During the course of the brief — just one year — Egyptian government led by President Mohamed Morsi, the opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood accused the movement of failure. Demands were made for it to admit its mistakes, conduct reviews, apologise and then disappear from the political scene altogether.
Did the Brotherhood really fail though? To make a judgment on this, we need to review the movement’s interaction with the most important aspects of the 2011 January Revolution.
The Muslim Brotherhood did not ride the wave of the revolution to become prominent in Egypt. It had participated in political life since it was founded in 1928. Over the years, more of its members were arrested and punished than any other comparable organisation. Brotherhood members were prominent in the Kefaya movement that rejected the concept of power being inherited, and they participated in the January Revolution as well as in the subsequent democratic experience.
During the revolutionary negotiations, the movement rejected the Egyptian Army’s calls for closed discussions, forcing senior officers to threaten the Brotherhood through General Intelligence Service head Omar Suleiman on a television programme, and asking it to respond. The Brotherhood insisted on having witnesses so that suspicions of conspiracy and treason could not be raised.
Using revolutionary tactics in the field to put pressure on the regime, the movement also sought gradual reform in Egyptian politics. It supported the amendment of the 1971 constitution in the March 2011 referendum, in order to avoid a constitutional vacuum and chaos that would lead to the Armed Forces making unjust constitutional declarations, as happened after the 2013 coup.
Brotherhood members did not fall into the trap of getting involved in the so-called “Battle of Muhammad Mahmoud Street” in November 2011, when protesters and security forces clashed violently. Moreover, the movement risked its popularity when it pushed for the completion of the People’s Assembly elections despite the announcement by civil society groups that they had stopped campaigning. Nevertheless, it was still accused of treason; its condemnation of the violence went unheeded.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), along with many liberal and other Islamic parties, rejected a military-backed supra-constitutional document which bound the drafters of the proposed constitution to work within specific frameworks. It then went on to form the Democratic Alliance for Egypt in partnership with the Wafd Party. The alliance included eleven Egyptian political parties from various currents and supported national consensus through political and electoral coordination between the parties to reach a strong parliament free of the remnants of the ousted Hosni Mubarak regime.
The FJP won just under half of the seats in parliament in the November 2011-January 2012 election, largely due to its wide popularity. The parliament then formed its first constitution-drafting committee, in which the party won 25 of the 100 seats; the committee was dissolved under the pretext of “Islamist domination”. In the second committee, the FJP made concessions in order to reach a consensus without affecting its parliamentary representation.
Along with the revolutionaries, the Brotherhood called for the army to hand over political power to civilians. The army was forced to surrender and call for a presidential election. The movement gave the option of running for the presidency to independent figures, but the offers were rejected. Meanwhile, the remnants of the Mubarak regime, the military council and civil society groups named their candidates, as a result of which the Brotherhood reversed its position and decided to put up its own candidate.
The Freedom and Justice Party presidential candidate, Dr Mohamed Morsi (1951-2019), was duly elected with 51.73 per cent of the vote. He attended discussions with the National Front and other individuals and parties that led to the “Fairmont agreement”; he stuck to the terms of the deal, the others didn’t.
Morsi chose five Brotherhood members as ministers out of a total of 25 in his first government, the formation of which was delayed due to his disagreements with the army over some portfolios, including the Ministry of Defence. He chose an independent prime minister, and then increased the number of Brotherhood ministers to ten altogether, after repeated refusals by civil society groups to accept positions in his cabinet.
The same civilian groups then challenged the constitutionality of the People’s Assembly, and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces announced the parliament’s dissolution. The army council also issued a strongly-worded warning to the president about an imminent coup when Morsi decided to resume parliamentary sessions. In order to avoid popular division, he went ahead, and ratified a law passed by parliament before its dissolution outlining the criteria for the formation of the Constituent Assembly.
President Morsi cancelled a constitutional declaration issued by the army shortly before he took office which was intended to make him an “honorary” president, and he also made major changes to the army and police chain of command after appropriate consultation. Appeals were made by various political groups to dissolve the Shura Council and the Constituent Assembly, so Morsi issued a constitutional declaration protecting the second constitution committee and the council and managed to pass the constitution with about 64 per cent support.
He then tried to dismiss the Prosecutor-General who represented the remnants of the old regime. Although that had been a demand of the revolutionaries, they attacked him for it, so he was forced to back down.
Despite the deep differences between President Morsi and his Minister of Defence, a certain General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, he preserved the cohesion of the military establishment. The president’s negotiations and manoeuvres to avoid a confrontation with the military apparently meant that the coup was postponed several times.
Under President Morsi, Egypt supported the Palestinians and the revolutions in Syria, Yemen and Libya, and tried to strengthen ties with the countries across the region. He also tried to reassure the Gulf States that he did not intend to export the revolution to them.
He succeeded initially in stopping the violence in Sinai through dialogue and a halt to military operations. He also considered the development of the Suez Canal and the reconstruction of Sinai to be the backbone of his revival project.
On a personal level, Morsi acted as a state president for all Egyptians. Neither he nor his family were given any special privileges. Moreover, he did not make contact with any of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders during his year in office, apart from short home visits to Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie and Khairat Al-Shater when they were ill.
World Bank loans were negotiated that would have helped the poor, and Morsi sought to recover state funds and land which had been looted by the ousted regime. He put in place a plan for each Egyptian governorate and began to develop education, healthcare and national finances. The military establishment, meanwhile, hindered him by fabricating gas, electricity and security crises, instructing the media and secular opposition to mock him and circulate lies to turn public opinion against him.
Before the coup, the president held a dialogue with all political parties and announced his approval of everything that the attendees had agreed upon in advance, without any conditions. The main opposition did not attend.
After the coup against the democratically-elected President Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood organised peaceful demonstrations. After the heinous massacres committed by the coup regime in response, the intelligence agencies tried to push younger members of the movement towards violence, but the leadership saw what was happening and took precautionary measures. This caused an internal rift in the movement which persists to this day, as the enthusiastic young people accused the leaders of cowardice, especially after the assassinations and arrests to which they were exposed.
Thus, the Brotherhood protected Egypt from a certain civil war for which the coup leader, now President Al-Sisi, asked the people for a mandate at the beginning of his regime.
Did the Muslim Brotherhood really fail politically during and after the January Revolution in Egypt?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.