The Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military: On different sides of the barricades?

The Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian military: On different sides of the barricades?


28 November 2011

By Pinhas Inbari

The first of a three-stage election process in Egypt will take place this Monday and should culminate next July with the presidential election. However, renewed riots and disturbances have cast doubt on today’s events, let alone those scheduled to occur in six months’ time. Plus, Egypt’s military might be interested in delaying the elections, while the Muslim Brotherhood desperately wants them to transpire in order to exploit a historical opportunity to overtake a leading Arab country like Egypt.

In spite of the Muslim Brotherhood’s great desire to hold on to this historical opportunity to cease seize power, the organization is quite alarmed by the events in Tahrir Square and may wish to see the Egyptian army restore order prior to making their bid for governmental rule. Of course, once the army re-establishes normalcy on the streets of Cairo, the Muslim Brotherhood risks losing its unique chance to rule.

The news reports of the events in Tahrir Square tell us that the Brotherhood was behind the renewed demonstrations. However, it soon regretted its actions and withdrew from the location that serves as the source of authority for the revolution. The reason was clear – the Brotherhood suspected that the army would exploit the unrest in order to proclaim the impossibility of holding elections at a time of such great disturbance.

To its astonishment, the Egyptians were not impressed. Not only did they remain in place but they escalated the clashes with local security forces. In response, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Consultative Council (Shura), Muhammad Derbala, uncharacteristically declared: „Tahrir Square will not decide the future of the country.” He called to „leave the square in order to prepare for the electoral campaign.”

Derbala’s message was almost identical to the messages delivered by field marshal Tantawi a day earlier in his broadcast message to the Egyptian people. He stated that regime change would be achieved in the ballot box, with the new constitution endorsed by the nation in a referendum. It seems as though the army and the Muslim Brotherhood have agreed not to allow the restive square to become the source of authority in Egypt or the undeclared parliament of the people.

The current crisis was triggered by the publication of a constitutional draft that ensured the army’s independence from scrutiny by the civil government, giving it authority over the elected parliament as a guardian of the republic. At first glance, it would seem that the Muslim Brotherhood would find this quite objectionable and would be forced to respond. However, a study of the Brotherhood’s actual policy reveals that not only is it not antagonistic toward the Supreme Command, but may even be considered friendly. In a programmatic account of Muslim Brotherhood policies on its official website ‘Ikhwan online’, the army was praised for its crucial role in achieving the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, thus returning Egypt to its role as a leader in Arab affairs.

Going even further, the website lauded the army for its role in reforming the country and stated that „the experience of partisan plurality … still requires more efforts in order to achieve comprehensive reform and moving the country to the stage of stability and prosperity”. Most tellingly, the website does not say that elections are premature and even suggests that the army is still needed to stabilize the country. As a result, while the Salafists and the masses in Tahrir Square shout and demand to depose the field marshal or put him in a cage like Mubarak’s, the formal Muslim Brotherhood announcement has called for a dialogue with the army in order to return to law and order.