidarity which assures that even major conflicts would never turn into resignations.
On 16 May 2011, Habib resigned and Elshater replaced him as the Brotherhood’s second man. A few days later a flow of resignations began. It seemed at the time that the “brotherhood’s leadership lost control” if I may borrow George Ishak’s wording. The Muslim Brotherhood had to find a way to unite under the umbrella of the Guidance Office before they face serious disintegration. This was one of the reasons Shater/Morsi had to run for the presidency.
The unification plan succeeded; the spirit within the brotherhood boomed, potential dissidents retreated, and some formerly resigned individuals retracted. Having a common goal always keeps groups together, and makes the price-tag of dissent unbearable on the dissident: “As long as the goal remains common, clear and attainable” as Stephen Covey puts it in his book Principle-Based Leadership.
Now that the common, clear, attainable goal: “winning the elections” was accomplished, the Brotherhood is back to the tough struggle for keeping the organization cohesive. Internal challenges that the brotherhood faces after taking office will sooner or later start a new trend of instability.
While Salafists were out of the political scene, the MB monopolised Islamic grassroots. Simultaneously, it appealed to the secular opposition as the “civil way out” from the authoritarian rule. This balance guaranteed the MB’s position as the center of the opposition. Even after the authoritarian regime failure the MB retained its central position, which was clearly displayed in the Freedom and Justice Alliance and in Morsi’s famous “Fairmount” meeting. The outcome of the meeting between Morsi, MB leaders and representatives of secular political powers was the “Fairmount Document” in which the secular leaders agreed to support Morsi against Shafiq in the secondary round of the presidential elections.
Retaining the center in political discourse is an easy task, but the difficulties increase when it comes to the application of this stance. It is easy to raise general slogans that would appeal to all sides of the isle. Take for instance “Renaissance.” The dilemma only begins as the policymaker becomes enforced to make decisions/choices such as “what are the priorities of the renaissance (academia, welfare, culture, economy, etc.)?” Since any side taken by the policy-maker would mean choosing a side over another, the total political-credit loss is guaranteed. Throughout this process the MB will suffer popularity crises, which will force it to make choices in favor of the “outsiders” over the “insiders,” which automatically raises the probability of despair within the MB members.
The stated versus the hidden gap
It is hard to believe that an organization that was initially based on anti-Zionism would accept the president’s letter to the Israeli president signed “your loyal friend.” Also, it is impossible to believe that the MB’s Egyptian state would stand at the same distance between Fatah and the MB’s branch in Palestine, namely Hamas. Taking it to the local level, the MB’s actions are more “off pattern.” For instance the President’s decree to renew the Cabarets contracts and the IMF plan as two simple examples. All those acts hold messages for the international public opinion that the MB leadership views as necessary. However, it is unwise to expect that the middle and youth leadership of the Brotherhood would appreciate their necessity in the long-term.
The leaders versus the grassroots gap
Grassroots and the leaders “expectations” from the office-term are different. The MB’s traditional voter is a middle-lower class citizen, while its leadership belongs mainly to the A and A* classes. Probably the leaders have the luxury to think strategic (if not to think of personal economic gains), while the grassroots remain less complications-sensitive. The main target of the MB leaders is saving the economy in the long-term and staying in power. The priorities on the grassroots level are either applying Sharia’a or having better welfare and public services. The two goals contradict perfectly in the current situation. Take the International Monetary Fund as an example. The MB leadership finds the urge to acquire IMF trust higher than increasing social services and welfare (which is not accepted by the IMF because it raises public debts). Also, applying Sharia’a contradicts with the leadership goal of staying in power as it may raise MB’s public and international alienation. The grassroots trust in their leadership will severely decline as time passes without seeing their demands met.
It is hard to predict when the laxity of the Muslim Brotherhood will happen. It can manage for generations, and it can happen immediately. Never forget ElShater’s “impossible!” that did not survive for 6 days.
Hesham Shafick is the Executive Manager of Moslemany’s Development Foundation, and the Research Leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Unit in Cairo Center for Political and Strategic Studies.