By Nicholas Gjorvad
While part two discussed what factors will shape Islamist parties in the future, part three will focus specifically on the future of the Muslim Brotherhood which has become an increasingly popular topic in the last few days. At this juncture, the future of the Brotherhood is dependent upon a myriad of factors such as the severity of the crackdown against the group, the attitude of young Brothers to the leadership, the success/failure of the transitional process after Morsi, whether Egyptians consider the Brotherhood the new feloul and the future actions of Islamist competitors to the Brotherhood. With this in mind, the following is a brief overview of three scenarios which may befall the group in the future.
The first scenario involves Brotherhood leaders’ and members’ continued participation within the democratic system in Egypt. The Brotherhood’s internal structure would remain largely intact while the organisation as a whole regroups and maintains its political and social grassroots networks. Under this scenario, the Brotherhood would most likely continue as a strong political force in Egypt. Recall that the Brotherhood has a long history of resiliency in a hostile environment and few would be surprised if it rehabilitates its image with certain segments of society. Additionally, it has strong group hegemony which, if history is any guide, can withstand setbacks of this kind.
It is important to remember that the Brotherhood had an impressive parliamentary showing last year and it is not difficult to envision that it may use its effective political outreach to score a significant bloc of seats in parliamentary elections which, according to the proposed transitional roadmap, will occur sooner rather than later. The Brotherhood still possesses grassroots support from several segments of Egyptian society and clearly it knows how to be successful in elections. Furthermore, many anti-Brotherhood protesters who have taken to the streets in recent days have expressed to me their fear that opposition parties may not yet possess the electoral organisation to defeat well-organised Islamist parties. This may help the Brotherhood in what would be redemptive elections in the near future. Of course, the possibility of this scenario rests in large part on whether or not Brotherhood members seek retributive violence in the coming weeks and if its leaders are able to find their way back into the electoral fold.
In contrast to the scenario just mentioned, another possible outcome is that several members resign from the Brotherhood organisation. Perhaps several members of the group become disillusioned with the organisation’s leadership and defect to other political groups and movements resulting in the collapse of the Brotherhood. Since the fall of Mubarak’s regime, the political cohesiveness of the Brotherhood has been of great importance for the group now that several other Islamist parties have arisen. At this point, it is difficult to tell whether its members, especially of the youth wing, will become disillusioned with the increasingly apparent mistakes made by its leadership. After all, only a year ago it seemed nearly impossible that Morsi’s presidency would fall from grace as quickly as it did. Clearly, there will be finger-pointing within the Brotherhood as to how things went so wrong, resulting in significant tension.
This scenario would entail members on the ideological right of the Brotherhood spreading across several Salafi parties already in existence. In the past two years, numerous Salafi parties have attempted to siphon off Brotherhood members situated on the ideological right of the organisation. Conversely, remaining members of the group who are part of the more reformist wing may well venture to parties established by former Brotherhood members. However, if history has been any guide, the Brotherhood’s strong cohesiveness will aid in its survival and make this scenario remote at best. I would imagine few would believe the Brotherhood will experience a mass exodus which would result in the collapse of the organisation, but it is worth pointing out the possibility.
In the final possible scenario, the Brotherhood’s organisation would largely remain intact, but would return to a mostly secretive organisation which abstains from politics and instead concentrates on da’wa activities. In response, several members of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) would create a new political platform which would be entirely separate from the Brotherhood’s proselytising arm. This scenario would lead to the formation of a new political party which would be comprised of members from the Brotherhood’s disbanded FJP, but would not be subject to oversight from the Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau.
Perhaps the failures associated with the Brotherhood’s control over the political dealings of the FJP will serve as the impetus for the separation between the proselytising efforts of the Brotherhood and the political endeavors of the FJP. This is precisely what several Brotherhood reformists have demanded for years and has driven scores to leave the group in the past. At this point, there may be several members of the existing FJP who believe that the Brotherhood’s leadership has distracted it from its political project and irreparably damaged its political future. How the members of the FJP react to the apparent mismanagement of the political dealings of the Brotherhood’s leadership will go a long way in determining the possibility of this outcome.
The way in which the Muslim Brotherhood handles the situation in the coming weeks and months will be crucial for its viability. Additionally, those who study political Islam will surely be eager to investigate how the Brotherhood evolves as an organisation following these events. In the past, the strong organisational foundation of the Brotherhood has served it well. However, the fortunes of political parties change, sometimes quickly, as evidenced by the Islamist parties mentioned in these articles. While Islamists certainly will play a key role in the political future of the Middle East, so far it has certainly been a difficult year for them.
Nicholas Gjorvad is a political researcher. He holds Masters degrees in both Philosophy and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Edinburgh.