Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood: Who Really Holds the Reins in Egypt?

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Matthias Gebauer, Daniel Steinvorth and Volkhard Windfuhr, Jan 12, 2013 (Photo Gallery).

Mohammed Morsi may be the president of Egypt, but it’s the Muslim Brotherhood that appears to be calling the shots. The Islamist group waited decades for a shot at power in the country and it isn’t about to yield without a fight … //

… Directly from the Politburo:

There are more examples that prove that Morsi isn’t the only one in charge. When the president was supposed to appoint new governors a few months ago, Egyptian journalists discovered after the fact that the list of candidates had come directly from the Brotherhood’s politburo. Neither cabinet members nor the president’s advisors were consulted in advance. When top officials in the government media were replaced, the incoming management was likewise chosen by the Brotherhood.

And last week, when liberals, Copts and secular Egyptians battled with members of the Muslim Brotherhood in front of the presidential palace, the president, protected by tanks and the presidential guard behind the palace walls, took more than 24 hours to comment on the rioting. Was it because he had to coordinate his response with Badie and El-Shater first?

When Morsi finally gave a televised address, he was as rigid as ever, incapable of sending a message of reconciliation to the opposition. No, he said, he was sticking to his plan of putting the constitution to popular vote, a document shaped in large part by Islamists, on Dec. 15. His power is limited, he said. And he insisted that the blame for the bloodshed rested solely with thugs paid by opponents of the Islamists, and accused them of being controlled by henchmen of the former regime. Then he spoke half-heartedly about a “national dialogue.” It was a speech reminiscent of Mubarak’s final efforts as the autocrat struggled to cling to power.

Little is known about the inner workings of the Muslim Brotherhood, though that is now changing. More and more members are leaving the organization, and they are taking their criticism public. They include young members who reject the Brotherhood’s hierarchical structures as well as older supporters like Tharwat al-Gharbawi, a well-known attorney, who says that the Brotherhood’s authoritarian ideology always becomes more prevalent when the organization comes under pressure. According to al-Gharbawi, there are even training camps where the organization trains members in hand-to-hand combat, an allegation the Muslim Brotherhood denies.

Crumbling Support:

“As long as the guidance office of the Brotherhood is dominated by hardliners, a compromise isn’t to be expected,” says Gharbawi.

The strength of the Muslim Brotherhood was always partly the consequence of a weak opposition. Only a quarter of all voters chose Morsi in the first round of the presidential election, but he won the runoff election because the opposition couldn’t agree on a candidate. Indeed, non-Islamist candidates received more than half of all votes in the presidential election, making it difficult to argue that the Brotherhood has much of a mandate for significant changes.
Since then, the group’s support seems to have crumbled even further. More than 30 buildings owned by the Muslim Brotherhood were set on fire in the last two weeks, and the protesters are now chanting the same words they chanted before Mubarak was overthrown: Down with the regime.

Most importantly, opposition leaders finally joined forces in the week before last, and are now calling themselves the “National Salvation Front.” The liberal Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei is part of the group, as are the former secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, and Nasserist politician Hamdin Sabahi. Many Social Democrats and Communists have also joined forces. Traditionally, these are groups that have been deeply opposed to each other. But now, they are suddenly united in their opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood.
(full text).


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