Egypt: Who Sent the Muslim Brothers to the Street?

Tens of thousands of protesters gather in Egypt's landmark Tahrir square against a decree by President Mohamed Morsi granting himself broad powers that shield his decisions from judicial review on 30 November 2012 in Cairo. (Photo: AFP - Gianluigi Guercia)

By: Abdel Rahman Youssef

Published Friday, December 7, 2012

Many are asking who was behind the Muslim Brotherhood’s decision to confront protesters in front of the presidential palace. This line of inquiry revealed that there are growing tensions between some in the Brotherhood’s leadership and the president.

Many Egyptians were shocked at the sight of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood (MB) members attacking the opposition sit-in at the presidential palace on 5 December 2012. They evicted the protesters, tore down their tents, and took it upon themselves to defend President Mohammed Mursi’s residence.

The MB is not known to participate in these kinds of street confrontations, even during the January 25 revolution. They were slow to join the uprising and those times they did engage in clashes, it was alongside broader forces.

The timing of the attack also raised many questions. After all, Mursi had made a number of gains on the referendum and the constitution, winning over many ordinary people who are considered part of the silent majority, not to mention that a sector of the judiciary agreed to oversee the referendum.

Even within the secretive Brotherhood, many are asking who made the decision to send members to the presidential palace to attack the protesters.

High-level sources in the Alexandria branch of the MB said that neither the provincial leadership nor many of the party’s key members were consulted about going to the palace. Like most Egyptians, they say they were surprised by the Brotherhood’s actions.

According to these sources, word had reached the Brotherhood’s support base that the opposition was planning to attack the palace and occupy it once the police withdrew. Therefore many felt that taking preventative action was a reasonable step.

Despite the fact that many of the MB sympathize with their fallen and injured brothers as a result of the street clashes, the group’s younger members are divided over how the matter was handled, according to Brotherhood youth who preferred not to be named.

Some are even reluctant to participate in the Brotherhood’s planned protests after this week’s Friday prayers. They believe that the MB should take all measures to avoid another confrontation with opposition forces in order to prevent any third party – especially remnants of the old regime – from exploiting the polarization of the street.

As for the opponents of this course of action, one source said that many would like to carry out revenge. They believe that they are the target of a conspiracy aimed at booting them from power, as evidenced by the MB offices that were burned in a number of areas.

Medhat Haddad, a leading MB member in Alexandria, said, “The Brotherhood is able to control its membership, as was the case after an assassination attempt on MB member Sobhi Saleh [a member of the constitutional assembly] on Wednesday by a number of thugs in Sidi Jaber.”

“The local leadership in the provinces,” he continued, “is aware that there is a conspiracy against Mursi and the only way to stop it was to deploy the MB to defend the palace after the police had failed to do so.”

“This was also the best way to avoid both a bloody confrontation with the Presidential Guard and the possible burning and occupation of a symbol of the state and the presidency,” he maintained.

The question remains: Who was behind the MB decision to take to the streets to disperse the opposition by force?

Recent defectors from the MB suggest that one of the group’s leading members, Khairat al-Shater, was behind the fateful decision and that it was his aides who were seen leading the counter-demonstration to the presidential palace.

These sources point to a statement by the grandson of the MB’s second supreme guide, Ibrahim al-Hudaybi, in which he said that former supreme guide Mohammed Mahdi Akef told him that Shater was the one who insisted on this decision.

Akef denied this, saying it was the opposition’s decision to demonstrate in front of the palace that provoked the Brotherhood’s reaction.

Another segment of the Islamist movement claims that the decision came from the supreme guide’s office, suggesting strongly that it was either MB spokesperson Mahmoud Ghazlan or Deputy Guide Mahmoud Izzat, known to be a hardliner.

The same source points out that Shater and Mursi are at odds due to the president’s decision to relieve two of Egypt’s top military commanders – Hussein Tantawi and Sami Anan – without consulting the MB leadership.

In the midst of all this, Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie called on the MB “to unite to build our nation by placing the country’s interests ahead of personal ones, for our divisions, disputes, and fragmentation only serve the enemies of the country.”

For its part, the Brotherhood’s political party, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) released a statement that claimed some protesters had the intent to storm the palace and declare a new presidential committee, thus bypassing the democratic process altogether.

The statement mentioned “professional thugs who are in the pocket of remnants of the old regime,” accusing them of violently attacking MB protesters, which lead to the death of six FJP members and hundreds of injuries.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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