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The Muslim Brotherhood must be considered a political force in Egypt

By Nino Saviano Egypt appears to have turned the clock back to the Mubarak era. The military is the kingmaker while Muslim Brotherhood leaders are imprisoned and the organisation is being driven underground. But there is a key difference: Democratic elections are in the making. And while that’s a positive development filled with high expectations, …

Nino Saviano
Nino Saviano

By Nino Saviano

Egypt appears to have turned the clock back to the Mubarak era. The military is the kingmaker while Muslim Brotherhood leaders are imprisoned and the organisation is being driven underground.

But there is a key difference: Democratic elections are in the making. And while that’s a positive development filled with high expectations, the bloodstained crackdown of the Brotherhood places Egypt’s future democratic governability in question. There can be no moderate democratic Egypt without a positively engaged Brotherhood.

The new regime’s extra-judicial prosecution of Brotherhood leadership and the steadfast crackdown on its supporters are remarkably short-sighted. The liberal government and its military backers are gravely underestimating the ballot-box impact and prowess of the Islamist organisation.

With fragmented and polarised politics, along with liberal parties electorally handicapped, the Brotherhood is the one political force that holds the key to any majority rule in general and a centrist rule in particular.

Nowadays, Egypt can only experience three possible coalition-based electoral outcomes:

The first involves liberal minority rule, a less-than-ideal outcome that would likely come with active military backing.

The second includes moderate and centrist majority rule: an ideal but unlikely result.

The final and third outcome involves Islamist majority rule. This is a less-than-tolerant result that can be achieved, at least, through an absolute parliamentary majority.

If elections were today, Islamist parties would likely hold a majority in Parliament even if they failed to capture the presidency but whether a new governing majority would be centrist or extremist depends solely on the Brotherhood and its alignment as a political force. Through its Freedom and Justice Party, or its influence in general, the Brotherhood can deliver a legislative majority either to moderate liberals or to extreme Islamists.

But can the Brotherhood be a moderate political partner? Yes, at least potentially. Moderation and pragmatism are part of its political DNA. In fact, former president Mohamed Morsi’s uncompromising rule and strategic failures were his own, not the Brotherhood’s.

As I undertook political consulting work in Egypt at the end of 2012, the insulated course of Morsi’s presidency became quickly apparent. By then, only in the eyes of the media and the opposition were Morsi and his inner circle synonyms with the Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party. The presidential palace’s political revolving door, in fact, had long been shut.

Morsi’s rule stood largely on its own amid its many shortcomings and rather few accomplishments. His eventual removal months later took place on the backdrop of a failed and tone-deaf presidency that culminated in his refusal to meet the military’s 1 July ultimatum for compromise and inclusive government. But that was only “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Faced with a steep learning curve and lack of experience in politics, Morsi struggled in putting forth a vision for all. He generally demonstrated a lack of political strategy acumen that left him vulnerable to political pressures from the left and right: pressures that proved just too much for a novice president to handle.

These pressures channelled complex interests by well-funded and politically shrewd groups, with former-regime liberals single-mindedly committed to safeguarding their gains of the last 30 years and fundamentalist Wahhabi and Salafi Muslims solely intent at advancing their vision of Islam.

Squeezed in the middle, Morsi became unwilling to court moderates, the millions outside of the Brotherhood who helped vote him into office, in order to neutralise those undermining his presidency. He wanted little more than to cleanse the political environment of influences of the former regime, or what he called the “deep state.”

But these were forces that also happened to be the most vocal and vicious in attacking him; and those who caused his greatest political damage. They used endless resources to control much of the media’s political discourse and to dictate the terms of the debate between the opposition and the president.

Furthermore, through their bureaucratic allies, they quietly worked to challenge and even undermine Morsi’s rule by slowing or stonewalling the execution of his administration’s policies.

On this background, the Salafis and Wahhabis seized the opportunity to court the Brotherhood, offer support and gain constitutional and legislative alliances. But these were nothing more than ad-hoc alliances. Even moderates among the Muslim organisation’s leadership and the rank-and-file felt uneasy with such political partnerships.

However, an undermined Brotherhood could hardly reach out to moderate groups among the opposition. Morsi had been alienating these moderates.

Within this complex framework, a cornered Morsi sporadically issued weak calls at dialogue, often too little, too late and with no impact. He increasingly isolated himself, lost perspective and eventually lost the country. In the end, Morsi’s leadership and strategic shortcomings became the sole determinant of a failed presidency.

But while Morsi may be gone for good, the Brotherhood remains, however battered.

During Hosni Mubarak’s rule, elections were meaningless and represented one tool to put a check on the socio-political power of the Brotherhood. Now elections produce meaningful results. Regardless of the extent of the crackdown on its leadership and supporters alike, the Brotherhood’s ability to deliver votes is significant and carries electoral consequences.

Prosecution, or even persecution, does little to a robust and resilient grassroots organisation that counts millions of potential voters among its members and sympathisers, all the while the liberal opposition is fraught with infighting and a lack of organisational muscle.

In democracy, it is majorities that rule. And in a democratic Egypt, whether we like it or not, the Brotherhood is going to be key to any electoral majority rule. The country’s political centre, the military and the recently installed liberal government should be mindful of that.


Nino Saviano is a Republican strategist and president of Washington’s Savi Political Consulting. Through his international work, Saviano has been advising political leaders and candidates around the world, including Egypt. This column was originally published on UPI.com

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  • Marian

    Mr. Saviano, Are you Italian, Italians are famous for trading honor and independence for money with Americans since the world war II and from your article seems it is still.

    • Marc

      I am Italian — and whether Mr. Saviano is Italian or Italian-American, or just a plain ol’ yankee — I take offense to that. About you judge his article on the merits of his arguments?

      • Marian

        Never carry any kind of offence to Italy or an italian, it hurts me seeing italy and western Europe losing it’s independence as much it hurts me seeing it happened in Egypt for 30 years during Mubarak. Only pain makes me critical, harsh critics. And for his article, it is so directed carries no independent thoughts so doesn’t deserve effort. Sorry again if my words havd been offensive, again never meant to be. Specially for the special Italy in my heart.

        • Marc

          I don’t understand… where you stand on the article?

          • Marian

            Politically directed article for sake of American gains and interests using mb. Hope you know the story, full one

          • Marian

            If u r American then you must know the results of inforcing islamists on places like Afghanistan both results on the country itself and then reflected on America and American’s themselves. America used islamists to face russia one day and now again to face both russia and iran, as if no lessons were leart. Sorry this will not happen through Egypt, mb applied nothing of democracy during the past year and half. You have to know what happened in real life so you can judge yourself.

      • Scotty

        You are taking offense??? Don’t be ridiculous Mr. Berlusconi!

  • Kelley Christian

    Really you can’t compare Al-Sissi’s way of doing things to the past nor the new government in the light that he is doing. The players have all changed thus what is going on is new. Also after this the citizens of Egypt as well as anti-Morsi political groups may be very willing to work together so that Egypt does not slip back into the hands of the MB or other Islamist extremist ideological groups. It is one thing for certain the people of Egypt both Muslim and Christian are no dummies and know who was pulling the puppet strings of Morsi. If he was not loyal to the MB then he would have announced his willingness to step down and call for his fellow MB loyal followers to return home and be peaceful. He knows what is going on and he knows what his boss has been calling for the people who are loyal to him and the MB philosophy to do. No I am sorry this article is just an attempted snow job by a practiced snow blower.

  • truthhurts666

    Morsi is legitimate president of
    Egypt, He should be only removed through another election other wise
    people will stop believing in democracy.

    Constitution under Morsi protected every one,

    here are some excerpts from constitution

    Article 3
    For Egyptian Christians and Jews, the principles of
    their religious law will be the main source in regulating their personal
    status, matters pertaining to their religion, and the selection of
    their spiritual leadership.

    Article 31
    Every person is entitled to dignity. Society and state both guarantee that it will be respected and protected.

    No person must suffer insult or scorn.

    Article 33
    The citizens enjoy equality before the law. They have identical rights and public duties. There is no discrimination among them.

    Article 34
    Personal freedom is a natural right. It is inviolable and untouchable.

    Article 35
    Unless caught in the act, a person can only be
    arrested, searched, jailed, prevented from travel, or in any other way
    restricted in his freedom if doing so follows a court order.

    Anyone whose freedom has been curtailed is entitled to receive a
    written notice listing the reasons within twelve hours. Within 24 hours
    of the curtailment of his freedom, a person must be brought before the
    investigating authority. This must happen in the presence of his
    attorney. If he does not have an attorney, one will be provided for him.

    Anyone whose freedom has been constrained, and anyone else, has the
    right to lodge a complaint before the judge in regards to this procedure
    and receive a decision within a week. If a decision has not been issued
    within that time, the person must be released.

    The law specifies the rules for detention, its duration, its reasons,
    and for the right to compensation either for temporary detention or for
    the completion of a sentence that a court has revoked.

    Article 36
    Anyone who has been arrested, jailed, or restricted in
    his freedom in any form is entitled to being treated in a way that
    respects his dignity. He must not be tortured, threatened, or degraded.
    He must not be harmed physically or mentally.

    He must only be detained or jailed in locations that are hygienic and
    becoming to a human being and that are under judicial supervision.

    Any deviation from these instructions is a crime that will be punished, as stipulated by law.

    Any statement made under such illegal circumstances or elicited under
    threat of such circumstances shall be considered null and void.

    Article 37
    Prison is a place of correction, reformation, and
    rehabilitation. It is under judicial supervision. In it, anything that
    violates human dignity or exposes an inmate to health risks is
    forbidden. The state is responsible for the rehabilitation of the
    sentenced. Upon release, it eases their transition into a life of

    now these Nazis have been elected they have suspended constitution and killing every one who opposes them.

    • Marian

      Tell me about the mb constitution that continued with all civil political forces moved out of the comission, or the constitution that only recognized the three monothiest religions and ignored any other beliefs. Like bahaai or shiaa, or the person cursed shiaa in front of morsi with morsi’s silence and lead to killing and torturing 4 of then in their houses just days before 30-6

    • Kelley Christian

      Why do people overlook the fact that Morsi removed the ability to impeach him. That is just as important to democracy then the vote is. I understand that a lot of people in Egypt don’t really know what democracy is because you have never lived in one. I have lived in one for 54 years, Morsi kill your democracy, no president should have the power to remove parts of a constitution or remove elected officials. Each part of the government … Senate and House (congress we call ours) have to have the ability to impeach the president as well as impeach fellow congress members if they do something majorly wrong (as in break the law). No one person in a democracy should hold that much power that they can void parts of the countries constitution at will. Yes you voted, but even here in the US under certain circumstance elected officials have been impeached and removed from office. It hasn’t happened that often but it has happened.

  • Scotty

    “There can be no moderate democratic Egypt without a positively engaged Brotherhood.” Now what is a moderate democracy supposed to be? The author has a delusional, pretty academic view on things and that would not help to establish democracy in Egypt.

    The MB can only become a part in a democratic system once they accept that democracy cannot be limited to the outcome of elections. The MB and their puppet President Mohamed Morsy have forfeit their legitimate mandate – if they ever had one. This can only be achieved if they are able to contain the religious terrorists amongst them. Until this is done they have to be excluded from any access to power and if necessary by all means.

    I doubt that they would win a major share of the votes in any upcoming election. In the past they were getting lots of support from people who put their hope in them to be a solution for all the corruption and oppression that was groomed by the previous regime. Now Egyptians know that the MB is not just as equally rotten – they are worse because they want to invade privacy and undermine free thinking and freedom and liberty. By systematically excluding any liberal political group they forced a horrifying Islamic Constitution upon the Egyptians and thereby downgrading any non-muslim to the status of a “dhimmi”. Even this minimum of protection was not respected as they burned churches, murdered Christians and finally even killed Shiites. It was no surprise that they declared any opponent to Morsy being an infidel – which means in their logic that all opponents are apostates and can be killed. How can such people be allowed to sit in Parliament?

  • Scotty

    You can easily google him. Saviano is a self-appointed Republican (!) consultant who offers his services to political campaigns. Obviously he is looking for clients 😉

    • Marc

      Scotty, in the U.S. nobody is anointed a Republican or a Democrat.. Or an independent or a Libertarian. I ran for office as a “self-appointed” Democrat… I wasn’t anointed. What is your point anyway?

      • Scotty

        Marc, Whom are you trying to deceive? in the US it is all about being Republican or Democrat and as for Saviano, he is bragging about his Republican affiliation on his web page. My point is, that Saviano is playing with Egypt’s political future just for the sake of prmoting his consulting business. That is disgusting.

        • Marc

          Scotty, it is sad to see you have little understanding of American politics and you hold non-tolerant views clearly shown in your personal attacks.
          1. In the U.S. you can find as many liberal Democrats as conservative Republicans who oppose the military takeover. By the same token, you find as many Democrats and Republicans who support what the military did in deposing Morsi.
          2. You attack the author’s profession, but not his analysis. I don’t personally agree with everything in the article, but I will tell you this: some of those who support the MB are providing more to the debate than you are in this commentary section.
          You should know democracy starts with respectful debate. That applies to everyone, religious, non-religious, liberal, conservative… you name it.

  • Marc

    I think the Muslim Brotherhood needs to get out of the streets. Maybe what Mr. Saviano is saying is correct, but I don’t see the government treating them any different unless they drop the demand to reinstate Mursi.

  • Marian

    Simply, politically directed article serves American intersts, nothing more. Americans use mb for political gains. I hope you know about the story to understand what i mean.

  • Mahmud Abdullah

    At the outset I would like to thank the author for his this objective write-up; although I can not agree with all the points he has made. Egypt has been being ruled by military dictators, however, they won rigged and funny elections, for decades. Democracy, democratic practices, policies, norms are new for Egyptians and for political parties of Egypt including Muslim Brotherhood. The author has highlighted some weakness and drawbacks of President Morsi’s presidency, although I beg to differ with the author on some cases, some of the points are based on facts and deserve further analyses; the point I would like to make is that all the weakness and drawbacks should not be and must not be attributed to a novice president of an infant democracy, may be many of these, if not all, are the weakness and drawbacks of a budding democracy itself. Nothing can be achieved overnight; and democracy takes time to thrive and flourish, it is evident. One year is too short period of time for any president/govt. to sort out all problems of a country or a society that have been existing and persisting for decades. Muslim Brotherhood deservedly has been given proper importance in this writing. It is hard to find any reason to disagree with the point that Muslim Brotherhood is the largest and the most popular political organization of Egypt; it is true that Egypt’s politics and democracy can not be thought of without the party in question. The most important point is that Egypt must adhere to democracy; free and fair elections must be held, direct participation of citizens in governing the country must be ensured. It is twenty-first century, it is not a century for any military rule in a country like Egypt, direct or indirect, whatever be its form and manifestation.

    • Scotty

      Marian is absolutely right. That article serves American interests and first and foremost is promotional for Saviano’s business.

      The MB is a fascist organisation that is ruthless exploiting the genuine religious feelings of the Egyptian, They want a rule by Sharia rather than by democracy; free and fair elections and direct participation of citizens.

      BTW Egyptian military did never rule by dictatorship.

  • Tahir

    Sisi Has technically failed to achieve his designs. The coup will be the matter of past within a short span of time. The deep rooted state of old Mubarik regime (Judiciary, bureaucracy, media and military) is at the brink of loosing its leverage and influence once for all as the deep rooted state of Kamal Attaturik has lost its influence in Turkey. MB has formidable organisational structure. It will bounce back along with Salfis again. If military holds power in its hand than Egypt will plunge into civil war.In this situation its highly likely that that there would be a counter coup within armed forces against its top brass. Remember the history of Jamal Naseer.

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